Mesa Musings: Folly of the human spirit

A recent news report warned that a massive asteroid might strike Earth in the year 2182.

I'm not concerned. I learned long ago to carefully pick those things I fret about. Incoming asteroids didn't make the list. Besides, in 2182 I'll be 237 years old.

If you want to keep a wary eye on this celestial menace, the asteroid will be lingering in our neck of the galaxy for the next dozen decades or so, and, following a disappearing act for an extended period, will return with a bang (no pun intended). The asteroid is called 1999 RQ36.

The space rock is 560 meters across and could cause catastrophic damage should it crash into our planet. The odds of that happening, scientists say, are 1 in 1,000.

Lest you pooh-pooh those odds as being insignificant, they're not. They are certainly greater than my chances of winning the lottery anytime soon, scoring an income tax refund, or scaling Mt. Everest.

Speaking of numbers and odds, did you catch last week's column in which I reminisced about the first Los Angeles Dodgers' baseball game I attended, on June 8, 1958? I reported that the crowd-count at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum that afternoon was 57,000.

By coincidence, that same number of American soldiers died in 1918. They fell, not in the trenches and battlefields of World War I, but in the 1918 influenza pandemic. How tragic! That's 4,000 more than the number of Americans killed in the war.

Life — like Clayton Kershaw — sometimes delivers a wicked curveball. We've all been dropped a time or two by a sucker punch.

I was reflecting on the 1958 baseball game recently and wondering how many of those 57,000 people with whom I shared the stadium that day might still be alive? Half? Less than that?

It's a morbid question, I know, but a fascinating one. How many who filed out of the Coliseum with me that balmy Sunday afternoon remain with us 52 years later?

It's pure speculation on my part, but I'd guess — conservatively — that at least 28,500 have departed this world. One out of two. That would conform to the ratio of my own family members who attended that game. I went with my father, uncle and brother. Only my brother and I are still living.

I'd wager that the average age of attendees at the game was about 30. My dad was 36 at that time and my uncle 32. My brother and I were 11 and 13, respectively. If my estimate is correct, that means the average age of fans from that game still alive today is 82 — though I suspect it would actually be somewhat less than that (warning: I'm no math major!) because many of the people above 82 presumably have already departed.

An actuarial table for 2006 states that men who were 30 in 1958 could have expected to live an additional 46.89 years, meaning they would have expired in 2005. The table says women would have lived another 51.28 years, which puts them … well, you can do the math.

In actuarial science, a mortality table shows, among other things, probable life expectancy for people at different ages. No matter how far the numbers and columns extend down the page, the bottom line remains the same. The birth to death ratio is 1 to 1.

Wars, pestilences, disasters, sucker punches, advancing age: They all conspire to cut a swath through our numbers.

Today, no one is alive who lived during the Civil War, the presidency of Benjamin Harrison, or the publication of Mark Twain's "Adventures of Tom Sawyer." Someday soon, no one will be alive who personally witnessed World War II, the Kennedy presidency or Perestroika.

Francois Fenelon, a 17th century French mystic, put it this way: "We consider ourselves immortal, or at least as though (we are) going to live for centuries. Folly of the human spirit! Every day those who die soon follow those who are already dead … life flows like a flood."

And we're caught in a swelling tide.

JIM CARNETT lives in Costa Mesa. His column runs Wednesdays.

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