On Reaching Three Score and Ten
Brandon Sun “Small World” Column, Monday, May 6 / 19
Psalm 90:10 says, with some minor variations depending on the Bible version, that we reach three scores and ten years, that is the age of seventy – and with any luck, it goes on to say, we might actually reach eighty – but even the best years are full of labour and difficulties, and then we “fly away.” That is . . . well, you know.
In the next couple of days, I will reach that pinnacle of three score and ten. Checking the obits, as many folks in my age bracket do (making sure that we’re not there!), I’ve seen former classmates and colleagues “go” before me. Some have accomplished great things, been important to their families and friends, their workmates, their communities. Some have overcome great obstacles. Some have lived very ordinary lives, at least seemingly encountering no great peaks or valleys.
For a number of years, I taught a university course that covered global issues in our contemporary world. One of the areas was population and health. Geoffrey Sachs, who is the United Nations ambassador on sustainable development, contributed to the discussion with his theory that the age of eighty was what people today “should” live to. If you made it only to sixty-eight, then you were, he said, basically a minus-12 (boo on you!) and if you made it to 92 like Queen Elizabeth or my beloved mother-in-law, well then, you were a plus -12 and counting!
Sachs is partly trying to tell us that many people in our world, given their situation of poverty, disease, disaster and more, don’t make it anywhere near the Magic Eighty! He isn’t “blaming the victim” but rather pointing out how our human systems have fallen short. And this doesn’t only pertain to people in the “developing world” but also to poor populations in our so-called rich countries.
When it comes to health, I discovered in my research and teaching that more Zimbabwean doctors, as one example, work in Great Britain than in Zimbabwe! I also learned that a great deal more money in the pharmaceutical industry went into developing Viagra and other similar drugs than into preventatives and cures for major diseases that plague the poor of our world.
Here in Canada, and in other wealthy countries, while one portion of the population have a very good chance of making it to eighty years of age or more, the indigenous community’s prospects, due to disease, addiction, suicide and more, are considerably less. Of course, we hear those stories – of boil water advisories, or moldy housing, of rampant unemployment – but we don’t hear of successful action that brings about change.
What we have in our senior population is a wealth of experience and still lots of energy to contribute to bettering our society. Seniors are a big part of the volunteer community in Canada, but I often think that, along with those grants to hire under-30s, it would be a good idea to have similar programs for the over-60s. Assigning “us” to the scrap heap of potential is not a useful idea, given what we can offer as former business people, public sector workers, health and educational professionals, and more.
I noticed in my final full-time working years that, just as we might say or think “those young people,” they also see us as old (whatever that means) before they see us for what we can bring to any situation. I recall a visit I had from some very prominent contemporaries who dropped into my office to discuss their ambitious global activities around health in Africa. When I arrived at the office, I was told that an “old couple” was waiting to talk to me. Maybe, I’m just being super-sensitive here!
So, back to this biblical idea of “toil and trouble even in the best of times”. This is certainly something we should try not to dwell on, but it is true that in the midst of effort and success, there are always on-going challenges, disappointments and grief. Those who thought life was smooth-sailing, well, what were they thinking?! Maybe, it comes down to how we cope with the downers while putting our best effort toward the positives, seeking a balance.
The Dalai Lama, also an old guy with health problems, says that you contribute most to the world by doing what you are good at. And leaving a legacy that hopefully will encourage the best out of the next generation is all we can do, before “flying away.”
Zack Gross is former Executive Director of Brandon’s The Marquis Project, which is celebrating its 40th Anniversary this year. He was 30 when the organization began. He is now a minus-10 and counting.
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