Today a friend approached me, sadness in his eyes, as I was having my morning coffee and croissant at Cole’s Coffee. He sat down next to me, put his arm around my shoulder and patted me on the back as if to comfort me. I was surprised for I needed no comfort. Perhaps, I thought, I have misinterpreted his look. Maybe his look was due to a suppressed belch, a swallow of bitter and cold coffee; or perhaps he needed comfort.
Then he spoke.
“Well, Kerry, in a week you’ll be living on borrowed time.”
“What do you mean by that?” I asked, expecting a humorous punch line. But no humor followed. He was deadly serious.
“Well,” he said, “in one week you will turn 80. The average life expectancy of a Caucasian male is 79. You are about to exceed that. You are borrowing time from guys who didn’t spend all their allotted years.”
I have no idea whether his statistics are correct, and rather than ask Google.com Ph.D., what is my life expectancy, I decided to explore the guts of his statement that I was living on “borrowed time.” Am I somehow indebted to those males who did not fulfill their life expectancy? The life insurance tables tell me that when I was born in 1937 my life expectancy was 58 years. My goodness, I have already, according to the reasoning of my friend, borrowed 22 years! Current tables tell me that at 80 I have a life expectancy of 8 years, but a baby boy born on my birthday this year will have a life expectancy of only 77 years.
So from whom am I borrowing?
Of course all this is rather frivolous and unscientific. One’s life expectancy changes each year as he or she ages. Having outlived my original life expectancy, and temporarily being in the position of exceeding the life expectancy of this month’s baby boys, I have to accept my friend’s conclusion that I am somehow indebted to someone or something for my good fortune to have lived so long, to be able to commence my ninth decade, or as I prefer to say, early old age.
In pondering a bit about this, I thought of a few of the things to which I am indebted:
- To the accident of fate that I was born in the U.S.A. to a loving middle class mom and dad.
- To my father who in 1937 at the moment of my birth somehow knew how to administer mouth to mouth resuscitation. In those days women often received ether during the birthing process. My mother received so much ether that it knocked me out in utero. When I emerged the M.D. could not get me to breathe. Looking into the delivery room and realizing something was terribly amiss, Dad burst through the doors, grabbed me from the doctor and puffed gentle breaths into my lungs until I breathed on my own.
- To the physicians who started my heart after my scalp split open by the falling bed of a dump truck on which I was riding on the running board during a construction job. My heart stopped during emergency treatment and the physician was able to restart it with a shot of adrenaline.
- To the accident of fate that after being drafted in 1961 I was not sent to Viet Nam along with many of my fellow basic training draftees who fought and died there. I was sent to Monterey, posted to the very safe and cushy position of Military Representative to the Monterey Peninsula Visitors' Bureau.
I could go on and on enumerating my debts. But in my remaining years (8.1 per the official tables) it is more important for me to make some repayment. To do so, I will contribute in whatever ways I can to the improvement of the lives and well-being of my fellow human beings-- family, friends and strangers, old and young, men and women, whatever their race, sex, sexual identity, religion, social status or ethnicity may be.
The slate won't be wiped clean, but the erasure marks will demonstrate that I tried.