Some years back when I was responsible for fleet maintenance for my police agency, we kept track of the service life of our patrol vehicles by how many miles they had on them. Another agency I knew of tracked the service life of their patrol vehicles according to service hours. We scheduled maintenance according to miles. They performed service in accordance with service hours. Back then, everyone who worked fleet maintenance kind of thought that the “service hours” method was kind of silly. Sure, it made sense to do that for things like boats and aircraft, but police cruisers? Why?
Well, as it turns out, when you examined it from all aspects, it made sense. Everyone who has ever owned a car knows that there are hard miles and easy miles. The more easy miles you put on your car, the longer you can go between some maintenance items. The more hard miles you put on your car, the less longevity you should expect to get out of it… no matter how much or how well you maintain it. Now, there are exceptions to every rule, but as a general statement, few would argue.
Yesterday I was sitting around thinking about some of the people I know and it occurred to me that life can almost be measured the same way… with a twist. Let me share with you a story about my buddy, Chuck. I’ve known Chuck almost all my life and there was a time when I laughed at his hobby… which seemed to be collecting hobbies. In high school I watched him go through skateboarding, bicycling, swimming, kayaking, motorcycles (riding and working on), painting, music, rock climbing, spelunking… I can’t list them all. I thought it was funny that he kept going from hobby to hobby, never slowing down and never being satisfied with his recreational time. I enjoyed some of those hobbies with him: rock climbing, camping, scuba diving, motorcycles, skateboarding, swimming…
As I was contemplating that yesterday, it occurred to me that I also know people who haven’t experienced near as much as Chuck has. I know folks whose idea of recreation is watching football or sitting at a bar drinking adult beverages. Now I’m not saying anything is wrong with either of those activities but I like to think I have a unique perspective of life’s experience and I wanted to share it. (Call me arrogant now; I’m NOT saying I’ve lived a better life than anyone else. I AM saying I have lived a life full of relatively unique experience compared to some.)
I was an adopted child. In 2003 I found my biological family. The prospect of potential reunion with my birth mother made me consider all of the possible outcomes and one of them was definitely her reaction of, “Thanks for finding me. Glad you’ve lived your life. Keep enjoying it and goodbye.” Given that potential reaction on her part, I prepared a letter to her to describe what I had done with the life she gave me. It included some pretty cool things like scuba diving on wrecked ships and rappelling out of helicopters. It included some truly beautiful things like marriage, children and grandchildren. I included a few things I considered accomplishments like military service, the law enforcement profession, being published and more.
All of that passed through my mind as I contemplated the difference between miles and years. The question I ended up asking myself was: Would I rather live 100 boring years? Or 70 adventurous years? The most honest answer I can give is that I’d prefer to live 100 adventurous years! That answer begged the next question: Does having an interesting life potentially increase or decrease longevity? Hmmm…
With no definitive research done to find an answer, I have to go with my gut on this one. I know a lot of people who have lived a long and sedate life with a minimal level of adventure and a focus on relaxing if they weren’t working. By the time they were 65 years of age and collecting retirement they were also planning on how they’d make everyone’s life easier after they died. Yes… they were PLANNING to die and living to minimize their eventual passing on everyone. Then there are the folks I’ve met who are in their seventies and living life as if it’s still precious and far too short every day. Some of the happiest people I know have remained active and enjoyed adventures in spite of their age or what anyone else tells them they should or shouldn’t be doing.
I know a man… he’s about 80 and he’s a reserve police officer. He’s a pilot. He’s an avid photographer and very active. I’ve no doubt that he’s put plans in place for his eventual passing but I can assure you, this man has NO plans of passing any time soon. He has too much life left to live.
Another man I know – my wife’s uncle, whom I’ve always held in high regard – is in his late-sixties and, as I type this, he was just snow skiing the other day. He’s “retired” but continues to work to donate his services, travels, exercises and remains active. If you met this man you’d NEVER guess he was his age; you’d guess a decade, or more, younger.
When I was twelve years old I met a 92-year old man. The morning I met him, he had just returned to his farm house in the mountains after finishing his two-mile daily run. He was feeding a fawn from a baby bottle because he had adopted her after some hunter had killed her mom. He was still a practicing attorney and worked his farm spring through fall. NINETY-TWO years old!
How do these folks do it? How do they maintain such a youthful outlook and stay so spry at ages most people consider “old”? I contribute it to two things: First, and perhaps foremost, their outlook. None of them is in denial about the number of years they’ve lived, but they also don’t talk about how old they are. Second, they stay active in their “relaxation” time. They don’t JUST sit around at bars and drink or share their butt with the sofa to watch sports for endless hours.
Now, going back to my original discussion about patrol vehicles and measuring longevity by years or service hours, how does that relate to this topic of age, longevity, and “service life” of we human beings? As I’ve described, I know some folks who are very carefully living a sedate life. I’d call those easy miles. Their bodies aren’t being abused… nor are their bodies being challenged. Those folks who are rock climbing, skiing, swimming, skateboarding, hiking, camping, sky-diving (something I still won’t do and am quite content going to my grave without having done – sorry, Chuck) have abused their bodies, worked them, exercised them, used them, challenged them… and continue to do so as they suck every measure of pleasure out of each day that they can.
It’s my belief that a life full of adventure and challenge quickens the spirit and helps us to maintain a positive outlook. That positive energy combined with the benefits of exercise can contribute to a longer life; and that longer life will be more entertaining and enjoyable in the long run.
I’ll make one last observation about easy miles versus hard miles and I really want you to consider the relationship with life:
In a car, the “easy” miles are the highway miles. We USUALLY put those miles on a vehicle when we’re going someplace fun: vacation, visiting relatives, etc. So, we spend those easy miles to go spend harder (are they though?) miles on our bodies; the “miles” we’ll enjoy performing various activities we enjoy with people we enjoy in places we don’t get to see every day.
Conversely, if all you ever do is put hard miles on your car – most often just going back and forth to work – and spend your time at work… are those hours at work hard miles or easy miles? I submit to you that the work hours are the hard miles; that the truly easy miles/hours are the ones we spend doing fun stuff in places we like with people we enjoy being around.
So measure your life in “service hours,” not years. Don’t measure your life by how many years you’re here – measure it in how much experience and adventure you cram into the years you’re here for.
I’d like to close with this quote from George Carlin – a wise comedian:
“We drink too much, smoke too much, spend too recklessly, laugh too little, drive too fast, get too angry, stay up too late, get up too tired, read too little, watch TV too much. We have multiplied our possessions but reduced our values. We talk too much, love too seldom, and hate too often. We’ve learned how to make a living but not a life. We’ve added years to life, not life to years.”