Because this presidential election is so darn depressing, let’s talk instead about death. Or how long we all hope to live — if we manage to survive this endless cycle of attacks ads with our dignity and sanity intact.
While the country was mesmerized by Donald Trump’s misogynist rants and Hillary Clinton’s email scandal, I tried very hard to keep busy with another kind of debate: the potential age limit of humans. Happy reading, no?
A recent report by scientists has put a fixed shelf life on us, claiming the natural limit to the human lifespan is about 115 years old. Some believe the increase in life expectancy of the past century is beginning to plateau.
But even if we can live that long, do we want to? Under what circumstances? In other words, what makes life worth living – the quality or quantity of days?
Authors of the study tracked how many people were alive in a given year to figure out how fast groups were growing at each age. They found that the fastest-growing demographic became older over time — until this move to ever-older groups stalled about a decade ago. The scientists concluded that we mortals, made of mere flesh and blood, had hit the limit.
Not all scientists agree, of course, and some insist it’s too soon to assume there’s a limit to how long we’ll hang around. Medical advances and technological discoveries supposedly will continue to nudge human life expectancy ever upward. Maybe by the time my grandchildren are adults, we will have a generation of Methuselahs. The century mark will be the new 50, or something like that.
I’d be a lot more excited about this —Where, oh where will I celebrate my three-digit birthday? — if I weren’t already experiencing the annoying aches that come with the slow deterioration of a body I’ve only lately come to appreciate. If you’re older than 40, surely you can empathize. With the throbbing left shoulder. The shooting pang down the right hip. The betraying stiffness in the lower back.
Really, how could this happen to me? I’m a healthy woman. My cholesterol level is admirable, my blood pressure ideal, my weight steady as a loyal best friend. But … but.
Many of us are fascinated, and charmed, by the ripe, wrinkled old people who attribute their longevity to dark chocolate or red wine, but as we grow older we also struggle to define the contours of a long life. Would we want to continue living if we had Alzheimer’s? If we cannot physically get up from bed? If we’re in too much pain? Answers are individual and heartrending, but there is one refrain common among my friends: “I don’t want to be a burden to my children.”
It’s no coincidence that this internal examination evolves as we watch our own parents grow frailer and needier, as we recognize that modern medicine will allow us to live longer but probably with more chronic illnesses — proof, in case we need it, that existence is little more than a series of tradeoffs.
As I get closer to a milestone birthday, it’s not the specter of the grim reaper that weighs on my mind but the relentless shrinking of time and how best to use this diminishing resource. I suppose I’m lucky that way, lucky-lucky to have the luxury of contemplation when others don’t.