As we age, our lives seem to revolve around managing these meat sacks we live in, his knee, my teeth, an ongoing saga of care rituals. You know the drill. We are doing well and making progress. But I don’t want to think about another 30 years of joint replacement and root canals. Getting old is exhausting, and sometimes I wonder about the purpose of it all. My dad is 90 and he’s still pondering the meaning of life. Why are we here? To keep doctors employed? Sometimes it feels that way. On the other hand, I’m glad to be perishable. I don’t want to be Siri or Alexa. I don’t want to be an immortal pain-free disembodied intelligence. When the wildfires threaten and we have to rush to evacuate, we grab our people, our photos, and our pets. No one runs back into the fire to save Alexa.
Now there’s a group of people out there, mostly men, whom I’ll call the immortalists. They think it would be lit to live forever. Some of them are getting blood from teenagers to replace their own, others are developing a computer that would copy their brain so they can keep mansplaining after their heart stops, and still others plan to be frozen or pickled in goo until the next century. Imagine Alexa as your disembodied Grandpa. It could be entertaining, but I have a lot of questions. Immortality seems like a scam to me. Will Grandpa put his life savings in escrow to keep his cooler running 500 years from now? And how will he ever know if his immortality is cut short by grifters or a hurricane? Commercial immortality is like buying a long-term life insurance policy that starts after you’re dead.
Let’s get real. Many of us are living so much longer than we anticipated without the desire for immortality, and we depend on Medicare and Social Security to keep our old age affordable. In 1935, when the Social Security Act was passed, the average life expectancy for a man was 59.9 and for a woman 63.9. My partner and I became eligible for Social Security at 65. If we live as long as others in our gene pool, we’ll be drawing funds from these two government programs for a third of our lives. We may outlive our savings. This is the new math of old age. Who pays for our care?
Of course, we do the best we can to take care of ourselves at our own expense. We are fortunate. Love lights up our brain chemistry, good vibes buttress our immune system, and we work to keep healthy by caring for each other. I care for him by trying to keep a nurturing household with healthy food, and a serene environment where he can thrive. He cares for me by holding my hand in the dark and telling me I’m driving in the wrong lane. Our time together is precious because each day we lose some of it.
As we approach 70, every few weeks someone we know dies, a person we went to school with or worked with or socialized with, a person in our extended family, someone we knew by name and face, a person we remember. Mortality. It’s the defining condition of old age. Death is as natural as birth, and for good reason. Death is what makes life sustainable. Society benefits from the death of old people. We recycle ourselves to leave resources for the next generation. How do youngs benefit from keeping pickled olds in the fridge?
The immortalists may claim my quality of life will be better in 500 years, but 500 years from now it won’t be my life. I’ll be a squid on the matrix. Also, who will feed my gut bacteria for 500 years, because I don’t want to wake up depressed. Has anyone thought this through? I don’t want to live longer than everyone I know. When my time comes, please wish me bon voyage and know it’s the right thing to do. Because I’ve got a hot cheeseburger waiting for me on the other side of the rainbow bridge.