Tuesday, August 9, 2011

"The Calculation"

I am attending a birthday party for a one hundred year-old woman. And the scary thing is, at my current stage of life, she does not seem that old to me.

As usual, a monumental milestone in someone else’s life leaves me thinking primarily about myself. I obviously don’t know what it’s like to be anywhere close to a hundred. But I imagine, if it were me, I’d be constantly wondering, “Is this it? “Is this it?” “I just sneezed four times in a row. Am I done?” “I want to go to the Dining Room. What are my chances of making it?”

I have a feeling that the super-elderly don’t think that way. I think it’s more like, “Where’s Harry?”, a beloved mate who “left town” over thirty years ago.

Which inevitably brings me to my next point. For the majority of people – I speak for that majority, since it would be too noisy for you to speak for yourselves – it is not so much a question of, “Will I live to be a hundred?” The answer, in most cases, even today, would be “No.” The more important question is, at whatever advanced age you reach, “Will I retain all my faculties?” The answer to that one, very likely, is also “No.”

Which takes us to the heart of the important question, that being, “Exactly how many of my faculties will I retain, and even more significantly, how many will I be willing to live without and still be okay with the idea of sticking around to see them rolling in a cake with a hundred and one candles in it? (One for “Good luck.”)

(I have chosen in this conversation not to veer into “Kevorkian Country”, because of the sadness of such situations, which would inevitably drive the tone of these proceedings irretrievably downward. Let me just affirm – and hopefully, by so affirming, I am meeting my legal obligations in this regard – that should a situation of terminal proportions befall me, I would request that the Emergency Room be bypassed in favor of a quick and painless visit to the Vet’s.)

We are talking here, not of catastrophic illness, but about the inevitable loss of faculties, more specifically, the calculation required to determine how many deleted faculties would be required before one would insistently and happily wish to call it a day.

You know what people say, maybe even you.

“I don’t mind growing old, if I can retain all my faculties.”

My reaction to that is, “That’s not going to happen.” We’re talking “Pipe Dream Country” here. I mean, it is entirely unrealistic. Even an aging Superman at some point has to settle for leaping over shorter buildings, and the “single bound” nonsense is just, “Forget about it.” Life simply doesn’t work that way. I’m sorry, but on the long journey to a hundred, certain faculties will just not be making the complete trip.

Do I know if the woman who’s hundredth birthday we are attending retains all her faculties? I do not. I don’t know her well enough to be aware of her personal history, and it seems inappropriate to inquire about them at her party.

“So, what have you lost. exactly?”

That’s not something you bring up at a Centenarian’s birthday celebration, am I right? That’s not just me being overly polite.

Her basic faculties seem to be functioning quite admirably. She resides, not in a Nursing Home, but in an “Assisted Living” facility – though “Assisted Living Facility” is an agreeably ambiguous operation, whose services range from “We cook all your meals for you” to “We press on your chest on occasion, to ‘assist’ you with your breathing.”

Acknowledging – and I don’t think I’m being inappropriately pessimistic here – that “You have to lose something“, the question then becomes, “Would you rather make it to a hundred with some missing faculties, or ‘check out’ at, say, eighty-seven totally intact?”

Discussions of this nature may be foolishly theoretical, along the lines of, “If the United States went to war against Canada, which country would you fight for?” (We actually had a heated debate on this subject at camp.)

Realistically, we have meaningful says neither in our life expectancies, nor in the departure schedule of our faculties. Still, the matter’s worth considering, if only to determine where we stand.

What also comes into play in the calculation concerning their departure is the important distinction between major and minor faculties..

“I have one permanently black toenail.”

Unattractive, but definitely minor.

“My salivary glands provide me with insufficient saliva.”

There’s a spray for that, that will bring you pretty much up to speed in the “spit” department, so that’s hardly a “deal breaker.”

“One on my fingers is numb.”

Wait a minute! One of my fingers is numb. Actually one and a half of my fingers – the “pointer” on my left hand, and the finger immediately adjacent – not the thumb, the other direction – the legacy of an alleviated pinched nerve in my back.

This, then, is not a good example, because I have that affliction, and I’m nowhere close to a hundred. I would delete the foregoing, but I fear the effort might overtax my damaged digit. And who knows? This malady could be heralding, “The beginning of the end”, so it should probably stay anyway.

There is little question as to which ones the “major” faculties are. They’re the ones that you go, “Oh, man!” to, when one of them goes away, unless the departed faculty in “speech”, in which case you just think it, and perhaps shed a tear, that is, providing that your tear duct function – a minor faculty – remains in good working order.

I guess when you get down to it, it’s an individual decision. The loss of which faculties, how many faculties, is the deterioration total or partial – the final calculation determining exactly how much you would be willing to put up with, before throwing in the towel. With the understanding, of course, that we are currently unable, except I believe in Oregon, to throw in the towel under any circumstances.

It is also probably not a question that can be responded to in advance. Your opinion may differ, when the situation actually arises. Perhaps life will feel more precious, and the calculation will no longer be,

“Two major faculties, and it’s, “Lemme outta here!”

“Loss of speech, and it’s, ‘Adios, Amigos.’ Inability to whistle? I’ll tough it out.”

“It’s over when I go, ‘Who’s that?’ and I’m looking in the mirror.”

“I lose any combination of major and minor faculties adding up to eleven – the major faculties counting as three points each, the minor ones graded on the basis of “impediments to a reasonable quality of life” – they add up to ‘eleven’, and I’m stepping in front of a bus. Assuming one of my lost faculties isn’t walking. Otherwise, I’m propelling myself out of bed, hoping that I compromise some essential organ.”

Sorry, I have to stop now. Theresa’s about to blow out her candles, and I want to see how she does.


PG said...

What about the ability to laugh? Would you call it a major or minor capacity? I'm constantly amazed at how some people soldier on through life without it.

growingupartists said...

The best thing about facing death, I mean OLD AGE first, and THEN death...is that you get to depend on your children to take good care of you. And yes, that includes wiping your ass (and your drool).

Jessica said...

Just be sure one of the faculties you retain is your ability to write. I'll be in my prime when you're THAT old...can't wait to read about all the gory details!

Dimension Skipper said...

I never want to attend a traditionally great old school (Harvard, Yale, etc.) because I hear they've lost most of their major faculties over the years.

YEKIMI said...

I hope I don't live to 100. I have no children to take care of me. I'll end up warehoused in a broom closet of a nursing home. I already have gas so bad that skunks complain about the smell. I can just imagine what it would be like if I ever made it to that age. No one would ever want to get near me! My only hope would be Alzheimers so I wouldn't know what was going on.

Anthony Fernandez said...

I'm thinking if someone really did put 101 candles on Theresa's cake, they might be trying to kill her.

Zaraya said...

Dear Mr. Pomerantz; for a man that didn't want to stray into Kervorkian Territory, you took quite a trip there. I suspect that losing one's faculties is the Big Fear(tm), "I don't growing old as long as I don't change."