The Consequences of Not Dying

Posted by Allen Rucker in Life After Paralysis on June 07, 2022 # Aging

Allen RuckerI’m getting up in years and from all that I read, from the weekly New York Times Science section to the ubiquitous come-ons to oldsters from top medical schools with titles like “Fight Aging!” and “Still Going Strong!,” aging is not a good thing. The gospel of not getting old or not feeling old or not admitting you’re old is a zillion-dollar market, and why shouldn’t it be? According to this morning’s New York Times, there will be more people over 65 than catfish by 2035 or something like that. And they all want to live forever! Why? Because, as the joke goes, it beats the alternative, or there’s the off chance that you’ll be branded a wuss or a loser if you say out loud, “Maybe 85 is enough.” Clearly, you missed out on the newsletter headline, “Life Begins at 90!”

Although the overall life expectancy in the US dropped a half a year in 2020 (down to 82.1) -- largely due to the pandemic –if you are a 65-year-old male and you stay relatively healthy and don’t smoke, you have a 43% chance of living until 90 and even higher chance to make it to 85. (Females, of course, live even longer.) Barring a fatal disease or some other kind of life-threatening trauma, you should plan on sticking around 15 or 20 more years than your granddad.

Many of us of the “OK boomer” age, not to mention those younger, have often switched jobs or careers or survived as a free-lancer many times in our adult lives. That doesn’t mean we are prepared to radically shift again at 70 or 75 for another 20-25 years. But these days, in many social circles, it’s a requirement. The idea of having no socially-useful purpose was probably never that popular in a get-‘er-done Protestant culture, but now we have fewer excuses – we are generally healthier, have better access to advanced medical help, know what we should or shouldn’t eat, and always in earshot of the constant cultural drumbeat to exercise, exercise, and don’t forget, exercise.

If you are generally disease-free and your health begins to falter, and your waist starts expanding and you’re panting after walking from the parking lot to Walmart and head right for that courtesy scooter by the door, you’re not going to get a lot of sympathies these days. The fitness edict, for many of us, is a baseline of social acceptance. Unfit, you could be accused of being a hopeless slob or simply “giving up on life.”

As a good friend of mine recently asked me: “Do you ever feel like you’ve done what you were put on earth to do?” Even if the answer is yes, which it honestly is for many of us septuagenarians and older, sitting back and watching sports on TV and walking around the block once a day is not an option. You’ve got to do something. You’ve got to have a good answer when, at the next social gathering, you are inevitably asked, “So, what are you up to these days? or “What are you working on?” You can’t say, “Watching whatever’s on Netflix.”

So, you keep at it. You forget about what you’ve done and try to focus on what you’re doing or on figuring out what you could be doing that you aren’t doing. Becoming disabled at 51, believe it or not, once I stopped feeling self-conscious about it or quietly remorseful that this awful thing happened to me, gave me a new direction, one that I’ve now been following for the past 14 years or so. I advocate for the disabled. It’s not an uncommon solution for many: recovering alcoholics become addiction counselors, veterans who have survived PTSD become VA volunteers, and retired teachers become pro bono teachers’ aides for kids struggling with math or English.

Since many of us have so long to live and are convinced that living as long as possible is a noble goal, the above shift in direction to helping others like yourself may itself run its course. Then you are back to square one. That’s the price of living in an age where agelessness is the ultimate victory. You have to keep re-inventing yourself and your purpose on earth. For some this is not an easy task.

I’m sure there are newsletters out there that cover this dilemma:

“Do Something, Pops! Time’s A’Wastin’!”

The National Paralysis Resource Center website is supported by the Administration for Community Living (ACL), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as part of a financial assistance award totaling $8,700,000 with 100 percent funding by ACL/HHS. The contents are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement, by ACL/HHS, or the U.S. Government.