I’ll be turning 50 in a couple of weeks. Turning 30 wasn’t a big deal, and 40 came and went with little more than a shrug. 50 doesn’t seem that big a deal, but a couple of weeks ago, a dear friend suddenly passed away, and her death has caused me to reflect on life and where I am in it.
She was 79 years old and a delightful person. I didn’t realize she was that old because she was always so active and cheerful. She volunteered as an usher at her church up until the Sunday before she died of a sudden and massive stroke. My wife and I both agreed that she went the way we would like to go: mentally sharp and physically active until the end, with no long, lingering illness or loss of mental or physical capacity.
They say I’m middle-aged, but that would only be true if I were to live to 100, which I doubt I will do. The life I have left is shorter than the life I have already lived, and according to some people, that should cause me to worry about death and what comes after it. But I’m not afraid of death, and I don’t spend much time thinking about it. Life is to short, after all, to spend it worrying about its end. I don’t even fear getting old and losing my health, mental and physical. I’ll just deal with it as it comes.
This year people seem to want us to be afraid, and sometimes it does seem like there’s a perfect storm of trouble going on in the world today: Ebola, continuing global economic stagnation, DAESH (I refuse to call them “ISIS”), and a host of other problems have a lot of people in a bit of a lather.
The likelihood that Ebola will break out in a worldwide pandemic is very small. The last time we saw anything like that was the influenza pandemic of 1918, which of course killed around 50 million people and infected one-fifth of the world’s population. But this is not 1918. In almost every part of the world, living conditions, sanitation, and medical care are much better than they were 100 years ago. And Ebola is not spread through the air, meaning that it’s much easier to contain, as long as one is careful. Even the mistakes made in Dallas not only haven’t resulted in a widespread outbreak but have been a much-needed wake-up call for better procedures. So, yeah, I may get Ebola at some point, but I’m not going to worry about it. I have a better chance of winning the lottery.
Yes, the economy still sucks. The unemployment rate is down, but much of that is due to people dropping out of the workforce and others taking jobs that pay less involve fewer hours. My company could disappear at any time, but then I’ve been unemployed before and, given the nature of my industry, I may well be there again. I’ll survive.
A few years ago, if you’d told me that an armed death cult of thousands of religious sociopaths would take over large parts of two countries, I’d have thought you were pitching an idea for a horror film. People talk about dealing with “root causes” of such things, but I don’t believe any of the supposed factors (imperialism, poverty, alienation) explain a group that boasts of its desire to murder, rape, and enslave the rest of the world. Root causes or not, these are not the kind of folks you can negotiate with.
Do I worry about these Islamo-fascists killing me or my family? No, not really. I know, they say they want to kill Westerners where we live, and I suppose I can’t really stop that. They could show up at my house tonight, and that would be that for me. But I don’t worry about them, simply because, no matter how well-armed or powerful these folks become, the non-sociopaths will always outnumber the sociopaths. Right now a coalition of countries is doing a sort of half-assed job of containing these nutjobs, but if and when they become an existential threat to any of the regional powers, they will not be long for the world. They’re unlikely to ever hoist the black flag over the White House or Buckingham Palace if they can’t even manage to take a lightly defended Kurdish town. Perhaps on the plus side, they’re doing us a favor in concentrating the violent nutwads in one place.
So, I could be worrying about these things. There’s a lot I could worry about: race relations in the wake of Ferguson, climate change, same-sex marriage, health care, Vladimir Putin, Mexican drug cartels, who Alison Grimes voted for, the Export-Import Bank, “Meet the Mormons,” shingles, and Canada, to name a few.
But I choose not to.