I’m fascinated by lifespan: how we’ve spent the time that’s already behind us; how we’re using our present time; what’s going to happen to the time allotted us in the future. That said, I’m all for a life that’s well lived rather than one that’s long. Instead of being mediocre for 150 years, I’d prefer to be brilliant for 70.
I do think time gives us more opportunities to change, and the longer you live, the more you get. I was the typical angry adolescent, but at my recent high school reunion, my old classmates kept saying they’d never seen me smile and laugh so much. And although I grew up in a family where I was taught to never talk about my feelings, becoming a parent in my 20s changed me. I learned to open up and express myself. Now, every day, I tell my 8-year-old son that I love him and how proud I am of him.
So long as we continue to learn and grow, time also gives us the opportunity for reinvention. At just 33 years old, I’m already on my third career as a writer and director. I’m also a personal trainer. (Previously, I worked as a fighter and a forklift driver.)
Twice in my life – once after my marriage fell apart and the second, after a long-term relationship ended – I found myself in a deep depression. I used alcohol and painkillers. I considered suicide. For a while, I was even homeless, carrying around two duffel bags of belongings and sleeping on the F train in New York City, where I live. The only thing more exhausting than an existence like that is hiding it from people. It was like swallowing razorblades.
What pulled me out of those dark times was an intense feeling that my life wasn’t done yet. I vividly remember thinking, This isn’t my time.
Going through difficult periods made me capable of putting other problems in perspective. What I value in friendships and romantic partnerships is much different now. Instead of needing to be validated by someone else, I crave emotional support and good communication. That’s what we all yearn for when things go poorly.
But for me, all those benefits of time still don’t outweigh the realities of growing older.
Men in my family usually don’t live long past 65 — if they even make it to that age at all. We have a history of neurological diseases like Parkinson’s and multiple sclerosis. Dementia is part of my family tree as well.
In 2014, my grandmother — who raised me – was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Over the years, my family missed the early signs. But once we recognized them, she seemed to deteriorate overnight. One night, Nana was cooking us dinner. The next, I was carrying her to the bathroom because she couldn’t remember where it was.
My entire family, including my ex-wife, became Nana’s caregivers around the clock. We did her shopping, read to her and kept her company. She became paranoid and angry, unable to do all the things she used to do: cook, take tai chi classes, even watch TV. We couldn’t even suggest going to a doctor without her flying off the handle. As she deteriorated, the circle of people who helped her got a lot smaller.
I spent a lot of nights crying. When my grandmother passed away last year, she was only 82 years old.
When I say I don’t want to live to be 100, that’s an opinion based out of fear – a fear that my quality of life will decline greatly after a certain point. I want to live the best life I can for as long as I can, but the possibility of becoming a burden on my loved ones makes me hesitant to accept the notion of a long life.
A cure for dementia would definitely change my outlook on the prospect of living to 100. But who knows if and when that will happen? Back in the 80s, didn’t we think we’d be living like the Jetsons by now?
My absolute biggest fear about aging is losing every memory I’ve ever had and becoming a shell of the self that I know and that everyone around me loves. I want my son to look at me and always see me.
With the family history of health conditions that I have, it’s hard to imagine myself at 100. I can’t help but worry that living that long would keep my son from living the life he’s dreamed of for himself.
Jared Glenn is a film and music video director based in New York City. He is also an aspiring writer and a personal trainer in lower Manhattan, as well as a devoted father.
This post is paid for by AARP.