As I get older, I think about how I look at life. When I was a kid, there never was an end. Even having lost some childhood friends to death, I still didn’t understand death. And then in my twenties, I thought I was immortal; and there were definitely nights that I should have been horizontal. Then I got married and had kids, and I still did not definitely grasp the impact of death. Then I got my diagnosis of MS, and BAM it hit me. Square in the face. MS is not fatal, but all off a sudden my immortality was gone. I became human. I realized I was not longer going to live forever. My body would ultimately fail me, ending what seemed like a blast.
Last week I signed off on my will and powers of attorney, legal and medical. (Do not read anything into that statement; it’s the smart thing to do, not a sign of anything pending.) I accepted that I would not live to see my 200th birthday. So now I’m at peace with myself. The same peace I was at when I was 8 years old. Except now I’m going to stop living. And that’s ok.
The geek in me starting thinking about all the neat sci-fi concepts about reincarnation, different dimensions, or even cybernetics. Then I looked at the easy path. Can I find the Fountain of Youth, or the Lazarus Pit? Hey, what does it take to live forever, or a very long time? I know science is continually pushing the boundaries in getting our bodies to extend themselves. But ultimately we’re made of chemicals and basic elements that are designed to disintegrate. We’re not really meant to live to 200, or 150, or even 100. Yeah there are cases of people living to 110-120 years old (the oldest woman lived to 126), but really think about that. You are 100. How many of your friends are still alive? Your buddy who was your wingman during happy hour. Your co-worker who you retired with, walking out the door together still bitching about your boss. Your sexual partner who taught you every position of the Kama Sutra. Chances are that none of them will be with you at 100. Maybe your children will still be around, thanks to your impressive DNA. But I doubt either of you will be able to go dancing. It obviously gets lonely. Oh yeah, you have TV and friends in the nursing home and the newspaper comes on your birthday to give you your 15 minutes. But is that really living? So is eternal long-life really worth it?
And then I think about the other sci-fi, religion. They constantly tell you not to worry because you go to heaven upon your death (even Jeffrey Dahmer got to go). Well if heaven is so great, why aren’t religious people killing themselves to get there? Yes, I know there are fanatics who do that, but by and large almost all religious people wait until the very end. And that’s because they realize what all atheists realize…there is no more when you breathe your last breath. Going to heaven is a panacea; only they refuse to understand that. Stop breathing and that’s it. Finished. Finito. Death ends it all.
So how does one become eternal? The same way everybody always has. It’s by what we leave behind. Our DNA is ours. It may be flawed, but it’s ours. It’s what makes us human and humans us. Every black hair, brown eye, cancer cell is imprinted into our DNA. And we hand that DNA down to our children, our grandchildren, and (if lucky) to our organ donees. But then there’s the other part of eternal life. Our experiences are the most important part of our eternity. What we did, what we didn’t do, who we touched and how we reacted to the challenges of life is our eternal life. And when we share that with our children, our grandchildren, and our organ donees, we now get to share that with friends and strangers. We leave our imprint on them, which in some way, shape, or form, ends up being imprinted into their DNA. And we are eternal. Yep, we debate whether it’s nature or nurture that makes us who we are. It’s actually nature and nurture that make us who we are, and also makes us eternal.