November 2022

Life Unfinished

I used to tell myself that after 30 years of life, every extra year was gravy. A look at life lengths over the years backs me up. Life before civilization was “nasty, brutish and short” in the words of English social philosopher Thomas Hobbes, and the numbers are grim. 

According to web site very well health “After comparing the proportion of those who died young with those who died at an older age, the team concluded that longevity only began to significantly increase—that is, past the age of 30 or so—about 30,000 years ago, which is quite late in the span of human evolution.” 

So until 30,000 years ago, 30 years was your realistic target for a fully lived life. Nowadays we have children still living with their parents at that age. Current life expectancy is more than double what it was in the good ol’ days of 30,000 years ago, clocking in at 76 years in the U.S. in 2021. (It should be noted that this figure decreased for the first time in memory in 2020 and 2021.)

My point: even with this miserable disease, at age 63, I have lived a life that is by historical standards Methusalesque in length. With 33 years of that falling into the gravy category. No matter how you measure it, that is a boatload of gravy. 

(One of the few advantages of the old-fashioned abbreviated life span was a great rarity of Parkinson’s Disease, which is relatively scarce in those under the age of 55. Contrarily, it is hard to appreciate this when you are dead, as most people were by 30 years of age.)

Fast forward 30 years. The question is, has it been enough gravy? Am I sick of gravy? Fed up with gravy? It feels a little ungrateful, a bit greedy, but I answer with a resounding, all-caps, boldfaced, turned-up-to-eleven-extra-large NO! 

There is so much left undone. For starters, there are drawings to draw, books to read, vistas to explore, people to meet, adventures to survive, music to be played, celebrations to be celebrated, sunrises to admire, sunsets to savor, wise-cracks to be cracked wisely, meals to share, arguments to win and lose, buildings to build, games to play, temptations to resist or succumb to, stars to gaze at, wrongs to right, and stories to tell. 

This is an ambitious agenda, especially if you have a disease that is characterized by slowing down those it afflicts. So the upshot is this hasn’t been gravy after all. I simply need extra time to complete my shift here on Earth, thank you very much. 

I am reminded of my old religion professor Dr. George Ball. He lived to nearly 100 and saw and experienced things in his time that would have crushed a lesser spirit, including being among the first Americans to witness the horror of a Nazi death camp as a World War II U.S. Army chaplain. In an uncharacteristically somber moment, he told a group of us what he wanted for his epitaph “He Wasn’t Finished” 

A life unfinished, but well led.  That is certainly something those of us with Parkinson’s Disease can aspire to.

by Peter Dunlap-Shohl
NW Parkinson’s Blogger