well, almost… my life is supposed to start, or my protracted journey to meet the ultimate conclusion of life is meant to begin in about 70 odd days from now. Yup, if you were born in the 70’s you probably know exactly what I am talking about. I am rapidly nearing that point in life when everything goes downhill from here. Yes, the big “four oh my god I am going to die” is rapidly approaching and everything I never spared a thought for in my youth is meant to start happening with a vengeance. I’ll spare you the gruesome descriptions for now, suffice it to say, the prognosis isn’t good and it paints a pretty grim picture that I don’t think I am morbid enough to describe right now. To be honest with you, it’s a little odd that I am dwelling on this inevitable milestone… why after all this time of ignoring my age (and birthdays) is the approach of my 40th downright terrifying?
My body does not need a date to tell it I am getting old. I’d say the aches and pains and receding hairline are just the simplest reminders that my body has already decided it’s had enough of repairing all the abuse I have thrown at it over the years. You realise it when you consciously walk down the stairs instead of taking the shortcut over the knee-high wall. It’s when you take the time to wait for someone to pick up the other side of the bookcase instead of picking the thing up yourself. It’s the moment when you pick up the 10kg dumbbell to show off to your son and think, “Damn I need to exercise more.” 40 is that magical point where wearing glasses is now not optional and irritating, but a comfortable necessity for those strained eyes. It’s that age when a rubber gloved hand, previously a rare image, becomes a regular yearly probe. It’s that time when you cut the fatty bits off the rump steak and hold the cheese sauce or order the plain pouched eggs on health toast instead of the 3-course greasy fry up. It’s the time when you would rather sip a quality port than have to deal with the gassy repercussions of downing a six-pack of the cheapest brew. It’s that moment when you just realise that you are getting too old for this shit.
I have known for a long time that my greatest fear in life is getting old and lets face it, at 40, you can no longer harbour any delusions that you are still young, footloose and fancy free. I do not fear death as much as I fear the inevitable decay of aging that we as mortal humans, are all destined to enjoy before we leave this mud ball to our evolutionary descendants.
The film Highlander (with the hit, Who wants to live forever by Queen) came out when I was 13 and I vividly remember everyone discussing the idea of living forever and how my immediate answer was “I do!” As the discussions continued, and everyone realised that they would have to outlive the ones they loved over and over again, so more of them decided it would not be a good thing, I stuck to my guns with “I do!” Still more changed their minds when they realised that we would no longer be part of the world and in hundreds of years we would be lost souls out-of-place & time… and I still chose to live forever. And so it went… Eventually I did come to my senses and added one stipulation – I would want to live forever in a state of perfect youthful health just the Highlander did – never aging and never becoming ill. Living forever as some decaying corpse, no thanks, I’ll leave that to Anne Rice and her followers. Come to think of it, I’d probably be a prime candidate for a Marlowe novel or some kind of cybernetic alter-life volunteer.
But alas, I am probably alive a thousand years too early for some Star Trek solution to living forever and unlike my favourite fantasy novels, magically prolonged life and the elixir of eternal youth are but fond imaginings of people like me. I fully understand all those nut jobs going for cosmetic surgery in some deluded hope of holding off the inevitable but lets face it, having a wrinkle surgically removed does absolutely nothing in the face of Father Time – it just makes your face look bloody weird! Our bodies simply are not designed to continue to repair themselves beyond a certain point, there is even a fancy scientific name for it: cellular senescence and as much as I would want it, we are simply not genetically designed to go on forever. I read a Wired magazine article many years ago that investigated the effect on modern medicine on human longevity and while the advances would come too late for my generation, my kids may enjoy benefits that could allow them to lead productive 90-100 year lives… Their children may live 120-130 and my great-grandchildren could possibly live as long as 150 years or more. Who knows what this would involve, perhaps they will no longer be strictly human as we are today, maybe they will be born as Kryptonians in an organic test tube-tree. (Why the hell would they call it a Genesis chamber? – are they Christian Kryptonians? Come on David Goyer) maybe my great great grandson will live to be 200! Imagine the ramifications of humans having such long-lived lives… I do as part of my fantasy novel worldbuilding and to be honest I would rather be alive to experience it than being simply no more. Yes… even if the world was something out of The Road, I would still want to be alive to experience it because I know that we would live through it eventually. Does that make me weird or sick in the head? Does this preference for living forever have something to do with atheism and my belief that there is nothing after death – probably, but when I was 13 I was a budding youth leader at the local Baptist Church so I figure religion has nothing to do with it for me then and has nothing to do with it now. I just want to live forever! Sue me.
In line with my upcoming descent into middle age, I had a note to do a humorous post on something I stumbled on called the Death Clock, you know, another one of those silly online things where you put in your details and it spits out your compatibility with someone else based on your names… I figured I’d slip it in here to lighten up the mood a little. So for fun, you include your birthdate, sex, general disposition, smoking status, BMI and viola, turns out I am going to be dead on Monday 16h July 2047. Great to know. In true GTD tradition I’m planning on sending out the invitations to my wake soon, don’t worry. 34 years left for me. Less than I have already been alive… Gulp. Then I began to fiddle… Lets lose some weight and get myself down to a more respectable BMI… hmm.. no difference – this damn thing does not work… ah I’d have to lose enough weight to win a stick insect look-alike challenge and I get …drumroll… an extra year… not much help considering the pain and suffering I would have to experience to diet. I think I will enjoy a few more cups of hot chocolate thanks. Obviously going from morbidly obese to overweight gains you decades, but going down a few points on the BMI chart does not do much. So, what can I change next… if I went for a sex change I’d live 4 years longer… nah, not gonna happen. Smoking… already not doing that so no benefit there… damn you are going to die soon if you do though. Now the interesting bit… I changed my personality type from normal (whatever the hell that is) to pessimistic and instead of 34 years I now only have 16 left. Change it to sadistic and well, I should be 3 years dead already… Change it to optimistic and I may just make 2060… I wonder how much truth there is to how your personality affects your longevity… I have known irritatingly happy people who have not made it to 60 and grumpy old men who lasted far longer….. I even found a study explained in layman’s terms here that seems to indicate that there may be a personality link but even the boffins agree that living to 100 may not be a factor of your sunny disposition. I have never really been described as having an optimistic personality – I like to be pleasantly surprised rather than horribly disappointed so I tend to expect the worst of the world and people in general. Not sure how I would be able to change that – but if the Death Clock is anything to go by then the extra decade may well be worth the effort to slap a smile on my face. (I feel i should probably note this: you do know that the Death Clock is just another silly online time-waster – don’t you?)
Yesterday I saw a re-post of something from one of my favourite sites, Brain Pickings, about 7-word autobiographies and being in the introspective mood I am in, I found it a very apt topic. What would my first 40 years look like in a 7-word summary? What would my tombstone say? Would it be something creative & witty, something in jest or stiff and restricted to the professions I have failed at? I jotted down a few candidate words and began to see a disturbing trend – the more honest I was with the exercise the less positive the words I chose became. It was not quite an epiphany moment – I have a generally pessimistic view on things remember – but it did highlight to me how much easier it is to remember the negative things in your life. So I forced myself to think of the things that make me proud to be who I am, for all my flaws. The 7 word limitation became much easier to follow but harder to think of. Perhaps I will think of them all in the weeks before that eventful milestone in my life. What would yours be?
ps. Canyon picture from Flickr. Highlander leached from google.