My granddaughter Lily is almost three. She has gotten excited about being scared. She wants her parents to tell her scary stories, and when she comes to visit, she wants me to be a “Tickle Monster.” That means I hold my hands up and lumber after her growling. If I catch her, I am supposed to tickle her, but she doesn’t let me catch her.
She runs away, and when I get close, she looks genuinely terrified. She’ll run to her mother and hold up her hand and say, “freeze!” I am supposed to stop then, while she managers her feelings of fear.
Last Sunday she wanted to play hide-and-seek. I went upstairs and turned off the lights. She’d come up, look in the dark rooms, and leave. She was afraid of the dark. Then I’d go to the top of the stairs and she’d see me and I’d run into the dark bedroom and hide. Finally she got a flashlight and found me. Then we got my college-age son to look for us and we hid in the closet while he came upstairs and shined the flashlight around.
What does this have to do with living a long time? Well, I am getting to that. Some people want to live a long time, others do not. They think of spending many years as crippled, sickly and weak. But that is not true. People who live a very long time actually spend about the same amount of time sickly and weak as anyone else. They just have that end-of-life phase much later.
But others do want to live a long time. They look at death as very undesirable, and practice a variety of programs and treatments that may extend their lives. I am more in the second category. I enjoy life and want to live as long as possible.
When I went to see my doctor, he asked what I wanted. I said I want him to help me live to 120 in excellent health. His deer-in-the-headlights look told me I had come to the wrong doctor. I track what health indicators I can, but he doesn’t seem too interested. My blood pressure is good as long as I take the blood pressure pill he prescribes. On the days I do a long run, it is very healthy, around 105 / 65. But my fasting blood glucose is somewhat high. He blows that off, saying it is fine for my age. While my morning number is 95 to 100, I would like it to be much lower, around 80. I have been reading about that and it is better to have a low number. He is not impressed.
The longest lived person to have a verified age was Jeanne Calment of France (1875–1997), who died at age 122 years. She met Vincent Van Gogh when she was around 12. In men, the oldest verified age was Christian Mortensen, who lived for 115 years and 252 days. In other words, there is an absolute limit to age of around 115 – 120. No one lives longer than that. So I think my goal of 120 is a good one.
Now why should I want to live that long? Because I really like my family, and I think it is a tremendous privilege to play hide-and-seek or tickle monster with grandchildren. I love teaching and consulting, and after thirty-five years in my field of psychology, I have a good deal of wisdom to share. I am amazed and astonished at this world and its infinite delights. I’d like to plant a hardy pecan tree and harvest nuts from it. I want to share pecan nuts grown in a climate where pecans generally don’t grow. I want to surprise and delight my neighbors. Life is good.
My challenge to you is to ask, what is your reason for living? If we simply want to live because we are afraid to die, isn’t that an absurd reason to live? If we somehow think we are important and deserve to live, if our goal is to play golf and visit foreign lands, don’t we deserve to die an early death?
But if we want to live because we can contribute and benefit others, then we have a good reason to continue to live. I interviewed a man who had a near-death experience at 19. He met a being, an angel, if you will, and was asked, “John, are you ready to die now?” He didn’t know. He said he was only nineteen and asked for advice. The angel replied, “It really doesn’t matter. Either choice for you would be a good one.” He finally decided he’d like to raise a child. The angel was tremendously pleased and told John that was a worthy reason to want to continue to live.
So it is with us. Do we want to help? Do we want to make the lives of others better? Then we ought to do all we can to live as long as possible. I want to be a blessing in the lives of others.You are invited to my 120th birthday party.