Saturday, December 30, 2017

A Mind is a Terrible Thing to Lose

This was almost me, this morning.

This morning, the squirrels are in the bird feeder.  Mark says, "go out there and chase them away!"  So I put on a pair of shoes, and still in my pajamas (it is cold!) I go outside.  As I go by the front door, Mark says, "grab a cane!" which I did, not knowing why.  Was I going to hit the squirrel with it?

Anyway, I run out on the lawn, waving the cane and shouting at the squirrel, and my pajama bottoms fall down, as I had failed to tie them, coming from the bathroom.  Fortunately, I was wearing underwear.  I hear the front door slam and latch behind me.

I realize, in an instant, what is going on here.  Mark is trying to have me committed to an insane asylum.  He will call the Police and say I am in my bathrobe with my pants around my ankles, outside waving a cane and screaming at the squirrels.   They will lead me away in a strait-jacket and take me to the funny farm, where life is beautiful all the time.

Well, that didn't quite happen.  But we had a good laugh over it.  And I moved the bird feeder so the little buggers couldn't jump onto it from a neighboring branch.

But it got me to thinking.   We live on old people's island, and we get to see, firsthand, how the body and mind start to fall apart over time.   Every so often, you read an article in the paper about how some researcher has found a chemical or some gene or something that causes aging.  Aging is an interesting process - apparently your body just shuts off after so many years, and then starts a long, downhill decline toward death - and there is little you can do about it.

When I was a kid, I remember getting a cut on my finger.  My Mom put a band-aid on it, and the next day, I took it off and the cut was gone - like a miracle!   At age 57, if I get a cut, it can take days, weeks, or even longer to heal.   The body just seems to have forgotten its own DNA and how to repair itself.   And cuts when they do heal, leave scars, instead of the beautiful smooth skin I had as a youngster.    I remember also, at that age, my Dad admonishing me to leave the band-aid on.   At his age, he realized that simple cuts could get infected and take forever to heal.   In his childhood, before antibiotics, a simple cut could kill you if it got infected.   We lived in different worlds.

But there are other things that cause you to die, other than your DNA being programmed to do so.   And it is programmed for a reason.   While this death thing may not work to your personal advantage, it insures the survival of the species, by keeping the bulk of the population young and agile.   A society that becomes old and feeble, dies.

But in addition to these species survival instinct, your body falls apart due to simple wear-and-tear.   If you smoked or worked in a dusty environment, your lungs will burn out - if you don't get cancer first.   Your joints and muscles will weaken, no matter how much you work out at the gym (or perhaps because you do).   Your liver and kidneys and other organs will become damaged from disease or from what you eat and drink.   Your heart will clog up like an old kitchen sink.   Blood vessels may burst and kill you suddenly.   All sort of nasty things can and will happen to you.  We see it every day.

The brain itself, however, can also wear out.   Brain cells don't regenerate, and if you drink heavily, you kill off brain cells by the millions, over time.   Various diseases and some drugs can also affect your brain function.   Over time, you lose cognition and start to forget things.   In a way, this can be a blessing, as your brain dies before the body does.   Others live to be very, very old, and their bodies become decrepit, pain-wracked machines, barely supporting the life of the still-alert brain, who feels every discomfort and indignity.   Mark's grandmother lived this way in the last decade of her life, rarely leaving bed for nearly ten years.   I am not sure that is a good way to go.

A friend of mine tells me that "All you ever talk about is money and death!" which upsets her, as she is in denial of both.   They spend money willy-nilly and assume there will be more down the road when they need it.  And I hope that is the case for them, too.   They also assume they will live forever, and that death is something that happens to other people or something that is so far off, there is no need to think about it.

But I think that understanding a finite life is essential to living it.   When you invest money, you realize that it is not forever, but rather you are investing to become independently wealthy, because there will be a time very soon in your life, when you can no longer earn money or just choose not to, and you want to be in a position where you have enough cash to support yourself during those last few decades of life.   Dying sucks, yes.   Being broke and dying sucks even more.

You see, life is about the experience, and you want to have a good experience, not a shitty one.

And I think understanding - and talking about - the finite nature of life is important, as well as talking about and understanding money.  Because you only have so long in this world to figure this shit out!