The first 19,000 days

By John Beckman • Guest Columnist

I had a birthday recently, which seems to happen every year about this time, and I paused to contemplate what this occasion really meant in everyday life to me and to the world I inhabit. By this exercise in reflection I was hoping to glean some insights into something of incredible importance, but what I found was a jumble of numbers and references that left me somewhat more informed but completely exhausted.

With my computer nearby I found out I share my birthday with Charles de Gaulle (think French history), Lady Bird Johnson (think presidents and wildflowers), Billy Jean King (think tennis and chauvinist pigs) and Rick Nielson (think rock guitarist for Cheap Trick), which together made me think I had a nice, diverse group of birthday compatriots. I discovered that on the day that I was born the “Chipmunk Song” made No. 1 on the charts (yes, Alvin and the Gang), and a photo of a flying saucer over Muszyn, U.S.S.R., appeared in the papers.

On the day of my third birthday, the U.S. tested a nuclear device in Nevada, and my next birthday found the Russians testing one of their own in Novaya. It’s amazing what a year and a couple of letters will do when it comes to nuclear arms I thought.  

My 20th birthday was the day Kenny Jones became the new drummer for the Who, and the people of Thailand adopted their constitution. I suspect the former had the greater influence on me that day. And just 12 years later on that special day, Lech Walesa was sworn in as the first president of Poland who came into office by popular election. I was starting to feel better about the day, but wanted to know what had happened in between all of those historic events and where were those many days I’d watch flicker by? I thought it a good time for some reassuring statistics.

With a little math (and a calculator) I discovered that I’ve spent some 19,000 days on planet Earth, and somehow I’ve been filling those days doing something. My armchair analysis uncovered that I had spent over 6,000 of those days sleeping, snoringly unaware of what was going on in the world around me. No wonder some days I’ve felt like I may have missed something. I

’ve used around 700 days sitting in classrooms getting (theoretically) smarter and dreaming of the day I could get out of the classroom, and 850 full days watching television according to the American Time Use Survey (ATUS). I also burned up 800 more days in the bathroom, time those around me would not have wanted me to miss I presume.

I couldn’t help but think of the time I spent as a kid playing baseball, riding bikes, delivering papers and the like, and another 1,100 days vaporized in front of me. About 1,700 days have been spent eating, and another 500 were wisely used vacationing, which I’m sure is where some of the eating comes in.  

I added up the time I’ve spent working a job and watched 5,200 days slip through the cracks, and another 800 or so days lost inside a car or truck going somewhere. I figured I must have racked up 900 days on college campuses, but for some reason I don’t remember a lot of details from then.

I noted that I’ve had a computer and a cell phone for only the past 4,000 days, and it made me wonder what I did with all my time before that. I’ve been with the same gal for 9,000 of those days, and I could say sometimes it feels like more, but I won’t because I know better after that much time. Add in the time spent doing laundry, dishes, paying bills, shopping, cooking meals, cutting grass, hobbies, etc., and pretty soon I started to wonder how I crammed so much into only 19,000 days.  

I opted not to try to calculate how many days I spent looking for my lost keys, procrastinating, fixing my old trucks or drinking beer with my buddies for fear of running out of days before my time.

I got a little fatigued by all these numbers adding up and decided instead to look toward the future and all the days that lie ahead. If statistics can be trusted, then I have around 12,000 days left before returning to dust or something similar, and I planned to make the most of them. I deduced that if I can stop wasting all those days ahead sleeping, I’ll gain another 10 years in time I can spend doing more important things. I could use that time to work for world peace and discovering new cures for diseases. I can invest those newfound hours helping to repair the environment, educating our youth and cleaning-up Wall Street’s woes as well. My days could be well used feeding the hungry and sheltering the unsheltered, building solutions for healthy communities and fixing the world’s dilemmas. This would be a most useful and valuable way to spend the 12,000 days I have left, I solidly concluded. That’s a lot of work to get done and I’ll have to start soon given my ever-shrinking number of days.

Well, maybe right after my nap. After all, it’s my birthday, and we only get so many days like that.


John Beckman is a farmer, builder and part-time day counter from Cullowhee. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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