The Final Countdown

This weekend, I started counting down the days I have left to live.

On Friday, I started with 14,892. On Saturday, I was left with 14,891, then down to 14,890 Sunday, and now I’m left with 14,889.

It’s a big number. But it’s not that big of a number. And every day, I see it getting smaller. I delete another number from my life, and it gives me the shivers. And for good reason. I’m deleting my own life from existence.

I’m dying, and so are you.

I haven’t been diagnosed with a terminal illness. I don’t have the ability to predict the future. I derived the number from an actuarial table. I’m now 37, and according to the table, I can expect to live another 40.8 years. 40.8 x 365 = 14,892 days left to live (I didn’t bother with leap years).

And I’m counting down the clock. It’s called “the final countdown.”

We all know we’re mortal, in the abstract. But we put our mortality in a box. We hide it away.

Counting the days re-focuses your attention.

You can tell yourself to seize the day all you want, but actually counting down the days in your own life is something else.

We’re hardwired to think our existence is eternal. As conscious beings, it’s hard to contemplate the moment when we will cease to be conscious beings. We are intuitively inclined to feel that in spite of all the evidence to the contrary, that our consciousness is eternal. We see the elderly in nursing homes with dementia and decreased faculties, and we tell ourselves: That won’t be me. But that is us, and we are them. We’re made of the same stuff.

We’re decaying. The clock is ticking.

(I’m not the only person who does this, or so I’ve read. The point is not to say that this exercise is novel – only to say that it’s important.)

Most of us are obsessed with the wrong numbers – the ones in our bank accounts, rather than the likely number of days we have left to live. We think the numbers in our bank accounts represent some form of security – a form of certainty that we’ll be ok. But no matter how big we make the numbers in our bank accounts, the number in the final countdown grows smaller each day. The former can go up and down, but the latter only counts in one direction. Again, we all know this in the abstract, but we trick ourselves into thinking that more money can make us immortal – can protect us from our inevitable fate.

Our mortality is like the blind spot in our field of vision. There’s a space where we can’t see what’s there, so we project something there that isn’t real. We project a false sense of security and complacency to cover the gap. But, whereas the hallucination that completes our visual field helps us to live, the parallax in our mental field does the opposite. It keeps us from living. It keeps us thinking that we’ll delay what we want until tomorrow. But time and decay mean that anything we delay may never come to be. We make hard tasks harder and give ourselves less time to do them.

That’s why must count the days while we can, so that we appreciate every day of our conscious lives as the glorious, unrepeatable miracle that it is.