Our life expectancy has roughly doubled from about forty years in the Middle Ages to around eighty years now, and the number of living centennials keeps growing. There are now around 450,000 people on earth who are a hundred years or older, up from 316,000 in 2012. We tend to look at a long life as an accomplishment. Our medical establishment has worked on prolonging life at the far end in many ways, and when someone dies early we often believe that the doctors could perhaps have done better, or that the diseased was robbed of many more years on this beautiful earth. We are especially sad when children die.
Our culture is quantitatively oriented, not qualitatively – bigger, taller, older, and more is supposedly better. We not only value life, we especially value youth, because we fear death. Hence we tend to push death out as far as we possibly can so we don’t have to deal with it too soon. We have removed it from our lives as much as possible, and in general, it’s not a subject we feel comfortable delving into deeply. But will we ever live forever? Probably not. So, sooner or later we have to deal with our own mortality. Besides, all other life on earth is subject to this birth to death lifecycle as well, so why would we be an exception?
But there are some indications of a shift in this conversation. Models tend to be older now, and show up confidently with silver hair; movies tell stories of older couples; the Times recently wrote about the Positive Death Movement. Buddhists have always said that “you need to die while alive in order to live,” a transcendence that can only be achieved through a mystical experience.
How do you feel about death and dying, and what do you teach your children? What if a life’s quality, or a particular break-through that was achieved, were more important than the number of years alive?