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Dare to Be 100: What Time Is It?

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There is a general consensus about what time really is. It is generally considered to be objective and universal. One cute definition is that time is nature's way of keeping everything from happening at once. More scientifically time is a measurement of the rate of the redistribution of energy (otherwise known as the Second Law of Thermodynamics). The precise measurement of time is given by the assigned value of 1,192,631,700 cycles of the radioactive decay of the isotope Cesium 133. Unknowingly, this is what we mean when we assume one second of objective time. This is relentlessly affirmed as we go about our daily business.

Common experience, however, is an intimate intermingling of objective and subjective awareness, each being categorically different from the other.

Einstein's guiding quotation was, "When you sit with a nice girl for two hours it seems like two minutes. When you sit on a hot stove for two minutes it seems like two hours. That's relativity."

Such a subjective analysis of time is memorialized in Satchel Paige's eternal query, "How old would you be if you didn't know how old you are?" Satchel went on: " Since aging is usually a question of mind over matter, if you don't mind it doesn't matter." (1)

As we dare to be 100 our personal chronology takes myriad forms. As a geriatrician I can attest to the infinite variety of tempos that life exhibits. I recall vividly my time with a favorite patient, E.M. He was an 84-year-old life insurance salesman. He was still very productive and engaged in life. One day he came into my office and off-handedly remarked. "You know, Dr. Bortz, I am well past 80 years of age, and I spend a fair amount of time looking out the window waiting for the hearse to draw up, but then I read your stuff and I recognized that it is NOT TIME YET."

When he said these few simple words I came immediately to the alert. I recognized that one of my most important errands is to help others, and myself, to know what time it is in our lives. Too many of us define ourselves as being older than we actually are. This diminished perspective defaults our innate potential which often is decades more. Addressing such a mismatch leads to "found lifetime."

My personal insistence that 100 healthy years is our birthright is a challenge to know what time it really is.

What time is it in your life?

I am 84 years young.


Levine, R. A Geography of Time, 1997 Basic Books, New York.