Friday, May 18, 2018

Want to live forever? Don't set the clock

Playwright, novelist, short-story writer and Pulitzer Prize winner William Saroyan died on this day in 1981. His last words, which he phoned into the Associated Press:

"Everybody has got to die, but I have always believed an exception would be made in my case. Now what?"

A column in the New York Times some time ago considered the Death Clock, a website that predicts your day of death, based on your response to a few questions. The author of the column, Steven Petrow, was in his mid-50s, and the Death Clock gave him 18 more years to live. A “scant” 18 years, is the way he put it. Unnerved, Petrow asked his doctor what he thought, and was told he ought to be good until anywhere from 72 to 75, thus corroborating, more or less, the Death Clock.
Instead of shrugging it all off, as any rational person might do, Petrow took the unusual step of quitting his job. He’d been thinking of doing that anyway, and now, somehow, this Internet bauble had provoked him to make the jump. He’d been filled, he says, with the fear of “the ticktock of the clock.”
Petrow’s decision—to work full-time as a writer—wasn’t actually that drastic, as he’d been doing it in bits in pieces already, in-between his duties as an editor. Any other influence, every bit as trivial as the Death Clock, might have set his course. But it was the Death Clock, with its image of sands trickling through an hourglass, that brought home to him the realization that all of us grapple with to one degree or another, at one time or another: “I’ve only got one life to live, and if I don’t do it now, when?”   
I visited Death Clock myself today, answered the questions and got the news of my death, greatly exaggerated, I hope. My personal Pearl Harbor Day is Wednesday, December 7, 2022—a very scant four years from now. (The Death Clock softens the blow by giving you your remaining time in seconds; mine is, as of this writing, 143, 655, 756 seconds, minus the ones it took to write this.) It’s comforting, in a way, to know that I’ve still got millions and millions of seconds to squander.