Tuesday, December 11, 2007

"Tending, as all music does, toward silence"

One-hundred-and-fifty years ago, the average life span in developed countries was about 40 years. In 1900, it was closer to 50. Today, we're pushing 80 (click on map). Men have an appreciably shorter life expectancy than women, which means, on average, that I am in the last decade of my life. Funny, but I feel like a spring chicken.

The increase is almost entirely due to scientific medicine, agriculture, nutrition and sanitation. My doctor wants me on drugs for cholesterol and blood pressure. My sister urges me to buy lots of little weedy things from Dr. Andrew Weil. My daughter pushes deep breathing. I'll stick cautiously with my doc and try to live healthy and breathe deep.

The futurist Ray Kurzweil predicts that we are on the verge of dramatically increasing the length of human life as we learn the biochemical causes of senescence and death. If he is right, my grandkids, now in their teens, may live with good health well past 100, or -- who knows? -- until they get knocked down in the street by a bus or cut low by disease. Kurzweil apparently takes fistfuls of dietary supplements. He's twelve years younger than me; we'll see who lives the longest.

Will humanity be able to cope with another doubling of life span? I am just as happy that I won't be around to find out. Give me another decade or so and I think I'll be ready to tottle off to "that cottage of darkness." I'm not expecting anything on the other side, but if the immortalists turn out to be right and I am blessed with an eternity of Chetness, maybe I'll finally get around to reading Proust.

(The two phrases in quotes are from Mary Oliver.)