Let’s Imagine the alternative… Let’s imagine you were Immortal, and unable to die, by any means.
In the early years, after you discover your immortality, you would be ecstatic. You would find yourself appearing to be about thirty years old (or whatever age you think you were most amazing as a person, it won’t matter, there will always be someone who won’t like you because of that age, so go with it).
You would be able to survive any injury, no matter how great. Even Death would not take you. Awakening from murder as if it were little more than going to sleep and reviving physically if not mentally whole.
After a couple of times being murdered and the trauma there-in, you resolve to take self defense seriously and train yourself up to be a fairly competent combatant. After ten or twelve years of serious study, and you would study because you know what losing means, you are able to fight off 90% of the most well trained fighters on Earth.
If you enjoyed martial combat, you may spend some time improving your skills further by fighting against the best fighters in the world. Why? Because you can. That’s why.
After a decade of fighting, making money, and traveling the world, you “retire” into obscurity only fighting in death matches underground to replenish your cash, since you NEVER lose.You make a bit of extra cash killing the hit-men who eventually want to discover your secret and aren’t above doing whatever it takes to get that secret out of you.
You decide this isn’t the life for you and invest your money with people who understand you will kill them if they steal from you. You kill one or two of them and the rest take you more seriously. Your cash flow is assured.
You then have to find someone who can help you die, from time to time and get a new identity. This takes quite a bit of time and ultimately the risk isn’t that you will die, but that you will end up in jail. Spending time in prison is the last place you want to be.
Once you secure an ID team of folks who are reasonably skilled and able to stay bought, you disappear from sight and begin the life you really needed. The one where you lean into life and do everything possible.
This too will eventually pale. Why?
Because after you have sky-dived, run with the Bulls, deep-sea explored, become a legendary photographer, made a fortune on the stock market, driven a race car, climbed Mount Everest, went back to school in a different country for the twentieth time, learned as many languages as you were inclined to, eaten at the best restaurants money can buy.
What do you do now? You indulge the days exploring your artistic talents and capabilities. It doesn’t matter if you were completely tone deaf or visually inept. You have time on your hands. You can get better. You pay for the best teachers and when you aren’t with them, you are with the friends you make, temporarily while you are wherever your latest skill quest has taken you.
You get a job you don’t need because money isn’t necessary for you. You can survive without food, water, or any kind of natural interaction at all. So everything you have in the world is for the comfort of other people. You may utilize them and enjoy the comforts but you realize after thirty or forty years of fortune, then misfortune that the world is ephemeral and you had wealth once, you can have it again.
After your eightieth year, even if your body is still sexually responsive (and we’ll be generous and say that it is) people will begin to lose their appeal. Why?
Because it’s no longer a challenge to get anyone into bed. During one of your hedonistic phases, you decided you would use your charms to gain access to every kind of sexual pleasures the world had to offer.
From top to bottom, from left to right, you have experienced a panoply of sexual extravaganza, from the willing to the resistant, you have sated yourself at the smörgåsbord of sex.
The truth of the matter is, people aren’t that complicated and after your eightieth birthday, getting anyone into bed is only slightly more difficult than masturbation. You can almost read their minds. You can see their insecurities, you can plumb their emotion depth with the same speed and facility as reading the newspaper
You can manipulate their mental states and timing isn’t an issue anymore. If they need you to wait, you know this and wait. If they want you right now, you oblige. Sigh.
If you are truly lucky, you find someone who feels you, connects with you and eventually decides to stay with you. You have to lie, at least in the beginning. You will have to explain to them eventually why they are getting older and you aren’t. You love them intensely. Moreso as they weaken and age. Are you fertile? Maybe, let’s say you can have children but they are rare and their lives are just as mortal.
So your beloved dies in forty years and you have children who realize their father will outlive them. Perhaps they love you anyway. Perhaps you never tell them. It depends how things work out after the first couple of wives/husbands and then kids.
If you had a good experience, your children appreciate your amazing gift and become accomplices in your Immortality charade. They help you with covers, places to launder your money, if you need that sort of thing. By now, you have connections everywhere, not because you love people but because you NEED them to navigate the world. Your anonymity becomes more precious, the more identities you outlive. Having kids helps.
