Except for a bad foot and a bad knee, I feel young. My mind feels young, and maybe that’s what troubles me the most. Despite what I perceive myself to be, I am 40. Forty is half of 80, and 80 is no certainty. Thirty is half of 60, and I can see myself turning 60 very easily, but 80 is another matter.
As of 2011, the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs listed the average life expectancy for males in the United States as 75.3 years. So if I live an average life span, I will die either on April 19th or 20th of 2028. That’s a good 35 years from now.
Of course, I do not live an average lifestyle. I took a quiz on livingto100.com that takes lifestyle, family habits and current medical conditions into consideration when determining life expectancy. It predicts I will live to 76. So I am above average by only a few months. Both numbers feel too optimistic to me. I don’t feel like 75.3 or 76 is doable at this stage in my life.
I get a lot of points for not drinking or smoking; but I consume enough sugar to have the liver of an alcoholic, and if a heart attack doesn’t kill me, cirrhosis surely will. My immediate family is healthy for the most part—I mean, they are still alive and no one has cancer—so I get points for that, and that gives me hope.
Something else to consider: by 2028 surely someone will have come up with a cure for dying before your 80. At least that is my hope.
Fifty is something to really worry about. Fifty is half of 100, half of dirt, half of nothing. While 80 is not statistically likely in my case, 100 is straight out. I know of no family member that has lived past 100, so it is an empirical fact that, should I live past 80, at some point in the next ten years I will cross the halfway point. This fact scares the shit out of me.
It’s not that I fear “the other side.” Years of religious education has taught me that the afterlife is very much like Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory (It’s Scrumdidilyumptious!), so I’m not too frightened about that. It’s the physical act of dying, the moment when the lights fade to black and the curtain closes for the final time. What will I be thinking? Will there be regret? Will I be alone?
Okay, so I’m scared of the afterlife. I don’t believe in heaven as I was taught by preachers and teachers during my church-school upbringing. That level of perfection is difficult to believe. It is wrought with logical fallacies. There is no death in that heaven, no sickness. We are given new bodies, but which bodies? The bodies we had at our physical peak, or the bodies we had when we were born? Will my nose be slightly off-center in heaven, or will it be straight. Will I be bald in heaven, or will I have a full head of hair? If I have a full head of hair, will that hair be manageable, because when I had a full head of hair, I couldn’t manage it for anything.
But is it not those imperfections that have made me who I have become? So, if everything is perfect, and my body is perfected, how will anyone recognize me? How will I recognize myself? If I am to experience the rewards of heaven, I want the me as I currently know him to experience it. Otherwise heaven is meaningless.
I don’t know what’s on the other side, and I don’t want to live my life as if I do know what’s on the other side. I prefer to stay ignorant, but ignorance is not bliss. Certainty cannot be derived from uncertainty, and I hate uncertainty. Uncertainty to me is like that strip of fur on a Rhodesian Ridgeback that grows in the opposite direction. Why the hell does its fur do that?
I don’t like being 40. When you turn 40, there are no more excuses. Death is either imminent or in the calculable future. You can no longer say to yourself “I’ll do that in a couple of years,” because by 40 you’ve learned that a couple of years quickly turns into ten, and after ten years have passed you’ll either have forgotten what you wanted from life or you’ll be too worn down by it to give a damn anymore. It’s the latter that quickens death, that invites it in and lets it sleep in your bed. I’ve spent most of my life in a perpetual state of discouragement. I’ve always hoped for myself but I’ve never believed, and it has worn me down.
The author James Agee turned 40 on 27 November 1949. Of that day, he wrote the following to his friend, Father James Harold Flye:
It was a deeply melancholy day for me: forty, of all things. I imagine that by fifty one is a little better able to accept it—by then it would be utterly impossible to retain any confusing delusions either of youthfulness, or of living forever. Now that the day itself is over, I feel neither here nor there, except that Time’s a-wastin’.
Five and a half years later, on 16 May 1955, Agee entered a New York City taxi cab, had a heart attack and died.
That feels about right.