I take an elevator to the eighth floor of One World Trade Center to get to work, and the ride never fails to offer awkward social interactions. You put a dozen caffienated workers in a 6-by-8 box, someone’s going to say something.
“You heard two of oldest people in the world died Sunday,” said a woman who works on the 11th floor. She said this as a statement; there was no question whether I’d heard. But I hadn’t.
“One was 114. The other was 113,” she said. “Both American women.”
“I hope I don’t live to be that old!”
The odds alone make hoping such a thing unnecessary. In all likelihood, this woman of around 50 (I’m guessing) has three good decades left in her. She may die from a grueling battle with cancer or suffer a massive heart attack with no advanced warning signs. She could go to sleep one night at age 83 and her body could decide its had enough.
I left the elevator wondering why people so often feel that way. Maybe it’s my lust for life that leaves me hoping I can live, well, forever. But I never take into account that whole “quality of life” variable. One of the women who died on Sunday was suffering from dementia. I can say I envy the length of her life, but certainly not the quality of it. Not down the stretch, anyway.
My reason for wanting to live as long as possible has to do with three things:
1. I want to witness change. The coolest conversations I’ve ever had were with elderly people who could put into focus how much has changed in their lives, not only technologically or economically, but socially. I want to have great-great-grandchildren who can’t fathom how gay marriage was ever illegal. I want to outlive racism. I want to tell people what 9-11 was like long after the new tower has been erected or how hard people fought against stem-cell research, handguns and abortion. Who can say how any of these matters will look in 50 years or 100 years. But that’s why I want to stick around.
2. People are living longer and healthier lives all the time. Life expectancy varies greatly from country to country and we know women generally outlast men. But the one constant with life expectancy is it continues to increase, and scientists aren’t exactly sure what the ceiling is. Could life expectancy someday reach 100 years? Who knows? My point is that we have more research and resources available to keep us healthier longer. I’m not saying I need to be golfing at age 95, but if I can avoid wearing Depends and recall who won the 2014 Super Bowl, I think I can be happy.
3. I’m obsessed with innovation. I guess this could fall under No. 1, but more particularly, I want to see how technology and infrastructure continues to evolve. When I went to college in 2003, wireless Internet was hard to find, Facebook didn’t exist, neither did Skype. Some people had iPods, but they were the size of a brick. GPS units existed, but they cost a pretty penny. My point is I want to continue to be impressed by what we come up with for years and years. I’m want to live out the Back to the Future promises with flying cars and instant-bake ovens. You know I want to be around when we land on Mars or when the Martians land here. I’m an admitted tech geek and news nerd. The moment I die, I don’t get to have that anymore.
I’m not a particularly spiritual person, but I do believe growing old is a privilege. Some of us shudder at being old and dependent, but you know what? That’s the expectation. It’s not like your letting anyone down. To expect otherwise is like being letdown when a newborn doesn’t hop out the womb with a full vocabulary and a muscular physique.
We’ve got a natural fear of losing control, and I get that. But I want to live to be really, really old so I can bear witness to all the cool futuristic shit going on around me. I’ve always been a curious observer.
The lady on the elevator said, “I hope I don’t live to be that old!” I wanted to tell her you should be grateful if you have that choice. I guess what makes me saddest of all is too many people are etching away at their gravestone before they ever get a chance to experience being old.
You know, some things get better with age.