I think it was my ten year high school reunion somewhere in Orange County, California where I reconnected with one of my best friends from the 6th or 7th grade. At the start of junior high we were tight. I learned to ski on trips to Big Bear with his family and I spent a memorable week backpacking with them in the Sierras. He was a stud, a good running back and hurdler who gave both up for surfing and partying which he also excelled at. In high school, I was his designated driver.
Must have been the drugs, because at 28, he was pretty whacked out. Despite not looking especially healthy, he pigeoned-holed me and was going on and on about living to something like 125. I should have humored him and told him I was really looking forward to our 100th reunion. Pills; 1,000 calories a day; filtered carrot juice, can’t remember all the bullshit stuff he thought would get him to triple digits.
Granted, my childhood friend is more extreme than normal, but most of us don’t like thinking about dying. Many people spend lots of energy trying to delay it as long as possible.
In hindsight, I wish I had encouraged him to think legacy not longevity. It’s not the length of our lives, but the quality of them. Whether 40, 60, or 80, do you leave your world—whether it’s your family, the places you worked, the physical environment, or your community—better off?
I have to credit Peter Whybrow, author of American Mania, for this reminder. This sentence of his stopped me dead in my tracks. Pun intended:
In a collective denial of aging. . .we employ all available technologies to simulate youth, misunderstanding that the secret to immortality lies not in the individual but in the society we leave behind.
I can’t express it any more clearly than that.