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OPINION: How much time do you have left?

OPINION: How much time do you have left?

By Glenn Richter

I have just been informed by the XYZ Insurance Co. that I have 17.3 years left to live.

Lucky me.

More specifically, my life expectancy — calculated according to "the applicable mortality table prescribed by the Secretary of the Treasury pursuant to Section 430(h)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code” — is 17.3 years, with the clock starting on Aug. 1 of this year.

So, after doing a little arithmetic and consulting a calendar, I find I’ve been blessed with the knowledge that, actuarially speaking, my number will come up on Nov. 18, 2036, which will arrive shortly after my 88th birthday. It doesn’t say at what time of day I will assume room temperature, or by what cause. Heart attack? Piano falling from a tall building? The mortality table is silent.

My first thought, of course, was sheer gratitude that some faceless corporate entity has seen fit to allocate to me quite a few years in excess of the biblical “threescore and ten” and quite a few more than I’d imagined I’d be getting. And, for that matter, quite a few more than I probably deserve.

Naturally, I'm very grateful for this bonus.

My second thought, natch, was that I should call my undertaker, just so he can pencil me in for that week, and my third thought was that I should change my will so I can leave everything to Keith Richards, who will probably live forever.

Come to think of it, though, my undertaker is about a year older than moi, and I don’t know whether he has yet checked his own terminal date on the same mortality table, or whether maybe he’s received a similar letter from XYZ Insurance.

That there are gaps in this reasoning goes without saying. XYZ doesn’t know me from a hole in the ground, any more than does the Secretary of the Treasury. That is, there’s no way they can have factored in the various bad habits and “lifestyle choices” like drinking, drugging and smoking, or pre-existing medical conditions that could move Doomsday forward. Or maybe I’m a choir boy who eats nothing but brown rice and kale, never tears the labels off of pillows, always returns the supermarket cart and drives safely, which could perhaps delay the inevitable by a bit. 

There are some animal species that exhibit particular behaviors when one of their own kind dies, but we have no real reason to believe that they know that sooner or later the grim reaper is also going to come for each of them. That is to say that, as far as we know, humans are the only critters that are aware of their own mortality.

Lucky us.

But even the higher animals — be they ever so advanced, like elephants or chimps — don’t have to worry about getting a letter from the insurance company: Dear Dumbo, you’re going to drop dead, and here’s when.

Having arrived at an advanced age (I am now several months older than my father was when he died, at the biblical 70 years), I do think about these things from time to time. But there’s nothing like getting a letter, with numbers in black and white, whether they’re scientifically valid or not.

So thanks, XYZ, for the cheery news.

Reach Glenn Richter at