If you could know when you would die, would you want to know? Imagine a life where, like a stopwatch, you knew exactly how many hours and minutes you had remaining. Envision that every morning when you wake up, there is a countdown running. Perhaps its printed on your skin like the expiration date on a gallon of milk. As you wait in line at Starbucks, the clock counts down. An evening dinner with your lover shaves off another 127 minutes. How would you engage the wait staff as they bring out the desert options? Would you be more loving to your partner? Would you be racing against time? Or would you be fueled by purpose and motivated by the ticking clock?
As it is now, we wake up every day expecting to live. Even the phrase “life expectancy” has the entitlement built in. We take it as a given that we will wake up every day. Until one day you don’t. Or until one day you hear news which makes each day no longer feel like a given. Then the clock starts ticking down. Even in the case of terminal illnesses, people do not know exactly when they will die. Rather, the theoretical exercise of whether they will die has been abandoned. The conversation no longer sounds like “if something happens to me…” but rather “when I die…” There is no discernible difference in those with a terminal illness other than a medical determination that their life will end. The “how” they will die has been answered. The “when” still remains a mystery.
The internet, however, is doing its best to resolve this mystery for us! At www.deathclock.com, you can find out the date of your death by inputting basic information such as your date of birth, gender, your smoker status, and body mass index. As a 38 year old nonsmoking woman with a BMI of approximately 26 (on a good day), it was calculated that I would die on Friday December 14, 2073. There are 1,808,552.049 seconds remaining on my life (at the time of writing). Tick tock! In the interest of full disclosure, I recalculated my date of death when I refreshed the page and I got an extra year!! Now I can rest easy until 2074.
The fact of death can be unsettling, even to those who have reliable information about the end of their lives. There are many clichés that instruct us to “live one day at a time” and “Live your best life now!” Yes, NOW is all that we’ve got since the next moment isn’t guaranteed. But we actually live by banking on an unknown future. We make deposits unknowing when the bank will fail. Retirement planning. Savings accounts. The very foundation of marriage. These are all based on a future that might never come.
There is an unknowable countdown on life for every single one of us. Each step we take brings us closer to our final resting place. Every breath you take in is one fewer than the total amount of breaths you will experience. What would you do differently if you knew when your days would end? Would you take better care of the time you spend with your mother? Would you create a to-do list of your affairs for your loved ones? Would you quit your job and finally travel to that place you’ve always wanted to see? Do it now. The illusion is that we think we have time. But until we die, we live.