Do you ever say to yourself, “I wonder how much more time I have left on earth.” I do. This reflection on life expectancy is based on a chapter in my book When the Rain Speaks.
In the world of nature, various life forms have different life expectancies. A mouse can expect to live four years, a rabbit nine, a pigeon twenty-six, a deer thirty-five, a crocodile forty-five, and an elephant seventy. Other animals live even longer.
In recent years, bowhead whales were found with harpoons in their bodies dating back to the 1800s. One such whale, after an autopsy, was determined to be 211 years old. Then there’s the Aldabra giant tortoises. At first it was hard to determine their exact age because they outlived their human observers. But one carefully documented tortoise died in 2006 at the age of 255.
Some members of the plant world live even longer than us animals. A bristlecone pine in the White Mountains of California is currently about 5,000 years old! I wrote about it in a previous post. That tree was already 3,000 years old when Jesus walked the dusty roads of Galilee! Amazing!
When it comes to life expectancy, most insects get shortchanged. A worker bee lives only one year; a worker ant lives only one-half a year. Some species of moths live for a mere twenty-four hours. (You will never hear these moths say manana, for all they have is hoy.)
Where do we humans fall on the life-expectancy scale? The average life expectancy for the world human population is sixty-six, but life expectancy for humans varies greatly from country to country. An American can expect to live 77.7 years. But a Mozambican has a life expectancy of only 40.3 years. Spain has the highest life-expectancy at 82.3. (All those siestas must help!) We can never take personal credit for our longevity, though, which is determined largely by genetics and geographic location.
The oldest documented human being was Jeanne Calmet of Arles, France who lived to be 122 years and 164 days old. Her story is fascinating. She was amazingly active, taking up fencing at eighty-five and still riding her bike at 100. In 1965, when she was a mere ninety, she signed a contract with a lawyer, Francois Raffray, age forty-five. Called a “reverse mortgage,” the contract stipulated that Raffray would pay Calmet a monthly sum for her apartment. Upon her death, Raffray would get the apartment no matter how much money he had paid her. Since she was already ninety, that was a great deal, right?
Wrong! Raffray ended up paying Calmet every month for thirty years! When he himself died at age seventy-five, his poor widow had to continue to make the payments until Calmet’s death in 1997. That ended up being a very costly apartment!
Chances are we won’t live as long as Jeanne Calmet. But as Christians we believe that no matter how long or short our life may be, our life is in God’s hands. There’s an old poem that speaks of the length of one’s life in a unique way. You sometimes here this poem at funerals. The poet says how the dates on a tombstone are often separated by a dash. The dash represents all the time the person lived on earth. We never know how long or short our dash will be. What matters in the end, the poet says, are not the dates on the tombstone. What matters is how we lived our dash. The poem concludes:
For it matters not how much we own—
the cars, the house, the cash.
What matters is how we live and love
and how we spend our dash.
What will you do with your dash today?
Our song is called “Speak Life” and it’s sung by Toby Mac. The song reminds us how important and powerful our words can be…
Did anything in this reflection surprise you or affect you?
Did anyone ever “speak life” to you? When? How? How do you “speak life” to the people in your world?
Is there anything special you want to do with the time you have left on earth?
PS: Thank you for your prayers for my two talks in Florida. And thank you to all the wonderful people who came! I ask your prayers for my next two speaking engagements. On Saturday morning, March 3, I’ll be in Camden, NJ speaking on hope. My contact person is Sr. Mary McGarrity, IHM, at the Diocese of Camden offices. Then I travel to Immaculata, PA where I’m leading a weeklong retreat for the Immaculate Heart of Mary Sisters. Thank you for your prayers.