When I Become a Nonagenarian

Nonagenarian Betty White

Over the past three weeks, four people have died that have directly or indirectly affected my life. (I’m not including among them Carrie Fisher or Debbie Reynolds.) The three who directly affected me were an aunt, an uncle, and a current parishioner. The one who indirectly touched my life was the father of a girl I dated in high school.

Outside of the fact that their lives somehow touched mine, they had at least one thing in common. They were all nonagenarians. This is a term that is seldom used, but it refers to people who are between the ages of ninety and ninety-nine. In the cases of the four I’ve mentioned, one was ninety, two were ninety-two, and another was ninety-five.

Succumbing to the dreaded “other”

I don’t actually remember stumbling across the term, nonagenarian, until I began to write this blog post. When I did, I also stumbled across these little bits of info. When a person hits ninety, the life expectancy is four years for a male, almost five for a female. 22,948 out of 100,000 people are still alive at ninety (I was a bit surprised it was almost 23%). The single leading cause of death among nonagenarians is (not so surprisingly) heart disease. Thirty-six percent of them succumb to the dreaded “other.”

Anthony Hopkins as Methuselah

Most folks (from what I can tell) want to live a long life. The one exception to that desire in my experience is a lady who always said she’d rather die young. She is now nearing her nonagenarian years and is in a state of health she always wanted to avoid. Such is often the story of our existence.

In a few days, I will hit the big sixty-seven mark. They call guys like me sexagenarians (something of a misnomer if you ask me—that’s what they should call twenty year olds). Like a lot of guys my age, I like to say, “I don’t feel sixty-seven.” Truth told, however, I rarely think about it. As a matter of fact, I don’t even know what a sixty-seven year old is supposed to feel like.

Living to a Ripe Old Age

My philosophy on that subject is this. I’m sixty-seven. I feel like I feel. So I guess I feel like a sixty-seven year old. It’s all wrapped up in the old saying, “I’m old enough to know better.” That philosophy doesn’t always help, however. I still do stuff when I should know better. Oh well…

There was a guy in Biblical history that lived to be nine hundred sixty-nine years old. You may have heard of him. His name was Methuselah (Genesis 5:21-27). I realize those were vastly different times, but I’m guessing his quality of life toward the end wasn’t all that great. As that intergalactic philosopher, Yoda, once said, “When nine hundred years old you reach, look as good, you will not, hmmmm?”

When all is said and done, I guess I’d like to live to a “ripe old age.” I just hope the ripeness is not a reference to my aroma.

[Dave Zuchelli is a graduate of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and is currently the pastor of Smith Chapel, in Great Falls, VA.]


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