Who Are You To Tell Me It'll Always Be This Way, I Close My Eyes And I Turn Around, And Leave It All Behind
While I was watching the new miniseries Torchwood: Miracle Day I was struck with thoughts of my own mortality. For those of you who don't know, the miniseries posits what would happen in a world where people suddenly stopped dying. It doesn't matter how grotesque the accident--one individual gets skewered by several pipes--or how terminal the disease, people all over the world lose the ability to die. At first everyone believes it a blessing. However, eventually people start figuring out the dire implications. Everyday fifty thousand people die. If that process suddenly stops, then the world grows another 1.5 million every month--not to mention with more people, the more babies are born. Food and water supplies wouldn't be able to handle the surge.
What I also liked about the show was the other implications it had. If fetuses are unable to be aborted, then what does that do to the abortion debate? And if everyone is immortal, but not free from pain, then who decides who gets what medicine--especially when everyone can afford it? And if no one can die, then how do you curb violent crimes? All these issues were brought up in the pilot episode and I for one am eagerly anticipating what else the show has to offer in terms of moral dilemmas.
Yet it wasn't merely these mundane thoughts that stirred within me. I also began to think how such a bending of the natural order of things would affect me. Folks always talk about what they would do with the rest of their lives if they couldn't die. What risks would they take? People think being immortal would embolden them. I suppose in the short run I might feel the same way. I probably would finally take that plunge from a plane that I never said I would do. Or possibly I might attempt a fire walk that people say is invigorating. In the short run I probably would slap death in the face with a smile.
However, in the long run I think it's the fear of death that emboldens people more. When you have all the time in the world you never truly want to get around doing anything. That's at least how I operate. I need the ticking clock to push me into action. I need a deadline to make my effort mean something. Devoid of that everything would seem like busywork--a lot of nonsense that ultimately doesn't accomplish much. And I, for one, cannot abide the concept of putting effort into a project if it ultimately proves meaningless. Especially for me, I need the idea that time is running out for me to make everything I do seem important. I only have a certain amount of days left, which makes the projects I pursue take on added significance. Not merely because I choose to do it, but because I choose to do it at the expense of everything else I plan to do.
I especially began to think of the idea of mortality as motivator in regards to people who die young. People like my friend Jennifer, who barely made it into her twenties, manage to accomplish more in their short years on this planet than people who reach their sixties, seventies, or eighties. They just have that impetus to accomplish all they can before they perish, whereas everybody who has that invincible mentality tend to rest on their routines. Jennifer managed to write out four volumes of her thoughts in her last three months of life. That's more than I could do in fourteen years. I mean--my novel is only at 156 pages and I started that in 2004. If you stack those four volumes together it would measure at some two thousand pages. That's more words put together than everything I have ever written fiction-wise. Not only that, but she managed to read every single book on her must-read list. I'm not even an eighth of the way through.
I just don't see that happening if she didn't feel like her time was running out.
And I just don't see me reaching my potential without the notion that I've squandered the first thirty years of my life and that's it about time I utilize the next thirty. Live forever? That just sounds like a life spent in ennui, wandering from place to place because every place and every act has lost all significance. More than starvation, more than overcrowdedness, even more than rampant violence, I would hate to live in a world where nothing matters because everything becomes a zero-sum game. I want every choice I make to leave an impact. I want to know what I do will be remembered because I will only be on this Earth for a short time comparatively. I want to know I'm free to live my life as I choose... and not consigned to merely existing without the aid of a purpose or the context of meaning.
I want to be free to die, knowing I left my mark with the opportunity provided me.