Thursday, March 28, 2024

books and treks and mortality

I've been confronting my mortality for the past couple years. It started when I saw that according to a census table, I was past the midway point of my life expectancy.

I responded by finding a more granular life-expectancy table. By painstakingly filling out that I've never smoked and I do exercise and numerous other habits, I received a reprieve. The new granular table said that I have one more year before the midpoint. A brief deferment!

Then I was listening to an audiobook which offhandedly mentioned that as we age, it gets harder to learn snowboarding, surfing, and similar sports. It's possible to maintain them if you learn them at a young age, but if you start trying to learn in your 50s or 60s, all the falling and crashing is harder on an older body. The book pointed out that there are people who run marathons in their 80s but it'll be their 14th marathon. No one runs their first marathon in their 80s.

Several times in the past couple years:

Me: I was just thinking about how I'm going to die someday, and -
Aff: [cheerfully] The solution is to stop thinking about it!

I developed an urge to read books about old age and the end of life. My favorite has been "Elderhood" by a doctor who specializes in geriatrics. She pointed out that Western society is filled with ageism, and it affects doctors. If a 20-year-old patient is severely depressed, people would say "But why? She has so much to live for!" and try hard to treat it. If a 87-year-old patient is severely depressed, people may say "That makes sense" and overlook physical reasons like low sodium levels. Scientific data even shows that older people tend to naturally be the happiest demographic on average, but those facts are still overshadowed by a cultural stereotype of old people as cranky and miserable.

I read about the physical process of dying, the last few weeks and days. Apparently people usually sleep more and more. Also, sometimes people prefer to die when they're alone, and they cling to life until all their relatives step out of the room to use the bathroom or eat food, and that's when they slip away. So the whole American fear of "dying alone" as the worst possible outcome is actually what many people choose! Next time someone tries to rebuke me by saying "If you keep this up, you'll die alone", I'm going to reply, "I hope so!"

Besides reading, my other impulse has been to do multi-day treks. Currently I'm enamored with the 3-4 day Quilotoa Loop in Ecuador. It's only 22 miles but involves a lot of uphill and downhill. You walk along a volcano, lake, and canyons. I'm hoping to do it within the next year.

I also want to do another Camino, but that takes more planning.

Me: "I can't wait to do another route of the Camino. Maybe the inland Portuguese route."
Friend: "Were you happy when you did the Camino last year?"
Me: "I was only happy 15 minutes per day. More often, I felt anxious. I was worried about rain, heat, going uphill."
Friend: "Why do you want to do it again, if you weren't all that happy last time?"
Me: "Oh! That is a good question. ... I just do."

Fortunately Aff agrees to go with me on treks. I've asked a few friends, and rarely have I received such immediate, emphatic "no"s.

Now that I've started the trekking habit in my midlife, hopefully I can continue trekking into my elderhood! 

Quilotoa crater lake