People have always aspired to live long. In a brutally short and unpredictable life merely outliving others could be looked upon as an accomplishment, a blessing. Besides, old age brought with it a measure of status, even veneration. A mere idiot became a sage by dint of simply clinging to life. But desirable as it may have been longevity was clearly understood to be a fluke, an answer to a wish or a prayer. No one deluded themselves that it was within their power to affect it.
Not so now.
Living longer and longer is now a science. It is the dominant aspiration of an aging population reared since infancy to believe in its power to control destiny. Getting old and staying healthy has gone from being a rare and lucky break to an obsession. And a multi-billion dollar health and wellness business complex fans and feeds the fantasy that old age and decrepitude can be beaten.
Put simply, the delusion of control states that if you live a “healthy lifestyle”, meaning that you avoid smoking, drinking, the sun, the air, tap water, cell phones, sweets, all non-“organic” food, and in addition spend every spare minute of your life in a gym, you will not get sick, live to climb mountains at 88, and continue to date into your 90s. Young people may believe this, old people should know better, yet they don’t.
What the people who make their billions on drugs, wellness books, and plastic surgery don’t want us to know is something we shouldn’t need anyone to tell us; every year added to your life adds a factor of risk to your health, regardless of how “healthy” you are. Getting old is the real danger to your health, not what you do, and unfortunately that’s the one thing neither you nor anyone else has any control over. A 45 year old falling and cracking their hip is a rarity, at 85 a certainty. In fact being past 80 and NOT having a life-threatening, debilitating, or at least hugely limiting disease is a freak of nature worthy of a news article. With that prospect a statistical certainty, staying alive is the name of the game, at all cost, even hooked up to a life support machine. The quality of that life has become secondary.
I beg to differ.
Being healthy for me means being able to move about unaided, to have the full use of my senses and my mind, to be free of pain. These are minimum requirements, the lowest benchmark that might justify the effort demanded by living. If these requirements can be met, they make the aggravations of life worthwhile. As it is, most geriatrics today, with their arthritic pain, truckloads of medications, and replaced hips, shuffling along with their walkers, swaddled in diapers, or brainless with Alzheimers aren’t even in the ballpark. The delusion that this fate can be averted is nothing but wishful thinking and a marketing ploy for snake-oil merchants. A few rare exception to this dismal picture actually prove the rule.
And still death is always regarded as worse than living, no matter how horrific and pointless life seems to be. It is nothing but a mindless prejudice. If the minimum benchmark of a pain-free, mobile, and lucid life cannot be met, wouldn’t the alternative of dying make far more sense?
The Kvetching Factory
"Start every day with a smile and get it over with" (W.C. Fields)