As I close in on my 30th birthday, I realize that it’s time to recalculate my age. No, I don’t mean lie and say I’m 26. I mean practice my long division.
Do we all measure our ages in fractions, or is it just me?
Life expectancy for an American woman is approximately 80 years. This figure looked pretty good when I turned twenty (otherwise known as 25% old.) It was a good time in my life to plan, save money, and educate myself. I’d have another 75% of my life to reap the rewards.
Thirty years of age still adds up to 37.5% old, which, thank the lord, is still less than half. Good thing the year is 2009. If I’d turned 30 a century ago, I would have been 62% old.
But our denominators can change on a much shorter timescale than a hundred years. To illustrate, a thought experiment:
Today scientists discover a receptor that, when blocked, prevents malignant cells from dividing. Blocking this receptor cures cancer. All cancers. Scientists get to name newly discovered things, so I’ll name this receptor pamplemousse because the word is French and therefore sophisticated.
Lucky for us, the chemical that blocks pamplemousse exists in oak leaves. Voila. The cure to the second greatest killer of our time is available overnight. Twenty-three percent of all deaths in the United States in 2006 were due to cancer. Eradicating it would have a noticeable effect on life expectancy.
How big? I dunno. Let’s pretend it’s 20 years. (It’d be less, but we’ll make the number big to prove the point.) The new life expectancy is 100 years. The change would have less of a psychological impact on younger people. (I’ll be 30% old, 7.5 points less than I am today.) Someone turning 40 would be 10 points younger. Someone turning 75 would be nearly 19 points younger. The numbers get dicey for octogenarians, but you might say the discovery of pamplemousse would bring them back from the dead.
Would such a discovery change the way we plan and dream and live our lives? It wouldn’t make us any less likely to get hit by a Prius next week. It wouldn’t make us healthier tomorrow than we were today. But I do believe our ages, or how we think about them, would shift overnight. Age is such a fragile, labile thing.
What did I learn from this thought experiment? That I shouldn’t mind my coming birthday, since thirty years is a numerator, not an age.
Also, seniors would be wise to invest in cancer research.