Kathleen Clary Miller

Kathleen Clary Miller has written 300+ columns and stories for periodicals both local and national, and has authored three books (www.amazon.com/author/millerkathleenclary). She lives in the woods of the Ninemile Valley, thirty miles west of Missoula.

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My good friend in Los Angeles e-mailed me the “Life Expectancy Calculator,” a participatory on-line quiz of sorts developed by a reputable insurance company. Ever since I moved to Montana, she sends only intriguing e-mail culture and none of the junk, so I opened it. After all, what’s more irresistible than a prediction of the future, especially when it has nothing to do with politics?

I enter in to such enterprises with the developer’s hidden agenda in mind, so there’s no harm. Presumably, if your score indicates an early demise, I figure they hope to lure you to the signature line of a last-minute, desperation policy. If you test well, they’ll most likely tempt you to consider the long-term health care coverage options. I live under the delusional happy white cloud that says I’ll live forever, so I am answering the questions and tallying my score purely for entertainment.

There are days my joints already feel sufficiently squeaky to carry an oil can ala the Tin Man on his way to plead with the wizard to make him feel human, but my spirit is ever as agile as that girl who once sailed Southern California’s Balboa Harbor and body surfed the breakers (what was I thinking?) at Newport Beach. I want to go on and on, unlike most of my cronies who frankly admit, “I don’t want to live that long.” What?

I want to be biblical—breathing in and out from the upright position at age 850. Unlike Job, however, I request that all eight centuries be pain free. I know where I’m going for eternity, but until then, I’m not ashamed to say that I love the earth! God created it, deemed it “good,” and with the purpose in mind that we experience joy and hope for a future, right? I like the word “future.” And that word sounds best if it’s definition includes a continuation of what I have right now. I’ll admit that I’m not a big fan of change. I’ve become accustomed to what I can see and hear and touch down here on this flawed but fabulous planet and the realization that some surprising morning I won’t be heading to my kitchen to eat my favorite cereal-yogurt combination and sip my strong, dark brew from an oversized mug is…well…disconcerting.

“You’ll have the best breakfast you can imagine in heaven!” faithful friends remind me, and I do look forward to such assurance. Still, I am a hopeless creature of habit. Hence, I have adopted a life of rigorous health consciousness here in, let’s call it, middle-age, being that I hope my life span is long enough to still call where I am “in the middle.” I eat right, exercise, undergo colonoscopies, mammograms, and annual checkups. I see the dermatologist, the gynecologist, the dentist, and the optometrist. I even let my hair go grey so I wouldn’t use toxic dye that might permeate the pores of my scalp and enter my bloodstream. I should ace this quiz… as long as mental health doesn’t play any role.

Up popped the screen with the calculator on it, accompanied by several questions. One by one I ticked off the responses, knowing full well as my virtual age increased in leaps and bounds that I was rising into the super-geriatric category. “Family member lived to age 70 before any cardiovascular problems”…check! “Blood pressure normal”…check! I’m already up to age 89! “Stress”…hmm, suppose in the virtue of brutal honesty I’ll click on the button that corresponds with “I have my ups and downs.”

“Daily vigorous exercise”…check! “More than 5 portions of fruit and vegetables daily”…check!

“Don’t drink more than 2 drinks per day”...I didn’t know I could have two! (Note to self: Add another bottle of Petite Syrah to the grocery list.)

I buckle up before I drive, haven’t had an accident in less than 3 years (knock on wood), have never smoked, don’t do drugs, and schedule in spades regular doctor’s appointments. With great confidence I soared through the list until, at the conclusion, discovered I would still be running in place at 102.

And realized I am really very boring. I’d better season my daily regimen with a sizzling hobby or two so I can captivate a cocktail party with enthralling conversation rather than turn away the other guests because my only contribution is on the (yawn) topic of health. I’ll resist the urge to forward this lifespan calculator e-mail to my entire contact list. Instead, I’ll reach for the New York Times Sunday crossword puzzle to stay sharp, not to mention telephone my life insurance agent and cancel my policy; I’ll need that cash I’ve been paying in premiums if I’m going to afford fruit and vegetables (not to mention alcohol) until I’m 102—or older.