Life is too short. Time flies. You can’t go back. Take time to smell the roses. Use it or lose it. No guarantees. You’re a long time dead.
Virtually everyone mouths these truisms as they swim against the currents which inevitably lead them on the rocks. The length and quality of the race, however, are dependent on an enormous number of factors.
These are genes, luck, diet, exercise, the environment, resources, medical care, and a myriad of choices that only the individual can make. Some are good, some are bad. Some of the good, while perhaps prolonging the race are no fun, and some of the bad, while risky, intensify even if compressing duration of the pleasure.
“Life is like a roll of toilet paper, the closer you get to the end , the faster it goes.” Living without alcohol, nicotine, red meat, fried foods, salt, sugar, unprotected sex, high speed, polluted air, air travel, motor cycles, bicycle helmets, sky diving, kite boarding, rock climbing, bungee jumping, late nights, and casino gambling, no doubt increases life expectancy, but to what end?
Having reached seventy in remarkably good condition, I am forced to ponder these questions as my internist, after each annual physical, absent other critical health concerns, insists I stop smoking cigars, and limit myself to five drinks per week. Her definition of a drink is one and a half ounces of liquor or five ounces of wine. As I smoke four good cigars and drink two tumblers of vodka over ice, two glasses of wine and often an after dinner cognac or the like, every day even if sick, I should, in her opinion have already checked out, or at best be hanging on by a thread.
In spite of this my heart, lungs, and liver appear to be in excellent shape. The only way to account for this is genes. My mother, who smoked two packs of unfiltered cigarettes daily for seventy years, never did a bit of exercise, in fact never walked anywhere, put heavy cream and two sugars in at least eight cups of coffee each day, drank way too much scotch for a small woman, and thrived on gravies, stews, red meat, and fatty pork, poultry, and lamb, and insisted on a sweet dessert after every evening meal. Born very prematurely at three and a half pounds, and left on a radiator to cure, she lived to be ninety three.
My paternal grandmother, a puritan lady who never smoked, drank, wore make up , cut her hair, or ate any fatty foods, and walked over a mile to church every Sunday regardless of weather in the greater Boston area until she was ninety five, lived to be two weeks short of one hundred.
To say the least, she and her daughter-in-law were polar opposites. I’m certain Mom would have never surrendered her “Weedos”, cocktail hour, or chicken skin for an extra seven years.
Old age inevitably stiffens joints, unstiffens some joints, weakens short term memory, ruins once solid putting strokes, clouds vision, impairs hearing, enlarges prostates, clogs arteries, increases blood pressure, and causes almost everyone under fifty to look at you with varying degrees of sympathy or contempt. “What’s that old fart doing in a Porsche Turbo?”
Modern science has dramatically increased life expectancy in the U.S., making it possible for men in their seventies to run for president, and men in their eighties to father children. This has been a boon to the pharmaceutical, assisted living, and healthcare industries. How else would CNN be able to program 24/7 without Viagra, Cialis, Flomax, Lipitor, Celebrex, stool softeners, and the multitude of goods and services endorsed by AARP? Hip, knee, and shoulder replacement, kidney, liver, and heart transplants, Amigos and portable oxygen delivery systems make it possible for many people to keep on taking pills, who only twenty years ago would have reached the wrong side of the grass.
By far the largest component of our runaway healthcare costs involves the heroic procedures performed during the last few months of life. At seventy I am perhaps less critical than my young friends who may still harbor visions of immortality, or defer recognition of the inevitable because of the seemingly limitless number of years ahead of them.
It seems odd that while seniors receive preferential rates for movies, taxis, public transportation, and air travel, it is rare that the opinions of anyone reaching the fourth quarter are given much if any credence. Retired is no longer synonymous for nearly dead, as most who reach sixty-five can look forward to twenty plus more years, nearly a third of projected life expectancy in 1960.
Experienced, super healthy airline pilots are forced to retire when most are performing at the very top of their games. Almost all major conflicts, from insurrections to wars, and from organized athletics to chess are not decided at the beginning, but at the end. I was reminded of this last week when three of the major BCS bowl games were decided for the two Michigans and Oregon in overtime.
Our most recent wars – Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan have never really ended. This has prompted many to believe that if the John McCains and Joe Liebermans of this world were actually fighting the wars rather than helping their relatives avoid the military in favor of poor rural and inner city kids and minorities, they might be infinitely less hawkish.
At the very least, wars would give old people, with the end already in sight, something to do, and prevent thousands of kids from losing their lives prematurely or spending the bulk of their years disabled. Am not certain how well seniors would perform in a firefight, but riding in a Humvtee and pulling a trigger don’t seem to require extraordinary strength or stamina. The staggering cost of providing pension and health benefits to retiring service men and women, often in their forties, is not sustainable. Enlisting for a twenty year stint at fifty with a twenty year retirement option might actually create a more efficient and motivated military at substantially less cost. Obviously large components of the infantry and elite forces like the Seals and Rangers require youth. Supply, intelligence, and non-combat related jobs like maintenance could be performed ably by the ancient and honorable.
We live in an era when cash and invested capital generates little or no return, and real estate values have plummeted. Most corporations have eliminated defined benefit plans in favor of 401 K’s. For the last thirty years, for the first time in the history of the republic, bonds outperformed equities. Asset allocation, the foundation of the financial, estate, and retirement planning industry at best generated no return, and for most wiped out a significant portion of those funds expected to provide support for the entire fourth quarter, which has expanded dramatically. This explains why well educated and once successful seniors are now bagging groceries at WalMart and bussing tables at McDonalds, as for the most part 401 K plans and social security are insufficient to cover the cost of the much expanded golden years.
There is little doubt that if one is healthy, and blessed with family and friends, that living far outweighs the alternative. What is, no doubt, required are new definitions of old, retirement age, and senior citizens. This, of course, never occurred to me until joining the ranks, where my contemporaries are still vigorous, athletic, and productive.
Statistics would tend to support the validity of extending normal retirement to age seventy, making it more likely that resources will be available to provide for a pleasant and lengthy fourth quarter.