If I’d been born 200 years ago, I’d be dead by now. Before you say, or think, “Well, der, obviously …”, by “by now” I don’t mean the year 2015, I mean the age I am now, which is 54.
In fact, it was only 100 years ago, in 1915, that 54 was about the average life expectancy at birth for a human male. If we account for the fact that most deaths occur in the first few years of life, if I’d already made it to 20 in 1915 (and I didn’t subsequently get killed in the Great War), I’d probably still have only made it to 60. (Of course, your life expectancy increases the older you get, because it’s only an average. This interactive map for the US will provide you with some more fun facts.)
In my case, however, my undoing might have been as simple as the broken ankle I sustained in my mid-twenties. If I had been born before modern medical health care was available, nearby and affordable — and I’d sustained the same injury I did that night I was dancing with Sid Vicious* — I’d at least have spent the rest of my life walking with a pronounced limp. Depending on the time and place of my birth, and the prevailing cultur, that is If, say, I’d been a member of a hunter-gatherer tribe, I’d probably have been left to die.
What I’m getting around to is the fact that I’m feeling lucky to be alive, and especially so because that’s purely due to an accident of birth. (There, two cliches in one sentence, beat that Will Shakespeare.) Being born at the time I was and into a family with reasonably robust DNA — I had a great grandmother who lived past 100 (although her daughter died in her 50s) — has served me well. As have the facts that I had the proper childhood vaccinations, I’ve not been being killed in an accident and I haven’t had to serve in the military at a time of war.
Not only are we living longer, we are also, in general, much healthier — physically and psychologically. My mother, who is very active in her 80s, noted that her grandparents “behaved old” when they were in their 50s. Attitude — your own and the way others see you — counts for a lot, too.
As far as work goes, I have plenty more in me. The Australian government expects me to keep going until I’m 67 — although there’s every reason to be believe that by the time I get there, the official retirement age will be even older. I will certainly be up for it, if it’s the kind of work I’m doing now. From my point of view, I am as good as, or better than, I have ever bee; certainly have more skills than I did when I was 20 — because I need, and like, to keep up with new technology –and I have greater experience and knowledge, while retaining the same mental dexterity and passion for what I do. Physically, I won’t be running a four-minute mile, but then I never did.
In many ways, I’m living in the best of times. I have no idea what’s around the corner, but as long as it’s not a speeding bus with my name on it, I don’t really care. Or even if it is, I’ll at least know that things were pretty good, most of the time. As a friend, who just had two unanticipated career changes in a matter of months, has become fond of saying, onwards and upwards!
*Not the actual Sid Vicious, but the very talented writer, director and actor David Brown, who was playing Sid in a show of his own creation.