Recently, I heard a quitter remark about smoking: “If someone was to tell me tomorrow it doesn’t kill, I’d go back to it immediately.”
I find it strange how much thought we as a race expend on warding off death. Maybe I’m weird –
Maybe? That was my forward brain raising a brow
– but this en mass death obsession makes no logical sense. It puzzles me because I can’t grasp it.
Not as if, anyone has been able to live forever.
Two and a half hundred thousand years of human existence on earth and not one immortal. Doesn’t the statistics say something? Doesn’t it…no, perhaps as I suspect, we humans are daft after all.
Bodies like all machines wither. Tissues parch. Metabolisms slow down, eventually stopping. Resurrection belongs firmly to mythology, wistful fantasy tales of the unattainable. Or attainable by a very exclusive club of a select few (there is but one Jesus found in Man’s two and a half hundred thousand years.)
Such fantastic stories point only to the futility of the chase. Again, it also indicates the high aspirational quotient attached to immortality for its rarity.
Reams of newsprint get filled with health tips. How to lead a ‘healthy’ life, exercise, fitness, optimal weight, appropriate diet, age-defined lifestyle modifications, good habits – good in terms of keeping oneself alive those measly few years extra – seem to be the pet safety net of the magazine industry. Undeniably, any or more of these in combination has a positive after effect. A well-oiled machine churns all the ‘happy’ chemicals in the brain, floods itself back with a sense of wellbeing.
What lies at the roots of this feel good factor?
Perhaps the answer is two-fold – perhaps the euphoria stems from a sense of cheating age, and eventually, of being able to cheat death.
They are not one and the same, as Tithonus discovered to his cost. As the story goes, Trojan prince Tithonus fell in love with Eos, the goddess of dawn. Eos begged Zeus, the king of the Greek pantheon, to bless Tithonus with eternal life, so the lovers may happily live forever. But she forgot to ask for eternal youth. Tithonus lived on, beside his eternally youthful girlfriend, atrophying with time, trapped in a body he couldn’t escape.
The woods decay, the woods decay and fall,
The vapours weep their burthen to the ground,
Man comes and tills the field and lies beneath,
And after many a summer dies the swan.
Me only cruel immortality
Therefore, the not dying isn’t enough, we want un-aging, too. The demand doesn’t stop at ‘Give me immortality’. Our complaint is not with being extinguished alone, the absolute finality, we’re cribbing against the walkway to it, too. (I can visualise a reluctant horse braking its four hooves on a cobbled lane, pulling back with full force against the apron-clad inn keeper who is trying to drag it forward by the reins.) ‘Immortal age beside immortal youth’, the whole package, no less will do!
We’re afraid, not simply to be dead, el finito, but also of dy-ing. As a biological process it is not pleasant. As a psychological one it raises hell. Case in point is a once-upon-a-time pretty Italian named Donatella Versace.
There is absolutely no harm in maintaining sound health, mens sana in corpore sano, as some Latin-speaking wisecrack quipped, keeping the mechanism tuned while it is there. But to think anyone’s escaping their mortality simply by quitting censored pleasures or jogging an extra mile or eating one less spoon of that artery-clogging chocolate ganache, hah!
The ‘fountain of life’ and ‘fountain of youth’ were the dual lies interchangeably sought from time immemorial. Alchemists claiming to have discovered the ‘elixir of life’ were richly rewarded, fools whose bluff was called harshly punished. Today, it sponsors the psychotherapy clinics, reconstructive surgeries and pharmaceutical industry.
Anti-wrinkle creams have captured the international imagination as stem cell research and cryogenic experiments. Egyptians years ago preserved corpses to enable a passage into afterlife; today millionaires do the same to facilitate re-waking into this one.
Evolution, many claim, has made our collective grey cells sharper. Has it?