Saturday, November 11, 2017

Traveling At The Edge Of Life Expectancy

Allow me to deviate a bit from the worlds of Imaging and PACS...I'm straying way out of my wheelhouse on this one.

This starts off with a happy occasion, a Mediterranean cruise. Mrs. Dalai and I recently joined some friends for a two-week trip through various European cities and towns. We had a great time and enjoyed some beautiful sights and wonderful food. I won't bore you with every little detail, but suffice it to say the ship was very comfortable, and the destinations were spectacular.

Mrs. Dalai and I have travelled extensively over the years, often by sea. Until recently, we were generally the youngest people on the ship, and even when we went to Antarctica, we were in the lowest quartile or quintile age-wise. On this last trip, we were perhaps in the lower third. Still respectable.

Modern medicine is a wonderful thing. We cure diseases that were once fatal, and we perpetuate life way beyond the limits our grandparents, or even our parents, thought possible. And that is certainly a good thing. But it can be somewhat of a mixed blessing. With the reasonable expectation of living well into our 70's, 80's, and not uncommonly, our 90's, we may feel less pressure to accomplish the things we should be doing at a younger age. I'm surrounded by this mentality. Many colleagues and acquaintances are working themselves to death, hoping that they really aren't, trying to make hay while the sun shines. If you believe you will be alive and kicking after retirement, and assume you will be as healthy as the day you turned 40, that makes some sense. But my observations on this particular journey demonstrate some fallacy in that approach.

True, modern medicine has delivered us many spry individuals in the 70's and 80's, although I can't honestly say if they represent the majority of their age-group. Some of our fellow travelers certainly fit that category. Sadly, many, at least a significant plurality, did not. There were any number of folks who could not walk up a flight of stairs (but tried anyway), who could not walk more than a few hundred feet on a tour clearly labeled "NOT FOR THOSE WITH PHYSICAL LIMITATIONS" (but tried anyway), and who really weren't quite sure what time-zone, what port, what country, or even what planet they were visiting (but didn't care anyway). These pour souls rather clearly didn't enjoy the experience, and presented an impediment and even some danger to the rest of the gang. I'm speculating a bit, of course, but I think it likely that these folks delayed their gratification to the point of no return. They saved and saved and saved for the trip of a lifetime, working hard, sacrificing, scrimping, and generally putting things off until just short of too late.

Please don't think I'm a callous jerk. I love old people. I hope to be one someday. According to AARP, I'm one already. So stop throwing dentures at me. I don't blame the old folks for trying to enjoy life, even if their insistence on doing so impacts me. That isn't really what this is about.

The message I want to deliver is directed at those my age and younger. It is simple but profound: Life is to be enjoyed, treasured, and cherished. It is not meant to be a rat-race wherein we try to accumulate the most cash and the most stuff before we croak.

He who dies with the most toys is still dead.

While it's rude to tell people how to spend their money, and how much to work or not to work, I'm hoping I can inspire some of you to strike a balance. Find what you love, and indulge yourself while you can still enjoy it. Obviously, don't break the bank, but don't deprive yourself until you have no self to deprive. Find a way to enjoy yourself without killing yourself, losing sight of who you are and what incredible things you already have. Like a spouse, kids, dogs, cats, etc.

I wish I had the complete answer, but I don't. You can't take a round-the-world cruise in the Owner's Suite of the Queen Mary II, or drive a $300,000 Bentley SUV at age 35 unless you were born rich, hit the lottery, or came up with that Killer App. But perhaps you can do a shorter trip on a slightly less luxurious vessel, and drive a very nice Toyota. Or a trip to the beach. Or even camping in the backyard. Enjoy what you have while you have it. There is always something desirable just out of reach, no matter what level you've achieved. If you let the pursuit of such define you, you'll never, ever be content.

For most of us, it's all about compromise, and the realization that very, very few can have it all right bloody now. But putting everything off until you're 95% deceased because you had to collect just one more paycheck is a shame, a tragedy. Compound that with the sad truth, which I see daily, that sometimes life does not go on. All the more reason to celebrate and enjoy.

In the Talmud, the collective work of Jewish wisdom, is found this passage:
Rabbi Eliezer said: “Repent one day before your death.” So his disciples asked him: “Does a person know which day he will die?” Rabbi Eliezer responded: “Certainly, then, a person should repent today, for perhaps tomorrow he will die—so that all his days he is repenting.” (Talmud, Shabbat 153a)
I'm more into reflecting than repenting, although I do my share of that, too. I might alter the Rabbi's response to read, "Certainly, then, a person should live today..." I'm not suggesting indulging in a daily bacchanalia, but rather to simply enjoy life and all the gifts thereof. Live within your means, invest for the future, but LIVE today. It really is that simple.

You may now resume throwing your dentures.


stacey said...

Excellent piece. I also submit that one of the reasons many of those folks are unable to walk up a flight of stairs, etc... is not soley because of their advanced age, per se, but because they failed to exercise/be vigorous for the decades prior to reaching that age. Use it or lose it....

Anonymous said...

Completely agree!! I have been reminded several times that life is short so I intend to travel as much as my budget & work will allow.