Friday, October 8, 2021

#281 / What A Privilege


The chart above is from a New York Times bulletin, received on the day I am writing this (which is a couple of months before this particular blog posting will actually appear on my blog). The bulletin advises readers that "Covid is a terrible health crisis [but] it’s not the country’s only health crisis." The chart indicates that the current life expectancy of an average American is now 77.3 years.
77.3 years old is almost EXACTLY how old I am as I am writing this blog posting. I simply have to believe that I am "above average," where life expectancy is concerned, and that I will still be "vertical," as they say, when this posting goes live on October 8, 2021. I hope so!
If not, as Woody Guthrie's wonderful song puts it, "So long, it's been good to know you!" Click that link if you'd like to hear Woody Guthrie sing it.

One reason that our average life expectancy seems to be taking a dive is explained in that bulletin from The Times:
Deaths of despair
It’s hard to imagine a more alarming sign of a society’s well-being than an inability to keep its citizens alive. While some of the reasons are mysterious, others are fairly clear. American society has become far more unequal than it used to be, and the recent increases in mortality are concentrated among working-class Americans, especially those without a four-year college degree.

For many, daily life lacks the structure, status and meaning that it once had, as the Princeton University economists Anne Case and Angus Deaton have explained. Many people feel less of a connection to an employer, a labor union, a church or community groups. They are less likely to be married. They are more likely to endure chronic pain and to report being unhappy.

These trends have led to a surge of “deaths of despair” (a phrase that Case and Deaton coined), from drugs, alcohol and suicide.
Well, I do think that a feeling of despair has got to be a factor in our plunging life expectancy. After all, the term "life expectancy" itself seems to suggest that our "expectations" are one thing that keep us all alive. I am inclined to believe it. I could refer you to another one of those old time songs, that does indicate that "thinking positive" may be important: Keep On The Sunny Side. Click that link if you'd like to hear the Carter Family sing that song.
One of the persons who reads this blog pretty regularly - and sometimes corresponds with me about it - recently sent me a couple of emails reflecting on the state of our world, and of her own expectations, looking ahead. One of these emails hit my inbox right before I read The Times' bulletin. What my correspondent said is an example of what that Times' bulletin was talking about:

I don't like this world anymore.... Maybe I should just pull back and stop reading the news…. I sure wish I could…. I do not like this world and am GLAD I'm almost outta here….. I feel so sorry for my dear little great granddaughter who just turned 4 this week. What our children and grandchildren will be facing is horrendous—there is no other way to put it.... I seriously don't know how I'm going to get through the next few years…. it's all getting to be just too much!
A lot of people, from all sorts of different circumstances, are feeling something like that - and for obvious reasons. I tend to feel like that a lot of the time, myself! One of my favorite Bob Dylan songs, in fact, Precious Angel, has some lyrics that run around in my head quite regularly:
My so-called friends have fallen under a spell
They look me squarely in the eye and they say, “All is well”
Can they imagine the darkness that will fall from on high
When men will beg God to kill them and they won’t be able to die?
Bad times may be coming (I do feel pretty confident they are coming - largely because they're already here). Nonetheless, I am sticking with the Carter Family's approach, and with Hannah Arendt's observation that each one of us is a "beginning and a beginner," and can do something new, and unexpected, and can change the world. Clearly, as I have recently said, I am still "majoring in utopia." 
Here is what I wrote back to my correspondent. I think it's good advice: 

I actually share your thoughts. But I hope you won’t worry too much about “getting through.” Tribulations aside, I am managing to be grateful for the chance to be alive. Even just to watch the whole world unwind! What a privilege!!
It is a privilege to be alive, and I am still hoping to be "vertical" when you read this in October. And if not, play that Woody Guthrie song for me!
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