Death found an author writing his life.. Desig...

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Expanding one’s vocabulary deserves missionary zeal, but how many of us bother to learn a word a day?

Here’s a word for you – micromort – it’s the one in a million probability of death. Check out the chart. Very cool.

Most of us don’t spend much, or any, time worrying about our impending deaths. But make no mistake, everyone’s death is pending and has been from the moment you first drew breath.

The lucky majority, and I use the term “lucky” subjectively, will shuffle off to the undiscovered country at various degrees of ripe.

Statistically, only a small percentage of those over 70 can be considered healthy enough to be envied. The rest are, in various ways, chronically ill or disabled or both. One’s sixties, realistically, are the last frontier because the exercise one didn’t bother to do, the healthy foods not eaten, sleep deprivation, needlessly self-imposed stress and a general wishful thinking about being one of the lucky few because one’s great-grandfather married a twenty year old and had a half-dozen babies with her when he was 70 won’t matter one bit. Old age is ruthless and can really only work with the raw material at hand, not the genetic promise willfully squandered decades before.

Some of us though will bite it long before our born on dates could conceivably be considered stale.

Bad luck. Bad timing. Bad roll of the genetic dice rendering us susceptible to environmental triggers for all manner of nasty conditions. Whatever. Still dead.

And the odds mount as we age. At 60 a man’s risk of dying in his sleep on any given day is 27 out of a million. It climbs to 118 out of a million at age 75. In 1841 the odds sat at 86 and 266 per million respectively. But though modern life affords us more years, it doesn’t usually grant us good ones.

If you knew that sometime in your mid to late 60’s you’d physically deteriorate to the point where daily life was a real struggle, would a long life be as appealing?

The yogis – the serious ones – tend to live and live and then just die. But I suspect that their lifestyles make that possible in a way that no one in North America can really emulate.

My mother had a health scare recently. A lump in her breast turned out to be a harmless cyst, but at nearly 80, she has slowed noticeably. Her eyesight is failing at a rate that will result in blindness at some point yet to be fully copped to by her doctor, and she suffers from a variety of ailments that haven’t dampened her enjoyment of life but are harbingers of heart disease and strokes yet to come.

I am reminded of mortality – again – by the death of a friend’s father this last weekend.

Sudden but yet not really.

“How old was he?” Rob asked.

“Five years younger than Mom,” I said.

“Oh, well, that’s getting into prime death territory for men.”

And he was right.

We are lulled by media stories of centenarians climbing mountains but they make the news precisely because there are so very few of them.

The clock is always ticking. It just speeds up at 60 and gets steadily louder and slightly faster with every year after.

I was born at 7:36 A.M. forty-four years ago today. That – is a long time ago my friends, and yet if you asked me if I feel old or to define “old”, I don’t know if I could. Sure I recently berated a poster on my DM-Register blog about the delusional tendencies we “boomers” have about age and how that relates to us (not at all if you were wondering), but 44 is a considerable number of years. I don’t feel wiser though I am a bit creakier of joint and stiff of muscle at times. I have gray hairs (I may have mentioned this before) and I have wrinkles (of which I am not fond but I deal).

The celebration of me and my birth has gone through changes since that first birthday, a bittersweet day for the 17 year old who bore me and gave me up, I am sure. Over the course of my childhood it was duly noted by my immediate family and some extended with just three parties ever been held in my honor – my 1st birthday, my fifth and my thirteenth. I would not have another birthday party until my 37th. Will, my late husband, gathered our friends for a dinner celebration out at a new restaurant in Cumming, which is no longer there and where he is now buried. Throughout my teens and twenties my birthday was a hit and miss affair. During my college years it always fell during finals and no one could be coaxed away from books and notes for even the tiniest party. Once I was teaching, I might sometimes be feted by a class or a group of coworkers but the day was by and large just another day. I haven’t celebrated my birthday with my mom since high school, but I do remember one year in college when she actually got my gift and card to me on the very day of my birthday. The book was a fictionalized biography of Henry the VIII by Margaret George. Mom inscribed it even and I still have it. It’s sitting on the bookshelves in our living-room. Will always made a big deal of my birthday because he loved me and because he knew how much I still resented the birthday slights of the past when I had gotten combo birthday/xmas gifts and usually neither one was very nice. It made me wonder if anyone I knew had any idea at all of who I really was.

