Revisited: Ride, Captain, Ride

Funny story: Over the weekend, I got the bright idea I could contribute something both serious and unique to the national healthcare debate. I had, I thought, an interesting take on how we’re using so much of our money for such a small return when millions with more legitimate needs were going without basic care. I would offer my modest proposal as a healthy but aging philanthrope (don’t laugh) in a national publication (preferably The New York Times) thereby spurring discussion of a long-ignored solution and, not incidentally, awareness of my website (davisw.wordpress.com).
 
I wrote out my proposal. Then I read it. Bad move — both the writing and the reading. It was supposed to be serious, but I kept feeling compelled to add wisecracks at very inappropriate points during my argument. By the end it was neither a serious think piece nor a snarky blog post. It was instead some hideous hybrid that would neither acquire me national publicity nor entertain my core base on WordPress. I might be fortunate enough to get an angry mob of seniors in my front yard but, unless they felt well enough to rake, that wasn’t going to do me much good.
So I’m not submitting the piece to The Times, and I’m not running it here on my blog.

Enjoy:

I’m a 55-year-old who has lived a good life in contemporary America. I was born into an era when prosperity was pretty much a given for me and my cohorts. I was middle-class and male and white (still am). I’ve enjoyed all the modern conveniences and social conventions made possible by decades of innovation, creativity and a certain social cohesion. Having spent most of my years in the American Century, it’s hard to imagine having lucked into a better era of world history.

But as I’ve watched the health care debate unfold this summer, I’ve felt increasingly guilty about the resources I’ve used and, more importantly, will use in my final thirty or forty or, God forbid, fifty years. We’ve heard how end-of-life care is eating up a tremendous percentage of our national health budget, and yielding very little quality in return. Those of us in our final trimester are going to cost a fortune to maintain and, personally, I don’t think I’m worth it.

That’s why I’m promising publicly to ending my own life no later than my seventieth birthday on November 6, 2023.

As I look at that previous paragraph sitting starkly in front of me, I must admit it’s a little scary. Knowing the exact day of your death is not the most soothing feeling. Few of us contemplate when and where the end will come, but we like to carry a vague notion that it’s way out there in the distance, certainly nothing to worry about any time soon.

In another sense, though, it’s very comforting. I don’t want to spend my last weeks connected to life-sustaining machinery, toxic drugs flowing through my veins and visions of terror flowing through my mind, no matter how many loved ones are compelled to surround me. I plan to live life to its fullest up to and including that final moment, when I plunge from a cliff over a rocky Pacific shore and get swept out to sea.

Don’t want to inconvenience anyone by making them clean up after me.

By foregoing the expenses of heavily assisted living, and getting just a relatively few of my fellow Baby Boomers to join me, we should be able to free up enough funding in the national treasury to sustain those who follow us. My generation has done a number of things to improve the human condition — supporting civil rights, fostering greater tolerance, going to Woodstock — but it’s not like won a world war or anything. On balance, I’m pretty sure we’re taking more out of society than we’re putting in.

When we lament issues like the national debt and the tremendous repayment burden we’re laying on our children and grandchildren, we rarely consider that’s there something concrete we can do about it. If enough of my fellow fifty- and sixty-somethings can commit here and now to a promise that we’ll make a graceful exit when our most productive years are through, the savings could be enough give today’s young people a reasonable hope that they’ll enjoy a prosperity equivalent to ours.

The initiative I’m proposing is completely voluntary. There will be no death panels. There will be no government sponsorship or endorsement. There may be a perceived obligation to do right by our kids, but what’s wrong with that? We can even “sweeten the pot,” as it were, finding a way to incentivize enrollment by offering to make that final year one to remember. A free Mediterranean cruise, DVDs of those movies we always meant to watch, and a stash of recreational drugs would ease the pangs of early exit, and cost a whole lot less than aggressive cancer treatments.

