Death becomes us

The song of life ends too soon for us all
Niaz Alam, Dhaka Tribune op-ed May 2020

Every Bangladeshi over the age of 50 has already lived longer than the average life expectancy at birth during the final years of East Pakistan.

This is both a cheering and sobering thought.

Of course, statistics like this keep changing for each individual as they get older and are affected by a range of lifestyle factors.

Being about as low in age myself as it is possible to be and still have strong memories of being alive during the late 1960s, it has been many years since I could have died good, pretty, or young.

I claim no special wisdom as a 50-something. Consciousness is as much of a mystery and enigma to me as it ever was. Pondering the eternal mysteries of existence certainly has its merits, but also makes my head hurt.

Everyday advice like valuing good health, being grateful for what you have, and generally looking on the bright side, offers more by the way of immediate practical benefit.

The ubiquity of mortality tables over the past couple of months has made many more people stop to ask the most solipsistic yet also most universal of questions.

From how many years of living dangerously does humanity face from Covid-19 to how many more years have I personally got left, takes just one small step.

Obviously, this is an impossible question for anyone to answer. The nature of accidents is much like life, inherently unpredictable. But now that we have started, I shall carry on.

If Queen Elizabeth II and I each live as many years as our mothers, her Maj is the only one of us seeing 2025. On the other hand, and this is a mighty big “if” because at least two of his grandparents lived far longer than mine, but if I live as many years as my father, 2046 becomes a possibility. And is cinematically preferable to three years later.

Given the starkness of the opening sentence, however, it seems greedy to go that far, splitting the difference offers ample enough time to make good use of the free bus pass.

In truth of course, it is mainly the pandemic that is inciting such morbid musing. Life is for living is our default setting. Death comes for us all and our instincts are to delay it, even if we believe in a better beyond. In the meantime, I imagine living life healthy and in good humour is as good as it can get. For how to get there, I must turn to timeless philosophers.

“Try to be nice to people, avoid eating fat, read a good book every now and then, get some walking in, and try and live together in peace and harmony with people of all creeds and nations.” Manage all that and if you are very lucky, life will indeed turn out to be a long song. But the tune ends too soon for us all.