But eventually you move out of the lives of your children and grandchildren because you are an anomaly most of them want nothing to do with. It’s not that they don’t love you. You are just so divorced from the Human experience, you are a bit creepy to them. You are that old relative who says things they can’t relate to, and even though you make ever effort to keep up, the world at your 150th birthday is very different from the one you grew up in.
Is your memory perfect? Hmm. That’s a good question. If it is, you will be able to remember every experience you have ever had. Makes it easy to blend into the world in some ways and harder in others. If memory is perfect, you may find it difficult to acquire new abilities. But if it isn’t perfect, you may find you need to document your journey to remember those things that are important to you, as your mental hard drive begins to overfill.
You aren’t sure who these journals are for, but if you are the only Immortal in the world, no one can see it the way you do. So you keep these journals for the day when maybe you stop caring about the world or your place in it.
You watch cities go up. You survive earthquakes and other natural disasters, year after year. You watch your loved ones die again and again. The weight of the world weighs on you after two centuries. You need to do something different.
Perhaps you think you should help make the world a better place. You are a formidable fighting machine at this point. You have survived a few wars, a few coups, a couple of insurrections and know your way around the battlefield. Perhaps a well placed murder or two might make the world more effective, more efficient, perhaps people don’t need to die needlessly because you have the capacity to see the greater good that needs addressing.
But should you be doing this? Should you be taking control of the fate of the world as its only truly permanent resident? Who decided you should do this? Are you certain of your sanity at this point?
Two hundred years of watching generations of Humans, live and die, having experienced every possible permutation of the human experience, do you feel qualified to, from the shadows, direct the course of Human endeavor?
Of course you do. Who has more experience than you do? At this point you make an enemy of every government on Earth, whether they know about you or not. And I assure you, someone knows you exist. When you decided to make the world over in your image you made a whole bunch of people upset.
You’re okay with that. It will give you something to do over the next five hundred years.
This thought-experiment was done to convince you that living your life is what you would do, no matter how long you lived. The logistics would be different and the outcomes might be less magnified but no less interesting for the effort made.
- You get out of life what you put into it. You can be an amazing individual if you are willing to work or you can be a complete loser if you sit on the sidelines of life expecting things to come to you.
- They won’t. The only difference was as an Immortal YOU HAVE TO FILL UP YOUR TIME. You don’t have other choices.
- As a mortal, you HAVE to choose what you want, how you live, the choices you make, the people you choose, the diseases you want to avoid, thus the lifestyles you have to be mindful of. You can’t do everything so you have to choose strategically.
- What can you do with the skills you possess, in the time you have left, with the people you love, and what result will you consider a success when you run out of time at the end?
No, you don’t have the luxury of time than an Immortal might have. But you also don’t have to endure generation after generation of soul-crushing loss.
- If the idea of life ending is more than you can bear, then as an Immortal you would be more miserable than you can imagine because around you, EVERYTHING would be dying, while you watched.
- That’s the reality of living. We are all dying. Lean into it. Run toward it.
- Live life as intensely as your heart condition will allow. And do as much as you can to change the world for you and yours. It’s not what you do in life that matters as much as who remembers what you did for them while you lived.
Legacy is what you seek, not Immortality. Change the world and then yield your place in it. It is the natural order of things.
Even stars die.
This essay first appeared on Quora.com © Thaddeus Howze 2016. All Rights Reserved
Thaddeus Howze is a writer, essayist, author and professional storyteller for mysterious beings who exist in non-Euclidean realms beyond our understanding. Since they insist on constant entertainment and can’t subscribe to cable, Thaddeus writes a variety of forms of speculative fiction to appease their hunger for new entertainment.
Thaddeus’ speculative fiction has appeared in numerous anthologies: Awesome Allshorts: Last Days and Lost Ways (Australia, 2014), The Future is Short(2014), Visions of Leaving Earth (2014), Mothership: Tales of Afrofuturism and Beyond (2014), Genesis Science Fiction (2013), Scraps (UK, 2012), and Possibilities (2012).