Pushing Daisies (Life Expectancy)

Life Expectancy (noun) – the number of years a person is likely to live. (Oxford Learner’s Dictionary)

I write and rewrite these pieces in my brain multiple times before I ever bang them out. I wanted to have this one done immediately after my Mom had her first surgery. I’m kind of amazed how a piece that should be irrelevant to me winds up being even MORE relevant four months down the road. Some details might change, but the content and musings are about the same.

According to the CDC (https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/life-expectancy.htm and the following document https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nvsr/nvsr68/nvsr68_07-508.pdf), I have a life expectancy of 76.4 years (white dude, when they are born). If I’m reading the table correctly, by the mere fact that I’ve already made it to 42.5 years, I should (based on mathematical average) have 36.3 years to go. (The data is stratified by every 5 years, so I’m interpreting just a little bit). By the mere fact that I’ve made it THIS far, I’ve bought myself a little more time – 78.8 years now. In other words, if I follow the data, I’ve lived 54% of my life and I have 46% of it to go. If I hit the average on the nose, I’m over halfway through with my life. I kind of think of the Comic Book Guy from The Simpsons…. “Oh, I’ve wasted my life….”

Will I beat the average? I don’t really know. Here’s what I can brainstorm that’s working in my favor:

-Both sides of my family have people that have lived longer than average

-No major cancers on either side of my family

-I take relatively good care of myself (I do exercise, I eat healthier than average, although the plant based portion of my diet could improve)

-I don’t drink much alcohol (I’m not a teetotaler, but my migraines kind of dictate a reduced consumption)

-While many people don’t think of teaching as a low stress occupation, it is lower stress compared to my previous career.


Panorama on the Chubb Trail (Feb. 2020) taken with Sonia and Allison.

Working against me are the following:

-Cardiovascular disease on my maternal side of the family

-Autoimmune disease on that side of the family as well

-My sleep habits need improvement (better than they used to be)

-Living in a better, sunnier climate could help make it easier to maintain exercise (seriously, unless our children live in the greater STL area, Sonia and I don’t want to die in St. Louis. It’s great and all, but sunlight is needed.)

I’ve been thinking about life expectancy a lot ever since my Mom’s “brush with mortality” around Thanksgiving. It’s only natural to ruminate on the idea.

I won’t generalize too much for anyone else. I’m merely throwing out thoughts and ideas as I’ve been sitting on them for 3 months.

I believe that quantity does matter. Numbers may not outweigh quality, but it HAS to count. I would find it hard to believe that quantity does not affect quality, or at least influence it. If I had been given the diagnosis of some terminal illness, I would find it somewhat comforting to know I had 2 years to do things as opposed to 4 months. The amount of time we are given to cram things in can directly affect our ability do 1) do things we would like to do and 2) positively impact those we care about (#2 being more important than #1).

Speaking on a broader social context, look at the CDC numbers. Just by being white, I can expect to live 3+ years longer than a black male who is otherwise exactly the same as me. If, in a parallel universe, a 42.5 year old “black” Jason has the same thoughts as me and is typing this blog, I’d feel more than a little cheated out of 3 years. Not that there’s an easy fix, but wow, that’s an eye opener. Think of all the numbers, all the people, and all the LIVES that had to go into a 3 year difference (that is statistically significant). I’m sorry, sometimes quantity matters.

Volume can’t be the only thing that matters. That’s where this turns into, “what do I expect out of my life” and this moves away from a mathematical average.

That’s where I run into a lot of the friction – and I’m fairly confident that I’m not unique on this one. How does one reconcile that ticking clock with your responsibilities vs. all the things that you’d like to do vs. what your limitations (usually financial) are?

The throwaway lines – “live more and want less” and “money isn’t everything” fit here. “Do what you love, and you’ll never work a day in your life.” (That one is B.S.) These all have some utility in this area.

This summer, we are gearing up for what Sonia and I are pretty sure will be our last big, family road trip. Our son will be 15 this summer. The following summer, he’ll be 16 and working. It will be almost impossible to take more than one week off to do anything together as a family. Once he hits college, we’ll be on competing schedules – as well as competing ideas of where we should go. Not to mention, our daughter is 2.5 years behind him. It’s just a new phase – so we kind of feel like we have to make this summer count.

Most middle aged adults also will relate – roles in life change. We now offer as much support to our parents as they offer us. This is not a complaint; it is natural. When we plan for the future, this is something that is conscious and in almost every decision. How does “x” affect our parents? If it’s not good, then quite frankly, we won’t do it. It’s a set of lenses that most 20 and 30 somethings don’t always relate to.

How much money do we try to stash away for “later” vs. enjoy the “now”? When can I retire so I can do the things I “want” to do? What’s that going to look like anyway? And isn’t that tied to age somehow?

I suppose I got off of my duff to write SOMETHING after talking to my Mom late this week. She had surgery #2, this time to put her colon back together. She’s frustrated – and rightfully so. After having spent the 2nd half of 2019 sick, she’s kind of fried. And I can’t blame her. She’s lost weight, she’s spent significant time in and out of the hospital, and running to doctor’s appointments. If her gut isn’t acting up, her lupus is. Regardless of what’s going on, her appetite is zapped, and eating isn’t even all that enjoyable. She just needed to vent.

Her point was, in so many words, screw the life expectancy if I can’t enjoy FOOD. She’d like one meal to taste normal. Not even a fancy meal – just a regular, old fashioned meal.

There are no answers to these, I suppose. These are individual questions, with personal values, with responses that will differ depending on your upbringing, wants/desires, and personal wealth. I guess, for me, I’ve felt my own clock ticking more recently at any time since I quit career #1 because I can hear my Mom’s clock ticking. I feel like I need an answer now more than ever, and that I’m not going to find one. Or, more than likely, I won’t find something definite to my satisfaction. That’s one part of adulthood that I’m still getting used to.

Author: Jason Kesselring

I am a 44 year old high school chemistry teacher (and former pediatrician), happily married, and a father of two wonderful children. I blog sporadically, and if there's a theme in here, please tell me what it is!

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