It’s 7:30 on Saturday morning and I am settling down with my coffee and my laptop. An hour ago I was suiting up to go out and deal with Ma Nature’s April Fool’s joke while my coffee water boiled. I got a path shoveled from the door out to the garage, to the cat door (which comes from the basement) and up to the chicken coop. The ducks were clamoring for their water. Once I got the path shoveled, I hauled up the duck bucket and retrieved the chicken waterer. Slogged out to leave money for the plow guy, cussing myself for a fool for not thinking to put the money out last night before the snow got to be eight inches deep.
Ah, life in New Hampshire, where the first of April can be 70 degrees and sunny, or a blizzard.
As I pour my coffee, I glance at the shopping list posted on the fridge. Bananas, OJ, epsom salts, wheat thins. I consider adding “the strength I had when I was twenty.”
All in all, I’m not bad for an old lady. True, sixty isn’t all that old in this age of miracle medicine. We have the power to keep people alive for longer even than they might want to be. Hence the new necessity of Living Wills and DNR orders. On the other hand, I am hearing news of the unfortunate passing of individuals even younger than I. Fact is, life is uncertain, and it gets more so as you age.
I expect, barring disaster, I will live a good deal longer. I’m healthy, active, and can shovel heavy wet snow at 6:30 in the morning. My hair is still mostly brown, although the grey is spreading back from the temples, and it’s getting damn thin. I don’t need glasses except for reading or other fine work. So as long as I watch what I eat and keep exercising both my brain and my body, I should be okay. My grandmother lived to be 101. My mother lived to be 50. I expect I can at least split the difference.
Death isn’t what scares me, anyway. There’s a quote attributed to Mark Twain (likely apocryphal, but nonetheless apt): “I do not fear death. I had been dead for billions and billions of years before I was born, and had not suffered the slightest inconvenience from it.” When I die, I shall cease to care about much of anything. My energies and molecules will go into Nature’s great recycling bin to be used to build something else. I’ll know nothing about it. The peculiar organic construction that generates this mysterious manifestation called “me” won’t exist anymore. You might as well ask where the image goes when the projector is taken away.
That’s what I believe anyway. It’s what makes sense to me, and I’m sticking to it until irrefutable proof to the contrary comes to light, which isn’t likely.
No, what scares me is what might happen to me while I’m alive. Like most people, I’m not a big fan of suffering. As this meat vehicle I’m driving gets old, it begins to break down. The process can be painful. I don’t look forward to that. What really terrifies me is that the very component which generates the “me” I’m conscious of could begin to malfunction. I could lose my ability to think, to remember, to create, to write. I could become a heartbreaking burden to others with no clever redeeming qualities. There could be no greater horror.
Well, never mind. I’m not there yet and, thank goodness, I have no way of knowing the future. Today I am in pretty good shape with every reason to be optimistic. One can’t help worrying about what might happen, and it makes sense to try to plan for it the best one can. But the present has more than sufficient reasons for anxiety. No need to borrow from the future.