Today, Rob surprised me at lunch with a carrot cake (it’s the only kind I can eat without getting sick) and presents from Katy that he had picked out for her to give me. Books. Ken Follett’s World Without End which I had requested from the library about a month ago already and was still 43rd in the queue. I also got Helen Humphrey’s The Frozen Thames which is a collection of short stories whose setting is the River Thames during those times it has frozen over – something it doesn’t do anymore. Rob is getting me a rebounder which he thought was an odd thing for me to want for my birthday but that’s me. I received three phone calls. One from my friends Meg in Iowa and then a call each from my parents. There were birthday greetings and wishes on my Facebook wall as well today from friends and my two wonderful step-daughters. And I have to say, that 44 is suiting me but that’s not a surprise. Age in general has always seemed a better fit than youth did.

If 32 is old than I am on the verge of becoming Abraham’s wife when I turn 44 next week. I say this because I just finished reading a blog piece by reallyexcited at the Des Moines Register, where I also blog (as anniegirl1138) these days though it is more topical stuff. He was lamenting his loss of youth (and hedge-like eyebrows, I think). I understand what he means about gauging one’s own mortality by measuring it against the relative youth, or lack thereof, of others. As a firmly planted in middle-aged woman, I am painfully, at times, aware of the fact that I am considered “day old” or worse in terms of my appearance. When I am not being assaulted every other page of Oprah the magazine by remedies for my sagging skin and paunching belly, I am running across article after article in the life sections of the Globe and Mirror or the Daily Journal advising me on the proper attire for someone “my age”.

I shouldn’t wear my hair long. Nothing gives off more of a desperate odour than a woman who doesn’t crop her locks with the birth of her first child. A symbolic shearing to remind her (as if everything else that pregnancy and nursing do to the body isn’t enough) that she is not a girl anymore. Tight clothing is out. Form-fitting is permissible, but only if a woman maintains a form that won’t offend with rolls and curves and less than perky boobs.
Personally, I don’t think anyone is truly ever old. On the inside anyway. I still marvel at the fact I held down a job for twenty years and no one questioned my ability to do so even once (to my face and that I know of). I’ve owned two pieces of property in my own right. And I drive. Right out in the traffic with everyone else. Funny but this last is the thing that most signifies the beginning of the end in terms of youth for me. The day the state of Iowa, in all its wisdom (and it’s way older than I am) deemed my old enough to drive. I was telling my younger step-daughter not long ago that I still sometimes am as amazed that I can drive a car as I was on the very first day my father let me take the car out on my own.

Nothing tips the scales irredeemably into “old” as becoming a parent.I remember the first weeks as a mother to my now five year old and wondering how it could be that I was being allowed to raise her. I wasn’t grown-up enough yet. Surely someone would notice any time and come and take her away. Give her to some grown-up woman who didn’t still walk the Barbie aisle at Target with longing. Someone who cut her hair short just in anticipation of motherhood and took notes during the birthing classes. Someone who didn’t forget her just learning to speak in sentences baby was in the backseat while she was listening to Eminem (though to my credit I did quit when she began requesting the “stand-up song”).

It’s an eye of the beholder thing like nearly everything else. I have never longed for my teens (and my recent 25th high school reunion reminded me again why) or my twenties. I was smooth and grey-less and my knees didn’t creak like the stairs, but I wasn’t nearly as strong or confident or happy with myself. Why go back? Why even think about it? Life is meant to be lived in a forward progression with each birthday finding us a wee bit closer to the enlightenment or at least the wisdom to recognize who we truly are behind the wrinkles that block our morning views.

“I’ll be old until I die” is what I think reallyexcited said, but the reality is that you will be old when you think you are and how near or far that is from your ending days is up to you.