I had a conversation with a friend about getting older, quality of life, and how baby boomers are continuing to try and re-invent everything. Out of this conversation came a great “What If,” which I want to explore and ask YOU what you would do?
What if you could sign what I’m calling a “Life Contract” in which you were guaranteed a particular life span with good health until the end of that contract? So, let’s say you were given the option of living to 75 years of age in great health, would you sign such a contract that meant you knew exactly when your life would end and that it would end without any pain or uncertainty?
What if the length offered was 65, 70, or 80? Would you sign such a contract?
The meaning of life is one of those philosophical questions that have been around since the dawn of mankind. In many ways, that meaning is intrinsically tied to the complete uncertainty of the length of an individual’s life. We all know people who have died suddenly and those who have lived a long life in spite of apparent handicaps (smokers, for example).
The news is filled with examples of people dying at an early age or those who lived a very long time in which we feel sad or awed by such a long, full life. Mickey Rooney recently died, at 93, and outlived just about every one of his contemporaries and most of his wives. I don’t know if he had a high quality of life or not. But, it was a long life.
So many famous rock ‘n’ roll stars died at 26, most recently Amy Winehouse. James Dean died at 24 before the last two of his three films had even been released. George Gershwin died at 38. Imagine what we might have been blessed with had he lived longer? What might have been if John Lennon hadn’t been shot dead by a crazy fan? The list of famous and/or important people who died young is nearly endless, but would you prefer they had lived longer simply because of who they were and what they may have (continued) to contribute to the world.
Conversely, wouldn’t we all be better off if Hitler, Stalin, and so many other evil human beings had died at birth, died young, or not been born at all?
It’s the randomness of life that may give it some of its meaning. I’m not a philosopher or a member of the clergy. I don’t know if God has a master plan for each of us, or if it’s as random as it appears. I sure hope there is some divine justice or I’d feel life truly had no meaning or value. But, I don’t know.
Writing is for me a way of debating an issue for myself and, as I’m writing this column I’m thinking about what I would do if I had such a choice. Other than wanting to be there for my boys, I don’t think I would sign such a contract. I’m absolutely on the down slope of my life, having passed the halfway point long ago.
But, it’s the wonder of every day and the wonder of what could happen that gives my life meaning. As I get older and watch my contemporaries also age, I marvel at who is embracing this aging chapter of their lives, who is in denial about the realities of getting older, and who is simply not paying attention. And, of course, I’m well aware of those who are suffering in one way or another.
I remember well my mother reading the obituaries and commenting when she’d see a friend or acquaintance in the listings. It felt so morbid to me at the time. Heck, I was going to live forever so why dwell on such depressing news. I also remember, painfully so, my maternal grandfather sitting on the bench in the park EVERY day and talking to old friends – old literally and figuratively. He retired and began that routine at an age not that far away from my own right now.
It felt like he was sitting there, waiting for the grim reaper. It freaked out his young, gonna-live-forever, grandson. Both my parents and grandparent’s generations were living their lives in much the way of their contemporaries.
We boomers are going to live our lives in our own way and, as I’m fond of saying, we will likely do it “better” than any before us or, at least we will think we will do it better. Sadly, as I’m also fond of saying, in my opinion the only good thing to come from the boomer generation is some pretty good music.
Would I sign such a life contract? Absolutely not. The miracle of life is its mystery and locking it down in such a fashion would mitigate that miracle to the level of a business deal. Not for me. What about you?