Calculated Midlife Crisis
Like a losing bet in Vegas, it took a minute to sink in as I realized I have used far more weeks than I have left on this planet.
I am only 46 years old and I recently discovered I have weeks to live. If I hang on until the trusted CIA Fact Book's life expectancy estimate of 78 years, the 32 years difference from my current age equals a mere 1,664 weeks. Time is ticking away. My fiancé introduced this concept to me one day, trying to be funny. Instead, she induced panic. Prior to this revelation, 1664 was just a number I read on the side of a Kronenbourg beer bottle, boldly declaring the date the company was founded. Now it represents the final countdown to my inevitability.
Reflecting on my life in weeks made me anxious about my mortality in a way I had not previously considered when thinking about my life in years or tens of years. A year is vague and conceptual; it seems to be filled with a lot of time. But in a typical week, I might not have enough time to even pick up my laundry or visit the bank or drugstore. This week I was too overwhelmed to make it to the gym and call my aunt. A week can fly by. How could it be that, if I am lucky to be average, I might only have 1664 of them left?
Of course, once I started to obsess about how many weeks I had to live, I naturally moved to a consideration of just what I had already accomplished in the weeks I had lived so far. The other day at 2 AM, unable to sleep, I multiplied my current 46 years by 52 weeks for the grand sum of 2,392. Like a losing bet in Vegas, it took a minute to sink in as I realized I have used far more weeks than I have left on this planet.
Just exactly what did I accomplish with these 2,392 weeks? The first 624 weeks (12 years) were basically completed without the ability of seasoned abstract thought, which left me feeling short-changed. For those 624 weeks I have only fuzzy highlights to show for effort. They include my wonderful first grade teacher, Sister Maria, who was kind, patient, and magical as she seemed to float down the hallway in her long black habit and gown. There were the family gatherings - BBQs in our backyard and Christmas morning chaos as we ripped opened presents around the tree - that all merged into one composite memory. I played with a parade of family dogs, most named Skippy. A standout memory was when the family sat around the television watching Neil Armstrong land on the moon. For better or worse, I’ll always have the games and fights with my older siblings. I also made some friendships that will last until the end. But surely, the next 728 weeks (years 13-26) must have added up to much more.
The sum of those next 728 weeks includes the angst and apathy of the teen years in high school and the endless hours thinking about what it was I wanted to do with my life. I experienced the painful death of a parent who was too young to die. Those years also include the all important discovery of sex, as well as a meaningful first love. There was also the discovery that friends + beer and hot dogs + a ride on the Coney Island Cyclone does not always equal a good time. In that time, I finally earned my degree and found a direction in my life. Yet, I did not write an amazing novel, discover a cure for a disease, or make one billion dollars selling coat hangers. What did I really accomplish during all that time?
For the next 20 years until the age of 46, I consumed 1,040 weeks. During these weeks I traveled across 4 continents, visited 30 countries, scores of cities, and developed a career I still find interesting. I fell in lust and love again and again, and eventually settled down with my soul mate, someone I thought I had lost during those first 1352 weeks. I played the role of mentee and mentor. I saved a life with the Heimlich maneuver. I occasionally volunteer, donate when I can, and make the people around me laugh, and sometimes it is intentional. I have developed as a photographer, made progress in therapy (forced upon me by a girlfriend), and purchased countless Apple products. I have spent god only knows how much time searching on Google and reading the news. I have probably wasted at least one full month watching TV series on DVDs and VHS cassettes. How much time was lost waiting for trains, planes, elevators, and being put on hold by utility companies that incorrectly billed me? I have not become a dad or bought a home and don’t think I want to. I took care of a parent, found a new relationship with him, and then lost him to Alzheimer’s and then a heart attack. I have made out my own will and health care proxy. But what’s next?
What if I don’t make it to that average age? I could be caught up in a natural disaster at week 100, diagnosed with a terminal illness at week 223 or fall victim to a careless texting driver at week 999. I am looking at 1,664 weeks left provided everything goes as planned. That’s only 11, 648 days or 279,552 hours, less the time I’ve spent writing this piece.
In the mean time, I did not start dyeing my hair, break up with my girlfriend for a younger model, buy a fast car, or ditch my career to learn to be a sharpshooter in the Olympics. I have, however, become much more conscious of each day and hour and how I am spending my time. I’m starting to take more chances, follow up on my writing, making to do lists and actually checking things off. And if I am lucky maybe I’ll get to see a Mars landing, spend as many years as possible with ones I love, and I’ll continue to have experiences that will make me a richer person in more ways than I could ever imagine. I’m counting on it.
As I am finishing this up, trying to calculate the number of seconds I have left, my girlfriend has strolled over to see what I am doing. She rolls her eyes and tells me to pull it together. It’s time to walk the dog - not named Skippy this time around. She asks me to promise that I will not think about this anymore and apologizes for getting me started on this road. I make the promise, but like other types of midlife crises, it has changed me.