Cashing in Your Chips

The oldest person in the world isn’t anymore.

Three times this year I’ve seen headlines reporting that the world’s oldest person is currently dead. I don’t mean the same oldest person died three times, but that three different oldest persons have died. 

The life expectancy of the oldest person in the world is shorter than most everyone else’s. Simple math works against these doomed people.

Seems to me that at some age how many years you have left is more important than how many you’ve had. If I was the oldest person in the world, I wouldn’t want anyone to know. I’d try to sneak under the radar. One sure way to die is to get old. This we know for sure: if you live long enough you will die.

I don’t think this is fair. I think the oldest person in the world should get a bonus. Why collect chips all your life and then just have to cash them in? If you make the final cut, you should be entitled to a free extended warranty. If you outlast all the other contestants, the other seven billion players ought to chip in and provide you a free pass, at least for the summer months.

Think about it. What’s the point of outliving every other terminal human on the planet and then die before you can rub it in? I don’t get it. I hope I die before I outlive everybody else. I couldn’t deal with the disappointment.

Here’s another thing. The oldest of the oldest people to die this year was a whopping 117. Big Whoopee! Are other dead people impressed you outlived them by a decade or four? In fact, when you are dead, do all the other dead people give a flip you outlived them? Do dead people keep score? Present trophies? Have birthday parties? Submit your name and birth date to Yahoo? I don’t think so. This ain’t “Dead Like Me.”

You would think that at 117, people would love you. Instead, they run from you, afraid your condition might be contagious. Who are you going to taunt? You can’t talk smack to your peers; they are all dead. You scare those a tad younger and gross out those a hundred younger. Nobody likes the oldest person in the world. They live too close to the edge.

George Burns used to say – before he died – that he was so old he didn’t buy green bananas. George and his funny friends could joke about it because they still had a chance to die young. Odds were in their favor. When it comes to living and dying, odds are odd.
I eat gravy on my biscuits for a reason. I’m trying to improve my odds.

Here’s another thing. Sometimes the oldest person in the world doesn’t know it. Sometimes that’s lucky for them. Some old people are older than others. Sometimes the oldest person in the world not only outlives everybody else, but themselves. I hope I don’t outlive me.

From my strategic position at middle age, it looks like the oldest person in the world miscalculated. They got greedy. They lived themselves to the brink of inevitable death. In a futile effort to live long and prosper, they lived too long. And now they have to die. That will teach them. They won’t make that mistake again!

What sets apart the oldest person in the world from the rest of us? Diet? Genes? Altitude? Light beer? No television? Vioxx? Exercise? Nope. None of the above. It’s the fact they don’t know when to quit. They won’t take “no” for an answer. They never say die. And they miscalculated.

When I die, I want to go peacefully in my sleep like my grandfather, not like the panicked folks screaming in the backseat.

Right before Ray Charles died, he spoke to author David Ritz (Brother Ray) about his mother’s death back when he was 16 and 160 miles from home living at a school for the blind.

“When my mother died, I didn’t understand death. Couldn’t feature it. What do you mean, she’s gone forever? That’s when I saw what everyone sees: You can’t make a deal with death. No, sir. And you can’t make a deal with God. Death is cold-blooded, and maybe God is, too.”

Ray comes from a long line of poets and musicians that have struggled with the ultimate reality confronting life.

“For I see that even wise men die;
The stupid and the senseless alike perish,
And leave their wealth to others.
Their inner thought is, that their houses are forever,
And their dwelling places to all generations;
They have called the lands after their own names.
But man in his pomp will not endure;
He is like the beasts that perish.”
(Psalm 49:10-12)

This observation comes from the heart and pen of King David’s minstrels. They sang of life and death and mystery. And they passed along their sentiments to the king’s son.

“All go to the same place. All came from the dust and all return to the dust” (Ecclesiastes 3:20).

At some point in time (usually right before we die), everyone comes to the same conclusion: death is the great equalizer. We can laugh about it or cry about or do a little of both, but in the end, we realize “as we have come naked from our mother’s womb, so will we return as we came” (Ecc. 5:15).

We would be better off if we spent more time preparing to die; it would better equip us to live. We waste too much energy denying death. The downside of being human and at the top of the food chain is the stark and relentless knowledge of our own impending death. It ought to shape all we are and all we do. We shouldn’t get so carried away with living – it twists our priorities.

The simple possibility that you have a chance to be the world’s oldest person ought to encourage you to come closer to Jesus right now. If you happen to get there, He will be the only one waiting.
Christianity has much going for it, but most importantly, it has a risen savior who overcame death – for all of us. Listen to this, fellow fallen folks:

“Since then the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise also partook of the same, that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil; and might deliver those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives” (Hebrews 2:14-15).

Live well, and long (if you must)!

-Ron Carlson