Although I was never very keen on birthday parties, my wife of 35 years and our four adult children decided that we will all have a special get-together on December 24, 2003.
I will be 60 years old.
And because I could never forgive myself for dropping dead at work, I’ve already given notice that I plan to take early retirement at age 62.
Life insurance experts tell me that, according to my gender, my weight, my lifestyle and my family medical history, I have 7 years to live after I retire. That is, of course, if I do not die in an accident, succumb to an unexpected terminal illness, or my heart decides — without asking me — to take permanent retirement before
I do. In other words, statistically, I have some 9 years to live.
So I suppose my highest priority right now should be to take care of my body so it will last that long. But perhaps it is even more important for me to take care of my mental health. I do not want to become terminally depressed in response to any of life’s hardships: I still remember the movie "About Schmidt" and I do not want to be like the sad, empty character played so poignantly by Jack Nicholson.
Dying at 69 couldn’t be all that bad. Remember, I keep telling myself, many children and young people do not get to live anywhere near that long. Yet counting down to 60, 62, or 69 is not so pleasant either. Where have all those years gone? Why didn’t anyone tell me about aging when I was much younger?
I am a religious person and I constantly strive to make sense of why we are here and where we are going. I believe that humanity’s final destination is to be with the Creator; the absolute, the perfect, the infinite in all qualities; the ultimate in beauty, in mercy, and in kindness. So why should I fear aging and death if they are both part of reality and part of the journey we all take to meet our Creator?
Perhaps I will miss my loved ones. But, I also tell myself; you will have new, more, and better loved ones after death. And I console myself with the thought that I will be part of a better life.
So, at age 62, will I introduce myself as a "retired professor" or as an "early-retired professor"? Should I expect more, or less, respect from former students and colleagues? How will I spend my time? I love travelling; maybe I should take more trips. But what about just "doing nothing"? Maybe I would enjoy more walking, reading, and writing.
But I was also told I will have to keep talking, for if I were to stop communicating with people, I could become deeply depressed. But who will be interested in listening to an early retired professor? Maybe my wife. Yes, of course, my wife! I certainly hope so, because most of the people I know, including my adult children, are much younger than I, and have much younger interests.
What makes me really terrified, big-time, is that in my later old age I may no longer be able to take care of myself — simple things like eating, walking unassisted, or going to the bathroom. I hate the idea of having to wear a diaper again at my time of life! Even worse, the thought of being abused physically, mentally, or spiritually, by anyone makes me sick even now..
Lighten up, man! I say to myself. You could drop dead sooner than you think and you’ll have wasted your energy worrying about elder-abuse that may never happen.
But that opens up a new train of thought, one not so easily dismissed. Canada has legislation against abusing children, but surprisingly little against abusing the old and infirm. Maybe I should use my remaining years to work with like-minded people and push to have more and better legislation passed to protect myself and others, maybe even my own adult children one day.
Humans are probably the only beings who are certain that they will eventually die. But this reality does not seem to bother most of them a great deal. I suppose that, in order to survive, humans must convince themselves that death is a long way off. Have you ever asked a 16-year-old skateboarder about expectations of death? Generally, it seems very few humans take heed of their mortality and try to do the most good while they can, with the hope of leaving this life knowing they made the world a little better.
No medical expert has told me yet how long I can expect to live, but I believe the life insurance people probably as much as doctors. So in counting down to 60, then to my early retirement days, and eventually my journey on to the Hereafter, I pledge simply to be a good person. God is my witness.