Here’s some welcome news for once: Global life expectancy is on the rise. In 1990, the average person could expect to live 65.3 years. Today, that number has increased to 71.5, and over the next decade and a half it is expected to climb all the way to 81. Keep in mind that this average includes developed countries like the U.S. that have seen a steady increase every year since at least the 1930s, as well as areas like East Asia where life expectancy skyrocketed by thirty years in a short period of time. In other words, it's a great time to be alive!
While unexpected deaths occur in even the most advanced countries, they are not nearly as common as they were in the past. Diseases, and infections that once caused sudden death can now be cured or prevented, and despite public perception, deaths caused by war have been in steady decline since the end of the Cold War. As a result, people are not only living longer, they are dying slower. Medicine and modern health care are able to detect the signs of fatal maladies early on and often slow their progression, effectively easing us gently into the ground.
One of the results of an aging population is that we are now able to ask a new question: What happens as we die? (Note that this is not after we die, but as we die, while we are in the process of dying). Here, we can learn from the Catholic saint, Gabriel of Our Lady of Sorrows (1838-1862). He prayed for a slow death so that he could prepare himself by correcting wrongs, by asking forgiveness from those he had neglected, and by making things right where he could.
Gabriel of Our Lady of Sorrows
By Passionist Fathers - Bishop of Teremo, Public Domain,
As medical technology continues to improve, it seems that Gabriel’s prayer will be answered for most of us. How will you use your time?
If we are not intentional, the habits we formed over a lifetime and that we are living out right now will continue to shape us up until our last breath. Death is not a guarantee that you will change, nor is it something to be afraid of. It is a gift that nudges us with the urgency to make better choices right now.
You're reading this, which means you are alive and it's not too late. Let go of your fear, let go of your pride. Release yourself from shame and embarrassment. Deep down, you know if there is something you need to make right, even if you are trying to hide it.
Maybe you and your spouse drifted apart over the course of your marriage. Take the first step toward coming together again (if you need a suggestion, try watching Hope Springs together). Maybe a friend hurt you, and you stopped talking to them. Try to reconcile. Maybe it's your kids, and you justified pushing them away by telling yourself that your career was more important. Turn that ship around and get to know them.
Step into your true self, the self that is vulnerable and free. Ask a question. Visit family. Be honest. Be open. Be willing to change. Admit what you are afraid of, put it out there and see how the world responds. Death may be life's greatest gift, but you don't have to wait until you die to accept it.
Russ and his soon-to-be-psychologist wife live in Los Angeles, U.S.A. He is fascinated by the intersections in life, where everything comes together into something meaningful that transcends expectations. Although he watches too many movies, he justifies it by writing about them. Russ is currently working on an MBA, has an MA in theology (emphasizing film, philosophy and culture), and a BA in ancient Greek/Hebrew. When the weather is nice (and it's always nice in L.A.), you'll find him surfing, running or backpacking up in the mountains.
See all previous articles by Russ Shumaker