Stock of ages

"Age is a case of mind over matter," baseball legend Satchel Paige once said "If you don't mind, it don't matter.

While discussing deaths of celebrities, including some we knew as friends, wife Amy and I noticed that one had died at 64. “My god,” I said. “Was he that young?” Then it hit me. At what point in my life did age 64 start feeling like being young?

I grew up at a time when 40 was middle age and people died in their early 60s.

Now, a study completed for The United Nations reports the “global life expectancy is 72.6 years in the United States. As someone whose age now is about 72.6, that causes some worry but the U.S. Center for Disease Control puts American life expectancy at 78.6 years.

OK, that makes one feel a little better. My mother died at age 89. My father died at 29 in an industrial accident, so that doesn’t count. My dad’s mother died at age 99. My maternal grandmother made it to 92.

Browsing the CDC data gives me some hope. Most Americans died from heart disease, 647,457 in 2017. A workup on my heart last month shows no disease.

Second is cancer with 599,108 deaths. My only cancer has been of the skin variety, which is fatal only if ignored and Carilion had been fanatical about keeping tabs on my epidermis. Scans for other cancers two weeks ago came up negative.

Accidents come in third: 169,936. I’ve had a fair share of them, including the cow-motorcycle encounter in 2012 that came close to killing me but failed. I try to be more careful now, but I still ride my Harley from time to time.

By the time 2020 comes to an end, the COVID-19 Coronavirus will probably rank third or higher as a cause of death in this nation and worldwide. Statistics from Sunday show 142,883 U.S. deaths and 605,735 around the world by July 18. The CDC now expects the virus death count to top 200,000 or higher this year in America and could top a million worldwide.

There are far too many ways to die. Suicide took 48,344 lives in 2o18 and was the 10th leading cause of death. On average, 132 Americans kill themselves each day, reports the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. An estimated 1.4 million tried and most failed.

It looks like there a a lot more than old age to worry about when it comes to life expectancy.

“Wrinkles mean you laughed,” someone once said. “Grey hair means you cared and scars mean you lived.”

Satirist and math wiz Tom Lehrer wrote a song about a European woman who had several famous husbands and lovers during her colorful life. In his introduction to the song, “Alma,” he noted:

Last December 13th, there appeared in the newspapers the juiciest, spiciest, raciest obituary it has ever been my pleasure to read. It was that of a lady named Alma Mahler Gropius Werfel, who had, in her lifetime, managed to acquire as lovers practically all of the top creative men in central Europe.

And, among these lovers, who were listed in the obituary, by the way, which is what made it so interesting, there were three whom she went so far as to marry: One of the leading composers of the day, Gustav Mahler, composer of “Das Lied von der Erde” and other light classics, one of the leading architects, Walter Gropius, of the “Bauhaus School of Design”, and one of the leading writers, Franz Werfel, author of the “Song of Bernadette” and other masterpieces.

It’s people like that who make you realize how little you’ve accomplished. It is a sobering thought, for example, that when Mozart was my age, he had been dead for two years! It seemed to me, on reading this obituary, that the story of Alma was the stuff of which ballads should be made.

–Tom Lehrer

He concluded his song with this verse:

And that is the story of Alma
Who knew how to receive and to give.
The body that reached her embalmah
Was one that had known how to live!

–“Alma,” by Tom Lehrer

Thank you, Mr. Lehrer. For this longtime fan, you put life and death into a proper perspective.

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