All of us have to take responsibility for our lifestyle choices, and our time in this world depends largely on how we behave with regard to nutrition, exercise, avoidance of risky endeavors and so forth.
Of course, individual luck in the “genetic lottery” also plays a part. Besides getting a crisp jawline and favorable waistline, folks benefit from “units of inheritance” that leave the heart and other organs in working shape long past those of their peers.
Other factors might weigh in. Deuteronomy records that Moses died at age 120 in view of the Promised Land, though his “eyes were undimmed and his vigor unabated.” And he had wandered the desert for 40 years, certainly filling his lungs with harsh particles and eating whatever became available.
Far be it from me to question Old Testament record-keeping. I like the idea that someone with a divine mission gets an exemption from the restrictions of an earthly body.
In most parts of the developed world, life expectancy stands as something both very personal and a more broadly considered indicator.
The large sample size of a country’s population provides a sort of wellness check, a number as easily recognized and understood as an under-the-tongue thermometer.
Unlike a fever measurement, though, the higher the number in life expectancy, the greater the cause for a high-five.
Take in the greater number, compare it to your own chronology and, while still standing upright and taking in breath, you might think, “Look at me, I’m doing all right.”
Even with a raging case of whatever might be going around, some assurance settles upon you.
Of course, the large sample size also contains subsets, the vital statistics therein giving way to greater pessimism.
The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services came out with a report in recent weeks that did not include the warmth and generous nature of more extensive life expectancy documents. Its first paragraph contained these sentences:
“The state life expectancy dropped 0.1 year to 77.0 years, 0.8 year less than the peak of 77.8 years in 2012. Missouri’s life expectancy was 1.6 years less than 78.6 years, the latest available national life expectancy in 2017.”
This has the effect of a hypodermic needle going in your arm without a nurse’s forewarning, “There will be a little stick.” That is, no harm done exactly, but the unpleasantness mounts.
The state report put forth some compelling numbers to account for the lower life expectancy. The decrease, said the authors, “is more a reflection of increases in death rates among younger persons for external causes such as drug overdoses, suicides and homicides.”
That is, number of firearm-related deaths in 2018 stood at 62 percent higher than a decade before. The number of opioid-related deaths last year was 142 percent higher than in 2008.
(Digest these numbers also in the context of Buchanan County’s lower life expectancy in comparison with Missouri overall, 76.2 years in a period ending 2016 as opposed to 77.3 years statewide. As another comparison, consider that Platte County, our neighbor to the south, had a life expectancy of 80.3 at the time of this statistical snapshot.)
In the bigger scheme of things, we give thanks for every year we get in this life. Every day is a gift.
The numbers say something, however. They affect us and our fellow beings.
To the extent that we can, with the knowledge and perspective that come from being people of free will, we look to solve those problems that make the statistics look more grim rather than more bright.
A decimal point here and there may not seem like much, but our days should be precious enough to care.