I remember when I first understood that we all die.
I lost a couple of family members early on. A grandmother to cancer, and my granddad to a massive heart attack, both people whom I adored. I was still at that age where I thought I was invincible somehow, and so everyone else must be, and even though I remember nan being ill and knowing it was serious, I was too young to realise that she wasn’t going to get better. When she died, and when my granddad died a few years later (maternal grandmother, paternal grandfather) I was distraught, and it lingered as I realised that one day I was going to join them. The walls of my world seemed so much more brittle without them in it and with the knowledge that all of this was going to end for me, and the world would just keep going.
Quarter of a century later and my eldest son is going through something a little similar. Not because he’s lost anybody, but because we’ve never kept it a secret. I agreed to come on board with elves on shelves, dentally-fixated fae, inexplicable confectionary-laying rabbits (whose oviducts somehow encase their emissions in coloured foil) and Father Christmas, but I swore early on that I would never lie to my kids about the big stuff. That’s not to say that I taught them to read using daddy’s home-written guide to mortality “OMG YOU GONNA DIE” (available in all good bookshops in the terrible parenting section) but when the subject came up naturally, I did my best to explain it in a non-scary way. There have been tears and a little denial but by and large we got there, not aided AT ALL by those who don’t feel they need to keep their religious convictions to themselves, and who had taken it upon themselves to tell them about eternal life. Thank you for making me the bad guy.
Having discussed this with my son got me to thinking about the nature of life, and what it is to carry the uniquely human burden of knowing that we will die.
We seem obsessed with denying it as an inevitability. That’s not to take a swing at the religious, but the more I’ve thought about eternal life, the less I’ve liked the idea. Now, if I really have to think about it, I can’t think of anything worse. We regularly hear about advances in computing, in AI, in medicine, in our analysis of the animal kingdom and what this could mean for extending human life, perhaps even indefinitely. That’s where my story “Save Me From Eternity” comes in. To a lesser extent mankind has cracked it, and the human psyche, soul or whatever can be transferred into a synthetic habitat, where it can continue to live. So far, so good. Life,err… Found a way.
I’d like to live a long life, sure, and I’d quite like to hit triple figures with my faculties intact if at all possible, but there’s a huge difference between a long life and an eternity. If I could live for five hundred years I think I’d fill that time pretty well, as it goes, having time to see much of what the world has to offer, to read all those books I’ve always wanted to read, to write a good few more, to learn the guitar, bass, drums, ukulele etc… To spend time with the amazing people I have in my life… But then we come to the idea of time unending. Ignoring the law of entropy and the apparently inevitable heat-death of the universe, let’s just say we’ve found a way around that one, and eternity means exactly that. Forever. Damn it, I love my family and I love life, the world and being in it… But eternity?
That is the reality that Nathaniel, my protagonist, finds himself looking at. A reality that is a dream for so many, but perhaps my worst nightmare. Forever. What the hell would I do with all that time? Lots of things? Everything? Nothing? I get chills even thinking about it. I get bored on long bus journeys. What the hell am I going to do if I run out of ideas?
The truth, from my perspective, is that without that end date, without a limit, time and even life itself eventually becomes meaningless.
For instance, imagine you had the ability to A – live forever. B – open a gateway to a new and entirely empty universe. You also have a pair of tweezers that narrows to a point of infinite tininess, which can pick up the smallest things there are.
Moving at a speed so low that to all intents and purpose you are not moving, you drift from your universe into this one and pick up a single atom. You drift back, to a point of equal distance on the other side if the gateway. No rushing here, so let’s say you move at a rate of one millimetre per billion years. Incredibly slowly by any realistic measure, but against eternity? Might as well be warp nine.
You arrive on the other side of the gate and you place that atom. You drift back and pick up the one that had been next to it, and you go put it with the first one. Eventually. You do this over and over, atom by atom, until one day, so far into the future that even writing down the number is functionally impossible, you have entirely rebuilt the universe in your parallel universe. Go team!
So… Now what? You’ve killed years beyond measure, but you could do it again. And again. You move at half speed, a quarter, a tenth, but you have time. You could not only carry out this lengthy and pointless task, but you have enough time on your hands to repeat the process an infinite number of times… And you’re telling me that you could fill that time? Doing… What? Golf?
Even if it were possible I don’t think the human mind could take it, and humanity’s sole preoccupation would become reversing the curse it had bestowed upon itself, returning to a finite existence in which we can thrive.
This is what was going around and around in my head when I was writing “Save Me From Eternity.” Not the sadness of impending death, but the knowledge that we are lucky to have lives that we cannot possibly fill with everything at our disposal. We have to focus, and choose the things and the people that we love. We don’t have time to waste because we don’t know how long we have, and as scary as that can be it is that knowledge that keeps us living. It’s a part of what makes us human, and I think we might well be all the better for it.
I know how much I have to lose and the knowledge of my own mortality will always come with just a little bit of fear, but it’s better than the alternative. The alternative is absolutely terrifying.
Infinite Dysmorphia, and Save Me From Eternity, are available to buy or download from Amazon at the link below, and if you like what I’ve written? Or you think perhaps I’m sleepy and my mind is wandering along dark paths, feel free to buy me a coffee at Ko-Fi!