When I was a kid, we’d gather around the TV and watch rocket launches to outer space. And eventually to the moon. It was exciting. Especially the lead up to ignition. I remember well the anticipation of the last 10 seconds. Walter Cronkite, or whomever the television announcer was, would say, “T minus 60 and counting” at a minute out. Then, “T minus 10.” And finally, “We have liftoff.” My god, I’m still in awe at the possibilities of the human mind.
What was critical to success of the mission, of course, was everything that occurred prior to the launch. That’s where the ingenuity and hard work were concentrated. After all, the launch was merely a controlled explosion. The astronauts just sat there, the success of the mission — indeed, their very lives — dependent upon the preparation of many people who’d never see the inside of a space capsule.
But there was something about the “T minus” that commanded everyone’s attention. And greatly affected the future. The effort. The achievements. It would not have happened when it did if President Kennedy had not addressed the nation on May 25, 1961, and set a national goal to land on the moon before the decade was out. It was an audacious goal. Outlandish in the minds of some. Yet it was achieved. Only 2,982 days later. If the president could have known exactly how much time it would take, he undoubtedly would have told the Congress, “T minus 2,982 and counting.”
Of course, no one knows the future, whether it has to do with achieving a scientific wonder or simply living our own lives. Nonetheless, there is always a T minus for all of us, for there is no eternity (at least not for animals on this earth). Death comes to all.
Today is my birthday. Out of curiosity I consulted the Social Security Administration’s mortality tables to see how much time I have left, assuming I live the average number of days American men live. I found my age and the number of years on the table, and then calculated the number of days. The result? T minus 6,767.
That sounds like a lot. But everything is relative. For you, Vera, it’s T minus 28,655. And I wouldn’t be surprised if that number increases with discoveries and advancements in the field of medicine during the course of this century.
Of course, these are only averages. And the fact of the matter is, nearly everyone will live a greater or lesser number of days than the average. As I’ve mentioned before, averages are the most misleading statistic; in actuality, they mean far less than what is typically inferred. Worse yet, they mislead.
In actuality, my T minus could be 1, or it could be 20,000. Both are extremely unlikely. But possible. The point being, all we know for sure are the odds, given today’s conditions and circumstances. And all we can bank on is the present.
Nonetheless, odds help. For planning purposes. And to remain grounded and not be so susceptible to the illusions that are so tempting to the human mind. The illusion of permanency. Invincibility. Control. Above averageness.
So what do I do with this T minus 6,767 information?
I suspect I’ll do nothing or very little, which, I have to admit, is a bit troubling. It’s in my nature to have a plan; leaving everything to chance doesn’t appeal to me in the least. So I’ve got to give this more thought (as if I haven’t).
In the meantime, I’m focused on today. And tomorrow I’ll be focused on tomorrow. One day at a time. The present moment, to be precise.
I’m one who’s never been good at living in the present moment. My mind has always tended to rush to the future. To what’s next. It’s not a good thing. But it’s easier to resist than it used to be. To live in the present moment, that is.
It’s easier because I received a jolt. Last year. When I dodged death or permanent disability in a car in Georgia. A crushed car.
From that moment forward, I realized something I should have realized and sensed all along. Yes, I knew it before. But I never felt it. In my soul. Now I feel it.
Every day is a gift. An extra day. And the only place you can live is in the present moment.
You see, it’s not a matter of T minus 6,767 for me. It’s always been and always will be the same.
T minus 1.