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The Countdown Clock Never Stops Ticking

On a Sunday afternoon in May 1987, I drove my family to my parents’ house so that we could visit with them. At the time, Georgette and I had four children — Harry, Anna, Maria, and Laura. When we arrived, my mom wished me a happy birthday. I had turned 30 the previous week. After wishing me a happy birthday, my mom’s first question was, “How does it feel to be 30 years old?”

Before I had a chance to answer, my wife spoke up and said, “He’s been depressed about it.” I looked at my wife and she had a smile on her face. She knew that her comment would stimulate an interesting and unpredictable conversation between me and my mom.

My mom looked at me and said, “Why would you be depressed? You have a lovely wife and four beautiful children. You have everything going for you.” I immediately responded, “Mom, any deadbeat can have four kids. And he doesn’t have to limit himself to one woman to do that! Besides, I’m in debt up to my ears and I don’t feel like I’ve accomplished anything.”

In a sharp tone of voice, she said, “Shame on you!” while she swung her right hand around and hit me on my left arm. “You know better than to say something like that. God has blessed you more than you know.” She wasn’t done talking. She continued to give me the typical lecture that a loving Catholic mother would give to her little boy when she felt he needed to hear what she had to say.

In reality, beginning at the age of 30, I got a little down every five years as my birthday approached. At the age of 30, 35, 40, and 45, I felt sorry for myself because I didn’t feel as though I had accomplished what I was capable of accomplishing. I’ve always had high expectations for myself and it’s easy for me to get discouraged because I’ve failed to meet those expectations.

When I turned 50, I no longer had the same feelings. By then, I was resigned to the fact that I was doing the best I could and that it would do me no good to beat up on myself.

This past week, I turned 60. At the beginning of the year, I started having different feelings about my upcoming birthday. For the first time in my life, I felt as though I didn’t have very much time left. I had never felt that way before. With each prior birthday, I felt as though I had plenty of time in the future to do what I wanted to do. But this time it was different.

I’m not sure why the age of 60 triggered those thoughts. It may be because in our culture, a person ordinarily retires from work at the age of 62 or 65 years old. I have no intention of retiring at either of those ages. Most of the time, I enjoy what I do. I feel as though the work and writing that I do is good exercise for my brain.

Just as our bodies need to be challenged with vigorous exercise, our brains also need to be challenged on a regular basis with critical thinking, planning, and decision-making in order to retain their youthful vitality.

One of the cards that I received for my birthday was from my office manager. Part of what she wrote on the card was, “The life expectancy of the average American male is 76.4 years. You have a good 16.4 years left — make it great!”

My office manager is aware of the life expectancy statistics which come from a mortality table that I use in my personal injury trials. The mortality table is published by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Whenever I have a client who has a permanent injury, I’m allowed to use the mortality table as evidence in a trial to show the jury how many more years my client may have to live with the pain and suffering that was caused by the accident that is the subject of the lawsuit.

After I read the card from my office manager, I looked up the most recent U.S. mortality table and while the average life expectancy of an American male who is born today is 76.4 years, for men who have reached the age of 60, the remaining life expectancy is 21.5 years (Age 81.5). What that means is that if a man has reached the age of 60 without dying, on average, he will live another 21.5 years. That makes me feel a little better because it added another 5.1 years to my life.

Just in case you’re curious, the average life expectancy for an American woman who is born today is 81.2 years. For a woman who has reached the age of 60, the remaining life expectancy is an additional 24.4 years (Age 84.4).

From the 1500s until the early 1800s, the average life expectancy throughout Europe ranged from 30 to 40 years of age. During the 1800s, the average life expectancy began to increase at a steady pace.

So let’s see how some of the saints did compared to the statistics.

Saint Louis de Montfort died in 1716 at the age of 43. As a young man, he worked in a morgue where he saw all the dead bodies that were delivered to the morgue. It was this experience that made him realize that his time on Earth was limited. By keeping this in mind, he accomplished much more for God than others who never gave much thought to their own mortality.

Saint Thérèse of Lisieux (The Little Flower) died in 1897 at the age of 24. Even though she lived on Earth for a mere 24 years, Pope Pius X called her “the greatest saint of modern times.” She became a nun at the age of 15, and then joined her two older sisters in a cloistered Carmelite community in Lisieux, Normandy.

One saint who beat the odds was Saint Alphonsus de Liguori. He died in 1787 at the age of 90. Another saint who beat the odds was Saint John Paul II. He died in 2005 at the age of 84. The newly canonized saints, Francisco and Jacinta Marto, died much earlier than the average male and female. Francisco died in 1919 at the age of 10, and Jacinta died in 1920 at the age of nine.

We were each given a predetermined number of days to live on this Earth. When we die and come face-to-face with God, we will have to account for each of those days. How was our time used to get to know Him? How was our time used to develop a greater love for Him? How was our time used to serve Him?

A lot can be accomplished in a day. On the other hand, the time we spend in a day can be wasted for all eternity. We need to keep this in mind each time we log into Facebook, decide to watch a movie or television show, surf the internet, or hang out with friends. Is our time being used so that we can know, love, and serve God in a deeper way, or are we simply engaging in meaningless activity?

The countdown clock never stops ticking. Beware. Your end date is nearing.

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One Response to “The Countdown Clock Never Stops Ticking”

  1. Sister Roberta Houlihan, CSJ Says:

    My dears – Harry and Georgette-
    I smiled as I read today’s writing about life expectancy! It never has dawned on me to “worry” about the aging process – and it is interesting to learn about it. I look forward to my 91st birthday this year, coming in September. My conversation with God: “I’m ready when You’re ready! But if You’re not ready, place the persons in front of me for whom I can bring YOU into their lives.” (or some such words). As I look at my life, I see that God has blessed me abundantly, and I am in awe. I look at your family and see how God has blessed each of you! I’m grateful that God has let me be a part of your life, too. Loving prayers for you! Sister Roberta

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