Living on Borrowed Time

John Lennon - 1980

Borrowed Time” is the title of a song from John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s last album, Milk and Honey released in 1984. The song was inspired during Lennon’s 1980 sailing holiday to Bermuda where he survived a treacherous storm and his mortality came into clear view. In Bermuda, Lennon heard the line ‘living on borrowed time’ from Bob Marley’s “Hallelujah Time” and was inspired by his recent experience. The lyrics recall Lennon’s younger life when he was “living on borrowed time … without a thought for tomorrow.” He later commented that living on borrowed time was exactly what he was doing … but then said “come to think of it, it is what we all are doing, even though most of us don’t like to face it

Mortality. As human beings, we all must face the fact that our life as we know it will end someday. Predicting that day, however, is now more challenging than ever.

I just returned from the funeral of a 24 year-old young woman. Michelle was a friend of my daughter, Melissa. While she was two years older than Melissa, they had special education classes together. They played sports together with other special needs kids. And now she has lost her battle with Niemann Pick Disease.

Before leaving for the funeral, I did some quick research on Niemann Pick, which I had not heard about. I found that it is a progressive, degenerative disease with no cure and limited treatments. The information revealed survival rates ranging from pre-school age to mid-to-late teens. A small minority of those afflicted with the disease reach their 20s.

As I sat in the church pew, watching family and friends grieve the loss of this wonderful young person, I began to think about those whose lives have been extended by today’s far-reaching advances in medical care. Like Michelle and my Melissa.

I began to wonder if Michelle might have been living on borrowed time. The term has long been used to describe those who have survived beyond the time when they had been expected to die. But now, many of those expectations no longer apply.

The miracle of medicine has made life expectancy truly variable. Today, medicine has given society a new generation of both young and old who are living well beyond expectations of just a few years ago. This “saved generation” brings joy because we can share more time with our loved ones. But it also presents certain challenges for society, which must deal with the increased level-of-care (and cost of care) that these people need.

As a parent of a child with a chronic disease, the obsolescence of the phrase “living on borrowed time” gives me hope. Hope that life expectancy statistics don’t have to become reality. Hope that those of the Saved Generation can indeed live long and happy lives. And hope that our society embraces and celebrates each and every moment they share with these special individuals.


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