Whenever we grieve the loss of someone or something, what we’re truly grieving is the loss of time — time spent doing the things we love with the people we love in the places we love. And who among us doesn’t wish they had more time to indulge in all that love?
I want more time. Lots of it. And I don’t feel the need to apologize for that.
I have no objection to growing old, but I very much object to growing absent. Why would I ever want to leave my wife’s side? Why would I ever voluntarily step into an oblivion that aims to deprive me of her life-affirming love, a love that has bound our souls together like two binary stars seized by gravity’s gentle generosity? I won’t say sorry for wanting to experience infinity with the woman for whom my love is infinite.
The pursuit of immortality may strike some people as an audacious vanity project, but I believe there’s something beautiful and profound about our petulant resistance to the natural order. The human will to live simply can’t be reduced to a biological instinct. If that’s all it was, our awareness of that instinct ought to be enough to overcome it and accept that our lives, no matter how tightly we hang onto them, must — and will — come to an end.
If there’s one thing of which we are all aware, it’s the fragility and brevity of life. Natural disasters, viruses, old age; the universe has invented myriad methods to ensure the annihilation of each and every individual life — human and nonhuman alike — within its dominion. Despite this, we humans persist in our collective struggle against the indomitable hand of death to the tune of billions of dollars every year. We carry on with our quests for cures to cancer and AIDS, undeterred by the many failures we’ve suffered along the way. We bathe ourselves in anti-aging creams that purport to preserve the unspoiled youth to which we so desperately cling. We take to heart the sage advice of self-help gurus who insist that, with the proper dietary adjustments and a can-do attitude, we might extend our lifespans just long enough to see the day when ticking clocks go silent, and time devolves into a mere abstraction.
But judging by the results, it’s safe to say that the fight for immortality has thus far proven to be an exercise in futility.
Of course, there are those who welcome that futility, a particular breed of human being in whom there exists a visceral repulsion to the thought of living forever. Simone de Beauvoir was one such person. She was also someone whose literary work I greatly admire. Her metaphysical novel All Men are Mortal is, in my opinion, one of the best works of its era. It also offers one of the most intriguing perspectives on immortality that I’ve ever encountered.
The protagonist of the story, Raimon Fosca, is cursed to live forever — and “cursed” is indeed the only appropriate adjective to describe his predicament. The monotony of immortality transforms him from an eager participant into a wandering observer. No experience ever feels new or novel. Humanity’s story is, from his perspective, just a series of repeating cycles and patterns that serve no purpose other than to keep people busy, lest they fall victim to perpetual boredom and aimlessness.
What’s more, he’s forced to take this journey alone.
He tries to live. He yearns to love. But it’s all for naught. The knowledge that he will ultimately lose everyone who matters to him makes it impossible for him to invest himself in anything that matters, most especially the relationships that make a person’s life worth living.
Beauvoir’s point is certainly not lost on me. Were I the only immortal man on Earth, I would soon discover that life itself has become unlivable. Eventually, there would be no more “firsts” left to experience, and every meaningful memory would be lost to a bottomless pit of shattered souvenirs, their warm familiarity made cold by their sheer abundance.
But what if I were blessed with the everlasting companionship of she who means more to me than any other?
What if I were blessed with the everlasting companionship of my wife?
In Beauvoir’s story, Fosca’s true curse is the curse of spending eternity in loveless seclusion. It is in our relationships with the people we love where we find meaning, purpose, and fulfillment. Fosca’s immortality denies him that fulfillment. He will never find eternal love, as every woman he meets is destined to leave him behind in this material world forever.
I have no desire to step into Fosca’s shoes. I would never want to shoulder a burden as heavy as the one he carries. But were I granted the opportunity to experience eternity with my one true love by my side, the curse of immortality would, in my eyes, assume a very different form. It would no longer be a curse, but rather a gift — a gift that could only be compared to the one bestowed to me last year in London, where, after nearly forty long years of searching, I finally found the love that eluded Raimon Fosca.
But surely, you and your wife would one day tire of this world and seek to leave it, I imagine Simone Beauvoir would argue.
And perhaps she would be right. Perhaps the human instinct to struggle against death doesn’t reflect an innate desire to live forever. Maybe it’s simply a matter of not being ready to leave. And if that’s the case, then it’s entirely possible that my wife and I could, many millennia from now, grow tired of this world and decide to depart from it together.
Or maybe we wouldn’t.
I can’t say for sure whether we’d choose to live forever or choose to end our lives after experiencing all there is to experience. But if there’s one thing I absolutely can say for sure, it’s that that is a choice we would very much like to make together, for ourselves and for each other, without any interference from forces, natural or otherwise, that would presume to make that choice on our behalf.
That is why I have come to regard mortality not as a natural and inevitable condition of living, but as an obstacle for humanity to overcome. And if that day ever arrives — if we ever find ourselves in full control of our own destinies, free to choose how much time we want, as Shakespeare put it, to be, or not to be — it will be remembered not as the day humanity invited Raimon Fosca’s existential curse upon itself, but as an unmitigated victory for those of us who have found the meaning, purpose, and fulfillment that give existence its enduring allure.
In other words, it will be remembered as a victory for love.