On Mortality

At forty years of age, if you think that you might live to be a hundred and twenty, then you’re facing a stretch of time equivalent to living your life over again from the beginning to the present. When I think about my remaining days like this, the rate at which the days are passing feels a lot less fleeting.

It's hard for me to tell if living to see such an old age is unrealistic. If you have any faith in science, then there’s not much reason to think that we (the big ‘all of humanity’ we) aren’t making advances in longevity. We’re able to identify the things that can do us in, and through that develop methods of prevention. We can cure or vaccinate against most of the bugs that killed our ancestors, and in leading ever-increasing lives of secluded safety we encounter fewer and fewer things that can randomly kill us outright.

I don’t believe in immortality, and when my thoughts turn to life after one hundred years it’s with a rational bent. I think our biology has a hard limit on its lifespan, and I believe that it’s not as short as we might think. There is, of course, the question of just how healthy a person can hope to be as they reach ancient age. There’s the hope that with a lifetime of clean diet and regular exercise, as well as taking pains to engage the brain in interesting activities, that we might pass a century and keep both a strong body and mind.

To me, the question of a long life is one of efficiency rather than one centered around the fear of death. I believe that I have purged most of the surface terrors that awareness of mortality brings; after all, I’ve been clinically dead and resuscitated a couple of times already. The first was when I was barely an infant, then again in my late teens, and in the decades since that last experience I’ve had plenty of time to ponder my existence. I’ve always come to the same conclusion: life is a gift, and we need to make the most of it. Doing things that shorten it or put it at risk are foolish, since the end is going to come regardless. There’s no sense hastening toward that finality, not when there’s still experience to wring out of the affair.

That’s what it’s all about, in the end. Nature designed us to accrue experience, but for what purpose? Do we take all the things we learn with us? I don’t know, but as it appears to be the basic function of life it’s critical that we do what we can to facilitate it. And that’s impossible to do when we’re dead. If life is a game (and who’s to say it’s not?) then the longer you live, and the more you learn, the more you win.

It’s impossible for me to say what my position on the leaderboard is as I close in on the end of my fifth decade, but I know that it’s better than it was when I started, and if I get twice again as much time as I’ve had so far, I’d like to find out just how high I can rank.

2015.03.04 – 2023.09.28

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