Even more appealing to me is reducing the burden on all those vital young lives that haven’t had the chance to grow into fullness. I’m writing this piece in a grocery store café not far from my house, and watching with a smile as I see young children scurrying underfoot, college students stocking up for a Saturday night party, and young couples selecting the ingredients for a romantic dinner. It’s not a pleasant thought that they look across the aisle at this grey head of mine and see the husk of a productive member of the nation. I’d feel so much less guilty if instead they were looking at someone willing to make the ultimate sacrifice for them.

There’s nothing magic, incidentally, about the age of 70. For me, it’s just a nice round number that seems far enough in the distance so that it’s not a pressing deadline. If others want to choose a different number, that’s fine with me as long as they make the commitment to follow through.

As for the pall that could be cast as those last days approach, I think it’s just a matter of adjusting our too-unrealistic attitudes toward death. We think life is preferable just because it’s all we’ve known, not unlike growing up in rural South Carolina in the belief that that’s the best it can get. I can be convinced that the Great Beyond is simply a nothingness that’s impossible for us to comprehend; boring perhaps but far from unbearable.

I strongly urge others in my position who may read this to strongly consider joining with me in this brave and selfless enterprise. Mark yourself as among the select few who have the generosity of spirit to think about someone other than themselves for a change. If you’ve ever anguished over what’s the right birthday present to give your grandchildren, not knowing a Wii from a Webkin, consider this the perfect gift.

And comfort yourself, as I’ve done, with a song from our beloved Sixties that just played on the overhead Muzak here at the store:

I’m calling everyone to ride along/To another shore/Where we can laugh our lives away/And be free once more.

Ride Captain Ride/Upon your mystery ship/Sail away to a world/That others might have missed.

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4 Responses to “Revisited: Ride, Captain, Ride”

  1. fakename2 Says:

    I believe someone already thought of this…Soylent Green. As for worrying about the world we are leaving our children and grandchildren (and I am so tired of hearing the Republicans tell us about it), I say, What the hell? That’s their problem 🙂

  2. The Dude Says:

    I’ve decided my oncoming death long before reading this article. I know that when I reach 65 or if my health deteriorates to that of an 80 year old long before then (for right now at 19, i have the digestive system of someone 50 years of age), I’ll eject myself from an airplane thousands of feet above an active volcano, where I’ll then have to fight ninjas that eventually pull their parachute cords. Unfortunately, one of them will have disabled mine, and I will take the heroic plunge into the depths of the earth. It’s really the only way to go.

  3. LetUsAllUsPlayDominoes Says:

    Hey Man-

    It’s like Kurt Vonnegut said: nothing but violet light and a steady hum for eternity.

  4. jedwardswright Says:

    Dear Mr. W,
    Mother Hen here, ready as usual to put in her two eggs worth.
    She assumes that you have discussed your intentions thouroughly with your family, those loved ones whose future you plan to unburden by planning your demise. If not, please do.
    Having recently bid farewell to her own parents who were in their mid-70s(extremely old for domestic fowl, of course), Mother H. would simply like to propose some thoughts to ponder.
    How will your grandchildren feel about you not being alive to attend their weddings?
    You don’t know for a fact that you would not have another ten years or more of reasonably good health. How will your children and grandchildren feel about your having opted out of possibly healthy years that you might have spent with them?
    Are you, and the rest of the family concerned, prepared for the prospect that you will never see your first great-grandchild, or that there will never be any photos of the four generations together to look back on?
    What about the unfortunate souls who will never benefit from the accumulated wisdom of your years, as shared on your wonderful blog here?
    In other words, dear Mr. W, your selfless act of sacrifice might actually deprive others besides yourself.
    Mother Hen intends to stick around to see many generations of little chicks and roosters running around the barnyard, even if she needs spectacles as thick as she is to do so. Somewhere in the brood there is bound to be a little typing chickie who will help her dear great-grandmama to continue spreading her mucky-muck amongst the human population.
    Sagely yours,
    Mother Hen
    http://motherhensnest.wordpress.com

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