CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- West Virginia has a surplus of seniors -- including me. Statistics rank our state with either America's oldest or second-oldest population.
I still work, long past retirement age, mostly because I enjoy the sense of purpose and the daily challenge of analyzing tangled public issues.
But I know that my aging timetable is ticking away, week after week, month after month, and cannot be reversed. I think all of us in our over-the-hill cohort should view our status wisely with matter-of-fact acceptance.
Here's a column I wrote on the topic in the latest Free Inquiry magazine:
I'm quite aware that my turn is approaching. The realization hovers in my mind like a frequent companion.
My wife died several years ago. Dozens, hundreds, of my longtime friends and colleagues likewise came to the end of their journeys. They number so many that I keep a "Gone" list in my computer to help me remember them all. Before long, it will be my turn to join the list.
I'm 81 and still work full-time. I feel keen and eager for life. My hair's still dark (mostly). I have a passel of children, grandchildren and rambunctious great-grandchildren. I love sailing my beloved dingy on small Lake Chaweva, and hiking in shady forests with my three-legged dog, and taking a gifted grandson to symphony, and seeking wisdom in our long-running Unitarian philosophy-and-science circle. I now live with an adorable woman in her 70s, and we relish our togetherness. But her health is fragile. Her turn is on the horizon too.
I have no dread. Why worry about the inescapable, the utterly unavoidable, the sure destiny of today's seven billion? However, sometimes I feel annoyed because I will have no choice. I'm accustomed to choosing whatever course I want -- but I won't get to decide whether to take my final step. Damn!
I have no supernatural beliefs. I don't expect to wake up in Paradise or Hades, surrounded by angels or demons. That's fairy-tale stuff. I think my personality, my identity -- me -- is created by my brain, and when the brain dies, so does the psyche. Gone forever into oblivion.
I'll admit that some reports of "near-death experiences" raise tantalizing speculation about a hereafter. But, in the end, I assume those blinding lights and out-of-body flotations are just final glimmers from oxygen deprivation. I guess I'll find out soon enough.
It takes courage to look death in the eye and feel ready. Sobeit. Bring it on. I won't flinch. Do your damnedest. I'll never whimper. However, maybe this is bluster and bravado, an attempt to feel strong in the face of what will happen regardless of how I react.
Unlike Dylan Thomas, I won't rage, rage against the dying of the light. Instead, I plan to live as intensely as I can, while I can, and then accept the inevitable. I find solace in wisdom I've heard from other departees. Just before she died of ovarian cancer, one of my longtime friends, Marty Wilson, wife of a former South Charleston Carbide researcher, wrote: