My son has just started listening to Queen, and the other day I heard one of the songs they did for the soundtrack to Highlander: ‘Who wants to live forever’. Got me thinking. Would we really want to live forever? What would it do to us to live forever?
Okay for starters, there are quite a few people about whom I shudder at the thought of them living forever. I’m not just talking about the really evil people… .Does that make me a bad person? That does make me a bad person. Geoff from accounting is fine. Really. But it’s a valid thought – If we lived forever, would we want to be around the same people forever? Would they start to really bore us? In fantasy fiction you often have elves or other immortals who have all lived for well over 1000 years and they all know each other. You’d surely get super tired of the same stories, again and again:
“Methilian, I think it’s time to put that joke to rest, it wasn’t funny 500 years ago and it’s still not funny now”.
“Well, Gondottoria, since we’re doing this, I’d appreciate it if you’d stop telling people about the time I fell in the Andalian Pool. It’s not as if that happened this millennium or anything.”
Imagine that person who always says your name wrong. Imagine them saying it wrong for an eternity…*sigh*
But it would be worse if you lived forever but those who you loved didn’t. From the same Queen song come the lyrics:
Who dares to love forever, when love must die?
In my imagination I am going to pretend that if I’m immortal then so are my children because I have no wish to outlive my children. Friends and family – would it be bearable to watch them die? Would you bother to make non-immortal friends? The pain would be too horrible and then you’d have eternity to remember it. Perhaps, though, it would be worse to get kind of inured to it and get to a point where you’re sad but move on. A bit like us when a dog dies. You love them and you grieve and miss them, but it’s just part of the natural cycle where you’re super lucky if your dog lives to 14. I would hate to be like that with the people I love.
I’ve also often thought that one of the problems with a Long Life is that you spend so much of it being old. That does seem to be the bonus with immortality – everyone seems to grow for a bit and then almost stop. There are aged appearing immortals but they must be EXTREMELY old. But then is it the same as for a long lived human? I wouldn’t want to live the majority of my immortal life as an old person.
Gandalf is a possible exception as he is pretty cool. But even then – doesn’t he sometimes just feel “Man i’m sick of this same old ***. Didn’t we just get rid of this Sauron dude?”
There’s also the danger of becoming less human the less mortal you are. And yes, I know immortals aren’t human but you know what I mean. All the best about humanity – our compassion, humour, passion. Would it survive millenia as the same person? Nalini Singh’s Guildhunter series touches on these issues. When Elena is asked in Archangel’s Consort what it is like being mortal, she replies:
Life is much more immediate. When you have a time limit, every moment gains an importance that an immortal will never know.
[This feels particularly apt with the world returning to the precariousness of the Cold War era.]
Our lives are short, relatively speaking, but so much longer than ever before in human history. And we pack them full of meaning. Not every day, to be sure, but even the sense of frustration at missing out on the park closest to the supermarket entrance – would that go? So much of our creative spirit has come from emotional responses to life. Grief, joy, anger, love, even cynicism. These all inform our art and our music. How do you create art if you live forever and it’s all been done before? Do you just get better and better and do more and more different things? Or is it the same? I think that’s something in fiction that I find a bit odd when I think about it. Elves live for thousands of years but technology wise they don’t develop much. Elrond seems to be living much the same life in the Third Age as he was in the First. Magic might have something to do with that but the word ‘changeless’ is often used to describe their society as well as themselves. Also their population doesn’t grow much which leaves one to wonder a bit. The angels and vampires in Singh’s Guildhunter series do engage with technology as they are connected to humanity, they live amongst but above it. This allows scope for a greater range of personalities as they form different approaches to the different ways of living.
In the fanfic of Merlin that I wrote for my sons (but really for me in the end lol) I let Merlin keep his personality and character, his humanity. But I did try to connect to the fact that he had become more cynical and with the fact that he had been lonely.
“Then imagine yourself killing her for the second time, taking your sword and plunging it into her heart, knowing that you were killing your own heart. Knowing that although you did it to save your friend, your brother, to save your very kingdom, you would never forgive yourself. Now imagine that although you saved the kingdom you couldn’t save your friend. Imagine how for the centuries of loneliness that followed, you wondered if any of it had been for any purpose at all.’
He paused to rub his palms into his eyes, tears damp on his cheeks. The words felt stuck in his throat.
“Now imagine that after a thousand years spent mostly alone you met her again. That this time it seemed like things might be different. But not only did she remember how you killed her, twice, but you still don’t know if you can trust her.”
He stared at Arthur, whose eyes were also bright with tears. “If you can imagine all that, then you might begin to understand what I’m feeling, but until then you need to not tell me that you understand.”
When Arthur had finished the front page he pushed the newspaper away and looked up with a twisted expression of disgust and sorrow. “And this is happening everywhere? This hatred and division? The people seem to be turning on themselves while their leaders watch”
“Sometimes they encourage it.”
“What about these outside threats. This terrorism the news sheet speaks of?”
Merlin sighed and shrugged.
“Well it’s a threat and it isn’t. It isn’t anything very new but the way it’s talked about is new.” He looked at his newly young hands then back up at Arthur, a half smile on his face.
“It’s a bit hard after nearly 1500 years to see threats as really big anymore. I’ve seen kings come and go, thousands of people burned at the stake by their own communities, tyrants create empires of fear through Europe – several times actually – and the biggest threat I thought we faced, massive weapons that can destroy cities, have only ever been used twice.” He remembered the day he’d heard of the bombing of Hiroshima, his rage had led him the closest he’d ever come to revealing his full powers.
And then there are the immortals who are more godlike, who have transcended this plane and live connected to the universe, knowing all and seeing all. Almost as if they exist as a greater part of the universal consciousness. It might be a glorious existence, but I also think it might be very, very lonely.
So I don’t think immortality is for me (just as well as it isn’t currently an option), but I’m all for long lives filled with interesting people and lots of love and laughter.