I am going to die. Someday. And so will you. Let’s not kid ourselves–life is a terminal illness and you and I will both die from it sooner or later.
My daughter said something just the other day that made me stop in my tracks and gave me a bit of a jolt.
She said, “Mom, you’re entirely too healthy for your age.”
She’s right. I’ve never had a serious illness (not counting major depression that required inpatient psychiatric treatment) and I avoid doctors like the plague. Most people my age suffer from some sort of chronic health problem or another. I don’t fuss about my health more than the average 20 year old and I certainly enjoy my artery-clogging, sugar-laden foods. The only reason I don’t weigh as much as a house is because I work it all off at my physically strenuous job. So at least I’m not living a sedentary lifestyle. I quit my gym membership because I don’t need it anymore. Every major muscle group gets a workout every day. I’ve never been in better shape. It’s the best thing about my job.
I’m 55. That means if I die at an average ripe old age (75), I only have twenty years left to live. That’s a sobering thought. Twenty. years. until. I. die. Going backwards in time, twenty years puts me at age 35, in 1994. So the amount of time that has past between 1994 and now is the same as how much time I have until I’m 75–and that’s if I’m lucky. I don’t eat right–I love my comfort foods way too much, and I smoke. Not heavily, but I still indulge in this killer habit, knowing it will probably spell my early demise. If I don’t quit smoking and don’t change my eating habits, I will be lucky to make it to 75.
Let’s say I actually live to be 80. That’s only 25 years from now: the same time forwards from today as going backwards to age 30, in 1989. That’s only one year shy of the 1990s, folks, and the 90s don’t seem that far in the past to me, no sirree. Not like the ’70s seemed remote and distant to me when I was living in the ’90s. But I was younger then and time stretched and yawned forward and back in both directions. Now it seems compressed and speeds up faster every year. Ever notice how the older you get, the time seems to speed up? When I was 10 or 15, a decade seemed like an eon. Now a decade seems like a year did back then. Maybe even less than that.
If by some fluke, I live to be 90, that’s the same amount of time going forward (35 years) as going back to 1979, when I was 20. Now that seems like a good chunk of time. 1979 seems like a pretty long time in the past. Disco wasn’t even dead yet. Jimmy Carter was still president. I was still a “minor.” I can get down with living another 35 years. But I don’t really want to live to be 90.
I wonder if all this thinking about God and religion and spirituality I’ve been doing lately has to do with realizing I’m getting up there and having to face my own mortality. When you’re young, the rest of your life seems like a vast amount of time; you can always put off that thing you know you should do until later. Why rush things? But listen, kids. Life’s not as long as you think–because as you get older, the time will speed up. A lot.
There are some interesting theories as to why time seems to speed up as we age. One of them, described in this blog post in Scientific American, is because as a percentage of our age, a given chunk of time takes up a smaller and smaller percentage the older we get.
Here’s an interesting thought experiment. When you’re five, five years is a very long time–it’s your entire lifetime! To a fifty year old, five years is a mere 10% of the time they’ve lived, so it doesn’t seem like much. What is 10% of a five year old’s life? Six months! So six months to a five year old is perceived the same way as five years is perceived by a fifty year old! You can have a lot of fun playing with the numbers this way. When I was 35, twenty years seemed like a very long time–because it was more than 50% of the time I’d lived. At my current age, twenty years is just a little more than a third of the time I’ve been alive, so it seems that much shorter. My perception of time passing is such that thirty years is roughly the same as 20 years was to me then. And it will continue to get worse until the day I finally shuck off this mortal coil.