What would you do if the doctor said to you that you had six months to live?
Our first response might be to weep at our foreshortened horizons, and what we will miss out on in the future. I asked my parents - both now in their 80s - what they would like to achieve if they had only 6 months left on this Earth. My mother said that she would still like to track down her ancestor from the 1650s, Thomas Tweed, who she’s been trying to find as part of a family history project going back 40 years. My father said that he would like to visit the graves of his ancestors from the 1800s around Dublin, as well as the graves of those early McCaffreys that headed over to the US as part of the Gold Rush, only to wash back like a receding tide to Boston, where they are buried. As you inch closer to the end of your days, do you dwell more upon your origins? Perhaps it’s an effort to place yourself in a long line of ancestors and of descendants, which will hopefully go on long after you have gone. After all, apart from our children, and our children’s children, how much do we leave behind that endures?
A list of family things that I hope to see within my lifetime might include the following:
- Seeing my daughters graduate and/or get a job;
- Seeing my daughters get a place of their own;
- Seeing them settle down with a kind partner;
- Spend time with any grandchildren;
- Grow old with my wife.
However, that’s not all: I’d really like to see some or all of the following list ‘come true:’
- Discovery of proof of extra-terrestrial life (microbes would suffice - I’m not asking for little green men);
- The discovery of the nature of Dark Matter and Dark Energy - which between them apparently make up 95% of the universe but about which we have next to no information at the moment;
- I’d like to see a person walking on Mars - and coming back to Earth to tell the tale (this time I think that we should send poets and writers instead of geologists);
- An end to diseases like malaria, polio, tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS and influenza;
- Widespread use of robust building materials like cement/concrete to cope with a warming world and its associated wilder weather (Hurrican Matthew flattened everything in its path in Haiti apart from buildings made of concrete or concrete-based materials) as well as to improve living standards through provision of well-insulated, comfortable, well-lit, affordable housing for the widest number of people;
- A more equitable distribtuion of wealth around the world (more than one billion people in the world live on less than one US dollar per day1: The 62 richest people in the world have more wealth than the poorest half of the world’s population2);
- Everyone in the world having access to clean water (around 700 million people don’t have access to clean water3);
- Everyone having access to a toilet: astonishingly, around 2.4 billion people - one third of our planet’s current population - do not have access to a toilet. I’ve been to places where there are no toilets, and it is grim - like walking through a mine field (on which topic...);
- An end to the use of anti-personnel mines - banned under the ‘Ottowa Treaty4’ by 162 states, but not signed by the US, Russia and China, amongst others, although the US has said it will abide by the terms of the treaty;
- People defaulting to kindness and politeness, instead of abuse and violence.
Oddly enough, I think that the first wish on my list is more likely to happen than the last one.
I don’t see myself having much influence over many or any of the things on my wish list (maybe I could encourage the children to leave home, or join a charity to help end diseases), but there would be some things that I could enact in my putative last half year. I’ve long wanted to visit a few hard-to-access countries including Bhutan and Nepal, Bolivia, Pakistan and Nigeria - perhaps I could make a special effort to visit them at last. I would like to go drag-racing with my brother Paul again (watching, not driving) - since he used to take me and my brother when we were little, and I found it to be one of the most exciting (but certainly the loudest) things I’ve ever done.
Probably though, if I really thought about it, I would tend to my garden, perhaps plant some trees, spend time with my family, enjoy every sunrise and sunset, walk in the fresh air and enjoy the ‘now’ while I’m still on the green side of the grass.