Friday, November 14, 2014


I'm going to live forever. Everyone knows it. By everyone, I mean my wife and kids. And any friends who happen to have heard my wife and kids poke fun at my absurd proclamation. It's become my mantra of late. As I slipped out of my forties. When the subject of death comes up, which it does from time to time, I remind my family that I plan to go on living and living… forever. Do I really want to live forever? I have no idea. I've never spent any time thinking about it, until now.

For all its allure, immortality is not something modern people are drawn to. Back in the day, that would be centuries ago, explorers launched extravagant quests in search of the Fountain of Youth. But life was less certain, more tenuous. People died from ailments considered minor today. Infections, injury, even child birth was a large risk. Now, we are much more likely to live a long life, seventy or eighty years unless we are unlucky. Perhaps that's all people are looking for. They don't want to live forever, just enough time to complete the bucket-list.

There is a fairly limited list of movies and books on the topic of immortality. As entertainment genres go, Science Fiction tops my list. Not outer-space and fantasy world stuff. But character stories rooted in science and the fantastic. If immortality books were common, I'd be reading them. I can only think of a few. Jitterbug Perfume, The Thief of Time, Sacre Bleu, Doctor Sleep. Movies? Highlander... anything else? I must be missing dozens, but the point is that these stories are scarce, certainly not mainstream.

We as a society are much more obsessed with dying. Zombies, economic collapse, nuclear war, alien invasion, plagues. Post-Apocalyptic. It's everywhere. I've read it all. I was reading PA before it was even a genre. Earth Abides, George Stewart's 1949 masterpiece on how a community moves on after a mysterious ailment kills all but a few. This is still the best of the class, and I have read it four or five times. Lucifer's Hammer. Thirty years old. Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle's tale about the preparation and aftermath of a comet strike. Now every other book I see on the new fiction shelf has apocalyptic themes. But these books really aren't about dying, they are about surviving. And that is somewhere on the linear curve towards immortality, I suppose.

It is easy to be obsessed with the apocalypse. It is ingrained in our thinking. Christianity and Islam both predict end-times, a period of tribulation, a judgment day. Especially prominent in the Mormon Church, each LDS family is expected to store a year of food to help ride out the tribulation. Predictably, I've read about that tribulation. Tim LeHaye and Jerry Jenkins wrote a twelve book series about the non-believers -- those too late to Christianity to participate in the Rapture -- surviving through the final years of earth. It's no party. Plagues, earthquakes, the anti-Christ. But it's exciting. Most of the series, I found myself feeling sorry for the Christians who were spared the trouble of the tribulation. They missed out on a lot of the cool stuff.

I know that this is a funny perspective, but that's why we read the books in the first place. I've read about communities rebuilding from disaster. Over and over. Similar themes, similar stories. All this reading, some of it sticks. These aren't just tales. They are blue-prints for survival. Survival of a disaster that will ultimately come. And it will come. It has come in the past. Disease, comet-strikes, super-volcanoes, ice-ages. Sooner or later, eventually, in the future, it will come. My future?

My mental health issues, OCD and Anxiety Disorder, cause me to dwell on events I cannot control. The Apocalypse is one of them. For years, I would lie awake at night planning my survival, my family's survival. Like the Latter Day Saints, I stored food and water. I made elaborate plans to stock-pile cash. During a bird-flu outbreak half a world away, I bought a huge box of surgical masks. I still have them. They are at the top of my closet. Unopened, probably dry-rotting. I've considered buying some guns. I hate guns. They scare the hell out of me. I hate them almost as much as I hate cigarettes. But I started thinking that no one can survive tribulation without a rifle and a shotgun.

I never finalized my disaster preparations. Reality intervened. I bought a book called "When All Hell Breaks Loose: Stuff You Need To Survive When Disaster Strikes" At first I found it depressing. I learned that I wasn't prepared. There was too much to do. And then it became enlightening, freeing. Reading that book made me realize that the only thing that will help my family and me survive the apocalypse is luck. My wife and I, we have no skills in a post-apocalyptic world. We can't fix machinery, we've never hunted, we're crappy farmers. Our property, a shady quarter acre could never support a family. Our kids are just getting to an age where they would be of any useful help. If we ever lose power for an extended period of time, even our basement will flood. Our house sits on an underground lake. Sump pumps run regularly. We’re just not cut from the survivalist mold.

It took a while to realize it happened. I started branching out in my reading. Still skews towards sci-fi, but much less PA. I stopped worrying about every new disease outbreak in Asia. Stopped freaking out when CNN reported new enteroviruses and brain eating amoebas. I acknowledge the coming environmental catastrophes, but I no longer worry about how I can mitigate them.

And when Ebola inevitably made it to the United States, I was no more worried than my wife. Certainly not losing sleep over it. I've come to realize, even to embrace, that death is part of life. My spiritual beliefs tell me that we've all died before, and we'll all die again. And each life we live is one step closer to Nirvana, to perfection. Which is where true immortality exists.