“Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.” — Dylan Thomas
a person who compiles and analyzes statistics and uses them to calculate insurance risks and premiums.“
During dinner last night I struck up a conversation with a fellow traveller. I asked him what he did for work. He pulled on a vodka and tonic and replied, “I figure out when people are going to die.” It took me aback. “I’m sorry,” I said,” you figure out when people are going to die?” “Yes,” as if he were talking about the weather. This guy is paid to figure out when people are most likely to be dead. He works for an insurance company. He’s called an actuary. I was a torn between absolute fascination and complete revulsion. Who the hell figures out how to figure out when people are going to be taking that dirt nap? How does this guy sleep at night? He’s paid very well for this capability, by the way.
“I have spreadsheets and calculations that combine a variety of factors,” he explained. “Age, gender, marital status, race, lifestyle, exercise, medical history, addictions, chronic problems…and whole list of things…you’d be surprised what we know about you and when we can best predict that you’re going to die.” Personally, at some level, it makes cruel sense. I’m not in great shape. I have a history of heart disease in my family. I have high blood pressure. I don’t sleep enough. Lots of other excesses. Does all of that have to end up an X/Y axis on a stranger’s computer. And, worse yet, does it have to end up with the bean counters who look at my life, all of our lives, so antiseptically? Sort of grosses me out. This guy might have the worst job in the world.
Later that night I couldn’t sleep. All of the haunting questions:
Am I compassionate rather than callous?
Do I let people know that I love them when I might assume the fact?
Am I grateful for the blessings in my life when I might take them for granted?
Do I say “thank you” enough?
Do I say “I love you” enough?
Am I humble when I could be arrogant?
Do I listen when I could speak?
Am I thoughtful when I might be reactionary?
Do I strive for wisdom instead of intelligence?
Am I a good husband?
Have I helped other people without expecting anything in return?
Am I honest with myself so that I can be absolutely honest with others?
The list went on and on and on. I mean, at some level these are very basic questions. But as long as a stranger is able to plot my life then I damn well better make sure that the real question is not “When are you going to die.” The REAL question is “How well am I going to live?” The actuary gave me yet another reason to feel blessed for the richness in my life. Bloodless calculations will never wake up next to the woman I love. They’ll never hear a voice on the phone. They cannot predict the friends and friendships. Statistics and Soul exist in very different places. The actuary flew out of town today. Here’s a “thank you” sir. I still think your job is pretty cold but you got me thinking.
By the by: I have about 25 years to be the very finest version of myself and Love. Full stop.