Jeanne Calment lived to be 122. She saw the turn of a century, lived through two world wars, witnessed the changing of republics, the invention of the computer and the shift from silent to animated to blockbuster films. She met Vincent Van Gogh and breathed from the same world as me as I was born into the world.
I have always said that being human is being mortal, one of the greatest and worst things to ever happen to us. To know death and to experience even the possibility of death is to know a million other things: grief, change, urgency, the value of life and the meaning of relationships. Time is a conundrum; relative and absolute in turns, affected by the mind but never actually molded in reality.
Imagine a reality where time is fast and fleeting. As leaves fall, the world changes. Everything is now and quick and ever present; we work and we work and we work. And then we die.
But more importantly, we live (–how can one be without the other?). The factual nature of death reminds us regularly that our time is short. Can you imagine how many years you have left? Can you see the bar of your lifespan, and see it one-third or one-half or almost done on its way? We are forever pushed and pulled through our life: pushed by our own dreams, our desires, our ideal age, our limitations, and pulled by an inertia that is unchangeably set on and on towards certain death.
There is value in every point to the thread because we know that we are inexorably moving to the end. This is the story we have been set to conclude. To cope with the truth of mortality is to avoid the trappings of fatality, paranoia and despair. It is to ask the only question remaining: how do you choose to spend your time?
(To what fickle thing do you give your love)
But imagine a reality where time stands still for you, and it goes on and on and on. Imagine a world where you are Jeanne Calment, or even more unusual, Jeanne Calment with eternal youth.
Is it not strange that these are probably the same wishes that you once had in your childhood, or adolescence or even now? Most people dream of spending eternity in pursuit of their dreams or in pursuit of life’s guiltiest pleasures, to know every secret and see every country and touch every heart. And you are that vampire, that inexhaustible god-person, that strange point in time.
And wouldn’t that be wonderful? To know that when you are older your grandchildren will say, “Really? You lived through X? Or, grandmother, tell me more about the turn of the millennium!” Or else the books will also record you, as the man or woman who has seen the rise of centuries and the start of space exploration. To be like the Queen, who has seen countless American presidents shine and fade in her stay, to be like institutions older than some gods. With your knowledge you can topple governments and revolutionise the world through never-ending cycles.
But then: wouldn’t that be painful? Because to be a point running forever against time is to stand still as time runs for an eternity. You are a fixed point outside everything that time engineers (humanity, simpler pleasures, life). What use is heartbreak or love or policies, if you know that in a decade or a century these things too will pass? What purpose is there to live, when in the end you have accepted that change is an ineffable fact, and it will happen whether you direct it or not? The fleeting nature of humanity’s fancies stands stark against the longevity of an immortal soul. It is not just the heartache of one who would leave everything and everyone behind; who would find the heart to care for today when the future is limitless?
Immortality might afford us many insights and luxuries, the experience of a multitude and the opportunity to know countries, but it does not much afford us much love.