A man in his seventies once said to me, “If I’d known how long I was going to live, I would’ve taken better care of myself.” I’ve wondered about this many times since. Would he really have taken better care of himself? Would he have drunk less whiskey, quit smoking, resisted the sausages and the fries and the biscuits? Would he have gone on daily walks? Drank more water?
Would any of us?
If you knew you were going to live to be a hundred, would you start taking better care of yourself now? Exercise and watch what you put into your body? Avoid the cancer-feeding sugar and fat-producing carbs that permeate our diets? Cut back on booze, sustain from smoking, fill your lungs only with fresh air, give your heart the daily aerobic workout it craves so that when you’re ninety your body is still in good shape, disease-free and not overcome with old age?
And, on the other hand, if you knew you’d die young, say, before your thirtieth birthday, would you work your ass off to get to where you want to get in your life before you run out of time? Or would you care only about having as much fun as possible while you can? To hell with the consequences, to hell with the health risks, for you’re going to die soon anyway. Travel the world, run up debts you know you’ll never have to pay off, eat chocolate in Switzerland, drink fine wine in Italy, eat pastries at quaint little cafes in France.
I think it’s one of those questions you can’t really answer unless you have to. But maybe knowing when we’re going to die wouldn’t be a bad thing. Maybe we’d all create more, work harder, have more fun and take better care of ourselves, because there’s no rule saying we can’t do all of those things.