How much time do I have left to live? Life expectancy is a child of aging; it is the biological harbinger of our own disappearance. During the second-half of life, we are required to negotiate a new relationship with time; mechanical clock-driven time gives way to the primal physiological ground of time. Our most cherished expectations in life enter into deep conversation with the ancient, universal rhythms of aging.
What can I expect?
An expectation is a fragile assumption about the future.
The future is a point in time that never arrives. It is an elusive creature that never fully reveals itself. The future can taunt us with the uncertainties of predictions, visions, hopes, and dreams.
All expectations encounter the unexpected. Expecting something to happen does not mean that it will. At the same time, the unexpected is an experience we are guaranteed to have.
Waiting in hope for our expectations to be realized is very risky. A life put on hold is a life of quiet desperation. All good things come to those who wait; many opportunities pass by unnoticed to those who wait. Be patient; seize the day.
An unfulfilled expectation is a source of disappointment. If we maintain a stranglehold on our assumptions, and they fail to materialize, we will feel the stabbing pain of regret over time lost.
When the unexpected occurs, we experience surprise. It can permanently alter our course of life in ways we could not foreshadow. The unexpected may offer new possibilities, or eliminate opportunities in life. The unexpected can make us feel fortunate or unfortunate.
The advice to expect the unexpected, or to plan for the unexpected is empty. If something arrives unexpectedly, there is no way it could have been “expected.” Risk management strategies might help to smooth out the unseen terrain ahead, but our path in life remains completely shrouded in mystery.
For example, good health is a fundamental issue in the second half of life. Even though we exercise, eat properly, and develop a relaxed mind, good health is not guaranteed. A disease can suddenly appear that suddenly redirects our life course. Or an accident can permanently alter our quality of life. Managing risks to our health is an intelligent approach, but it does not guarantee success.
All we can really lay claim to is the here and now.
Life expectancy by the numbers
Mathematical approaches to life expectancy result in statistical probabilities that reveal the number of years a person can expect to live on average at a given age.
For example, in Canada (2011):
- The average age a Canadian could expect to live to was 82;
- A newborn female had a life expectancy of 84 years;
- A newborn male had a life expectancy of 80 years;
- A 60 year old female had a life expectancy of 26 years (86 years);
- A 60 year-old male had a life expectancy of 23 years (83 years);
The Canadian statistics also reveal that there has been a significant increase in life expectancy in the past twenty years. Between 1990 and 2011:
- The average life expectancy increased 6.5% from age 77 to age 82
- A newborn female’s life expectancy increased by 5% from age 80 to age 84;
- A newborn male’s life expectancy increased by 8% from age 74 to age 80;
- A 60 year old female’s life expectancy increased by 8% from 24 years to 26 years;
- A 60 year-old male’s life expectancy increased by 21% from age 19 years to age 23 years.
The outer limits of life expectancy worldwide can also be revealed. The highest life expectancy averages worldwide in 2011 are:
- A newborn female in Japan had a life expectancy of 86 years;
- A newborn male in Qatar had a life expectancy of 83 years;
- A 60 year old female in Japan had a life expectancy of 28 years;
- A 60 year-old male in Qatar had a life expectancy of 27 years.
The lowest Life expectancy averages worldwide in 2011 are:
- A 60 year old female in Sierra Leone had a life expectancy of 10 years;
- A 60 year-old male in Sierra Leone had a life expectancy of 11 years;
- A newborn female in Sierra Leone had a life expectancy of 47 years;
- A newborn male in Sierra Leone had a life expectancy of 46 years.
Statistical portrayals of life expectancy originate in a numerical orientation to time. An average age is a statistical expectation. Life expectancy statistics are useful to identify problems within specific regions and to focus resources on solutions.
However, simply because I live in Canada and my life expectancy is eighty-three, does not mean that I will ever live to that age. I may die before age eighty-three, or I may live beyond it. I have no way of knowing how my life span will average into the statistics.
A long life in the absence of quality of life is simply an extension of suffering. Life expectancy statistics may hint at countries suffering from extreme violence (Sierra Leone), and therefore shorter overall life spans. They can also hint at countries with advanced health-care systems capable of medically extending life.
The main point is that the deeper narrative of life expectancy is far more complex than numerical averages can portray.
Life Unexpected – Where has the time gone?
Time does not feel the same in the second half of life as it did in the first.
There are more people now in their second half of life than any other time in history. The age-range of the baby boomer generation is currently age 50 to 68. This generation is a massive population demographic that is now firmly grounded in the second half of life.
The boomer generation is feeling deep changes in their relationship with time.
We can sometimes feel as though we have “lost” time.” I wonder how many of us feel that time has passed quickly, or find ourselves saying, “Where has all the time gone?” The feeling of lost time can be harsh and inhospitable; we realize that the life we have secretly desired is fading away.
In the first half of life we can feel as though we have all the time in the world. Time feels expansive and is associated with personal growth and developing independence. We sense that time is on our side; it does not feel limited or have a sense of urgency about it.
It is shocking to realize that time disappears.
As I move through the second half of my life, I sense that there is less time ahead of me than has already passed behind. The feeling of time is no longer expansive; it is contracting around me. My old ways of being in the world have become less satisfying. It feels as though something unfamiliar is calling.
Regret helps us to improve our relationship with time. Perhaps we all harbour regrets about lost time, of things left undone or unsaid. The stark beauty of life expectancy is subtle yet persistent reminder that the amount of time we have left in life is steadily decreasing.
We can expect our life to end. An uncomfortable truth is not inherently morbid or depressing – it is simply the truth. When we avoid the truth, we generate fear and anxiety. To feel the internal rhythm of life expectancy is to embrace the true nature of time.
Aging is the biological medium of time.
As we get older, we naturally enter into a primal conversation with the gradual decline of our own body. The natural rhythms of the body become the nucleus of our experience of time, while mechanical representations of time portrayed on a clock or calendar begin to fade.
Somewhere in the hazy terrain of mid-life, our biological rhythms invite a new conversation about our own life expectancy. Mechanical time begins to feel less and less relevant; our biological clocks begin to whisper the message of impermanence to us.
Aging changes the felt-meaning of time.