Time…use it wisely

A few days ago, I visited my doctor for a routine check-up. After reviewing a bunch of charts, feeling my pulse and checking my blood pressure, he delivered some sobering news: if I eat well, avoid excessive alcohol and cigarettes, get plenty of rest and exercise, and eliminate stress, there is every reason to believe that I might live to be “85 years young,” as he put it. He said this with a tone that suggested I should supplement his fee for delivering such good news. In truth, I was saddened and somewhat shocked. Why?

It is not that the prescription for reaching 85 is a challenge for me. I have never smoked or drank large quantities of alcohol. In fact, I only rarely drink a glass of wine, and I have begun to get more regular exercise. What saddened me was the projection of 85 in relation to my current age.

As an 18-year old, I would have been thrilled to learn that I had 67 years ahead of me. But, on June 15 of this year, the calendar made its 66th revolution on my behalf. That makes me 67, with a life expectancy of about 18 more years. So little time and so much to be done!

The time has passed so quickly. From June 15, 1939 – the date of my birth – until now seems like a blur. I know that I have lived a full life, but I can’t seem to recall the days that turned into weeks and the weeks that blossomed into months and then into years.

As they were unfolding, most of the days didn’t seem extraordinarily significant at the time – just 24 little hours. Now, how I wish that I could reclaim some of those wasted or underutilized days. I wish that I had spent more time with my children. I wish that I had visited my grandmother more frequently during the last years of her life. There is so much that I would do differently if I could reclaim just a few of those years. Obviously, that can’t be done. The bell cannot be unrung.

What I can do is to utilize the remaining approximately 6,505 days that might be allocated to me as wisely and effectively as possible. If that allocation becomes less in reality, then at least every day will have been well spent. But, if the Good Lord blesses me with more than my doctor projects, then I will have just that many more bonus days to share a laugh with my friends, to tell my family that I love them, to enjoy the wonders of my home state of California as well as the freedoms of America, and to remind my fellow Americans of how blessed we are to live in this nation. I will have, hopefully, more than 6,500 days to remind my countrymen that the issue of “race” is a needless, senseless and counterproductive distraction, and that we are all one human family in which the whole is infinitely greater than the individual parts.

There are so many things, which I need not mention in this column, that I have learned too late in life. Why is it that lessons about life management are only learned toward the end of one’s life? But, there is one lesson for all of us to learn: How to readapt our thinking about the aging process.

To be certain, my gait is a bit slower. My memory is not quite as sharp as it once was. But, my vitality has not waned significantly. When the thought occurs to me that I am doing the “old man’s shuffle,” I am able to consciously restore the bounce to my walk. I don’t feel “old” until others make me feel so, with the “senior citizen” discounts and the endless questions about when I intend to retire. Why are we so eager to send individuals to the pasture merely because they reach a certain point on the calendar?

With increasing life expectancies, it is crucial that our society revise its thinking about age. We begin by abandoning our way of dealing with “old” people and the stereotypes that we hold. Currently, we act as if everyone over 65 has lost his or her sex drive, their hearing, their ability to make decisions for themselves and the capacity to perform any number of simple tasks that they could undertake before they turned 65. This was made evident to me as I observed a friend interact with his father, who had just turned 70. The father was as sharp as a tack, but his son continually addressed him in what I considered a patronizing manner. I encountered a similar reaction on a visit to the doctor when I saw a man who was about my age being asked by the receptionist, “How are we feeling today?” The ever-ready “we” is how we return “senior citizens” to the days of their childhood. We treat them as we would treat our kids.

The most important lesson to be learned, however, is to confront the matter of life management as early in life as possible. View every day as a blessing, a precious resource, an endangered commodity, the supply of which is finite and to be used wisely and effectively. If you do that, perhaps 85 won’t sneak up on you, as it is doing to me.

(Mr. Connerly is a former University of California Regent, former chairman of Proposition 209, and currently chairman of the American Civil Rights Institute. He is nationally known for his commitment to end the use of race preferences in government employment, contracting, and education