I remember thinking I would never reach the fifth grade.

Through my 6-year-old eyes, living to the ripe old age of 11 seemed absolutely impossible. Yet, in the seeming second, I am not only far beyond fifth grade; I'm in the middle of my sophomore year in college.

Sometimes, when the phone goes quiet and the rain dribbles down the windowpane, the whirlwind of life slows down. A moment like this occurred earlier this week. Life seemed to pause just long enough for me to reflect briefly on the scope of where I'd been, where I was and where I thought I'd be going. I realized that, no matter what I thought, one thing is unceasingly true: I am getting older. Each moment, in the passing of time, marks a moment of my life — and it is always moving forward, regardless of how I'm feeling or what I prefer.

I don't like to think about that. Graduation seems far enough away; old age barely seems to exist.

I like living, and I'm not alone. Thanks to innovations in healthcare, Americans and many modern people have drastically increased lifespans.

The art of medicine goes back into the depths of humanity and created an enormous part of human civilization with the Greco-Roman empire. The aim to improve quality of life has proven extremely effective since antiquity; advances in the health field have created cures and aids for all types of ailments, like polio, fevers and a vast array of other calamities.

In the midst of economically-based healthcare issues, the handling of medical aid for the elderly has become increasingly relevant. Our culture's perspective on the issue of healthcare for the elderly is more important than ever; funding for the elderly and medical aid for those who have passed middle-age pose enormous economic and ethical consideration.

Questions concerning the ethics of using all medical techniques possible to save an elderly woman or man can no longer be ignored — but in order to fully answer these questions, our culture's perspective must be considered.

Daniel Callahan, a renowned biomedical ethicist, asked the hard question.

"Just what is it that we want medicine to do for us as we age? Earlier cultures believed that aging should be accepted. Our culture seems increasingly to reject that view, preferring instead, it often seems, to think of aging as hardly more than another disease, to be fought and rejected."

Our lives do not last forever, no matter what we would like to think, and the attempts to prolong human life through costs in Medicare and Medicaid will tally up to a projected $114 billion or more in the oncoming decade.

Although preserving good health for as long as possible remains a basic human right, the importance of appreciating life for its beauty and brevity does not signal weakness or "giving in." Appreciation embraces the true scope of human life and death and focuses on preserving quality of life, rather than quantity. Failing to see the end of life as an end ignores the importance of dignity for the elderly.

As Callahan explains, "No matter how much is spent, the ultimate problem will still remain: people age and die. Worse still, by pretending that old age can be turned into a kind of endless middle age, we rob it of meaning and significance for the elderly themselves. It is a way of saying that old age can be acceptable only to the extent that it can mimic the vitality of the younger years."

Life is precious, and healthcare has effectively created opportunities for young and old alike to flourish and extend their lives.

Death, however, should not be seen as a "last frontier" to be conquered and won. Rather, life should be celebrated for what it is and acknowledged for its exquisite fragility.

I am no longer 6 years old, and I am no longer in fifth grade. My life will continue to move forward, and I want to embrace all the years to come. There is no cure for old age, but valuing every stage of life is important for the healthcare industry and the economy at large.

Remembering that life is a journey, not a destination, will help us all to embrace every year of the way.

Sarah Hagaman is a sophomore in English. She can be reached at shagama1@utk.edu.