This week I met a 100 year old patient. Apart from needing to use a walking frame to get around, she was in great condition. Her mind was sharp, and physically she could still do a lot for herself: cooking, showering, making the bed. And she told me all of this with great, unreserved pride.
I was truly in awe of her. How did she get this far in life with all of her faculties still in order? I wondered what it would be like to live that long. I spent the weekend telling my friends and family about how I had met her.
After talking a bit about this we all agreed that living to the age of 100 and being sharp as a knife would be an amazing thing, as you would have seen the world change dramatically. For example when she was young, a phone call would involve a person picking up the receiver, then asking an operator to connect you to the number that you want to call, waiting for them to plug it in, then waiting for that phone to ring until the person answered.
Nowadays we can video-call someone who might be living on the other side of the world, in real time, and with high quality images from a wireless device. It’s something that we all probably take for granted but it is an amazing feat of technology.
But as amazing as that is, we also agreed that it would be terribly sad to live that long. She told me about her loved ones who had passed away years ago and how much she missed them. Her husband died over 30 years ago… and I really thought a lot about that as well. It meant that she’s spent my entire lifetime without her husband. I couldn’t even imagine it.
The reality is that most of us won’t live that long. She is the exception rather than the rule. And I think most of us know that. But although we probably don’t think that we’ll live to 100, I think most of us go through life thinking in the back of our minds that we will live long… maybe to the age of 80.
On the one hand that’s a good thing because it motivates us to be financially responsible and plan ahead for the future. But on the other hand, I think it can make us complacent about our lives. It might mean that we hold a grudge with a loved one for too long about something petty, or we don’t meet up with a friend because we’re too busy, or we wake up every morning thinking about how much we hate our jobs. These are things that we are probably all guilty of.
But what if we had the mindset that we won’t live long at all? Or that our health could change tomorrow. Maybe we could look at life with more appreciation and gratitude. Like today I’m grateful that I am healthy, that I can walk, that I can read, that I have a job, and that I have a family. And then if I look at my family and friends with that same mindset, that tomorrow isn’t guaranteed for them either- then maybe I wouldn’t hold that grudge against them, and I would make the time to hang out with them, and I would tell them what they mean to me. Maybe that’s really how you live a full life.