The previous couple weeks have been dominated by news of death and mayhem. Roger Ebert died less than two days after announcing a “leave of presence.” A writer I respect and like, Iain M. Banks, announced recently he is suffering from terminal cancer and has an unknown but very short time to live. Then, Margaret Thatcher died, and Annette Funicello. Jonathan Winters. Then, the horror in Boston. Last night, the explosion in Texas.
Over the years, I have had friends and family members die in their thirties, forties, fifties, and older. No matter the age, no matter the cause, no matter if the person was accepting of death, I always wished they could have had more years.
Science fiction and fantasy push back at death; immortal (or very long-lived) protagonists abound, and I, the reader, happily go along for the ride. I, too, want to live forever, or at least for another fifty years. Diseases have been conquered. Only the brain needs to survive an accident…the rest of the body can be regrown. Better yet, keep a backup of yourself in storage for handy downloading, in the case of total physical annihilation.
And yet, there is a nagging sense that an extremely extended life would not be good at all. There is a strong suspicion that death is good. Death is necessary. I see it in the decaying matter I spread around my plants to make them grow. I see it on the owl cam (http://owlsmatter.com) as Father Owl brings back a succession of carcasses to feed his children, which Mother and Owlets then rip apart and enjoy. (The biggest of the owlets doesn’t bother with ripping; it seems to be able to swallow a mouse whole.)
Life needs to be fed, and life feeds upon other life. Life is change. Conception, growth, weakening, and death. To ignore the cycle is to enter a realm that is somehow shallow and unsatisfying. Aside from all the practical problems or overpopulating and demographic disruption, if everyone lives forever, what does life mean?
I cannot come up with a satisfactory answer to that question. I read science fiction when I feel like pondering it.
We all feel the wrongness of death resulting from needless, stupid violence. The death of a child in such a fashion is unspeakably horrible. But death, in general, someday…I can’t imagine being human without it, but I never want it to happen to me or anyone I like, even a little.
The only meaningful question I’m left with is the title of this post. I can possibly influence, but cannot control, the length of my life. How death is doled out is inherently unfair. The only thing I can do is be mindful of how I spend my time.
Although I’ve worked diligently through my life, through various jobs, volunteer gigs, and around the house, I have wasted time as well. I have volunteered for stuff I should not have, I have fussed around the house at things I should not have bothered with. I have often, too often, put my writing behind activities which should have had lower priority. As a result, I am still trying to finish my first novel at the tender age of sixty-something.
Why I have wasted my writing time does not matter. I’m sure anyone reading this can guess why. Writer’s Block is way up there. And yes, I did have other things I wanted and needed to do. Things that were important. Nonetheless, I should have tried harder.
The last couple years have brought changes. I now do give my writing time priority, occasionally in socially awkward fashion. It doesn’t matter. It is something I need to do.
Recent deaths–those from old age, from disease, from accident, or from senseless tragedy–they all remind me that none of us have forever.
Appreciate life. And if you’re a writer, write.