Linda Downing

Living long and well

A friend of mine screeched to a scary stop not long ago, just in time to keep her car from hitting a fellow human - rendering her very real punch line: "I almost killed the undertaker." We laughed, but between that, another birthday, and a recent poll, I'm giving more thought to living long and well - to postponing my own collision with the undertaker. The Pew Research Center says two-thirds of Americans polled want to live between 79 and 100 years. More than a few said less than 79 will do. The context of the poll was a "what if" question: If medical treatments could extend life spans to 120 years, would you undergo them? First, what-ifs are dead ends. If we live long enough, we know that. Second, if 51 percent of those polled said living to 120 or beyond is bad for society, they were either under the age of 50 or pretending altruism. Scientists say experimental animals are living longer, looking younger, and are healthy; so, "What if?" Having seen dead guinea pigs, we still prefer someone else go first.
A live human is another matter. According to Bolivia's public records, Carmelo Flores Laura is 123, the oldest living person ever documented. Other than residing in a dirt-floor hut at 13,100 feet altitude and walking a lot, he is like many other people in the world: He keeps breathing and hasn't given much thought as to why. Even with some decline in hearing and seeing, he is glad to be alive and smiles at journalists who visit him. More of us deteriorate in fear than live in faith. Worshiping youth, we produce headlines like these from July: "Law Requires Chinese to Visit Aging Parents"; and, regarding Americans, "Who Will Care for an Aging Generation?" Traditionally, the Chinese venerated their elderly. Now the law must mandate care as aging parents sue their children for neglect. With our healthcare debacle and the breakup of families, America's aging populace has cause for worry. The Dallas Morning News began a report like this: "It's confirmed: We have grown world-weary." That was in the context of a Pew poll that says near-record levels of Americans desire an isolationist foreign policy. However, even if we withdraw from without, we will exhaust ourselves from within if we neglect our own. Russian scientist Dmitry Itskov believes human minds can outlive bodies by shifting brains into robots. That "what if" aims to bury our proverbial ostrich heads in the sand. It explains why the world's oldest globe, dated 1504, is engraved on two conjoined halves of ostrich eggs and carries one sentence: "Here be dragons." We are afraid of what is out there if we go, and we fear what is here if we stay. To kill the undertaker mentality, we must believe that every moment of our lives is important, that we count, that there is still more for us to do. Nelson Mandela once smuggled a note out of his prison cell that read: "Any man or institution that tries to rob me of my dignity will lose." They lost; he won. And in his win, he blessed us all. It is life to believe that the God "who began a good work in us will complete it" (Philippians 1:6). For most of us, that takes a while of living long and well. Finding truth requires the right starting point. That is the quest of this column. If we seek simple truth, we can find it together-side-by-side. Linda M. Downing is a freelance writer. Contact her at