Another evening spent on the beach, contemplating life
and time and other heady issues. The light from the thousands of stars
in my view has travelled hundreds or thousands or millions of years,
each photon locked in its timelessness until perishing
just at the moment of its becoming, as it is transformed by my retina
into information that that star did once live. The moon looks down upon
me as it has upon countless others, perhaps wondering why I am alone
when it is staying up late to set this romantic stage once again.
It is a beautiful night, just like thousands of others I've participated
in, and yet different. A palm frond has recently fallen
from a tree down the beach a ways, and perhaps the gentle
breeze has never come from exactly that direction before.
Like other experiences in our lives, is not every
moonlit evening on the beach worth cherishing? What
if I'd not had them all? I saw plenty in my first century — what
if I'd not gotten any more?
When I was born, people could live full lives in their seventy or eighty
or hundred years on Earth. Not to say they didn't want more, of course;
that had been a racial constant since prehistory when our ancestors
scrabbled out a
twenty-five year span
if they were lucky. Were their lives any less full when they were always
in sight of the end of them? On the other hand, what if da Vinci had had millennia to draw ever more fanciful machines,
or Newton lived to share a chalkboard with Einstein and Planck? (Come to think of it, that
might not have been so great. Could even his genius reconcile itself
with the complete havoc those gentlemen wreaked upon his worldview?)
Of course, the answer to such questions has always seemed so obvious.
Starting with Galen, then Harvey and Pasteur, and increasing exponentially, we have looked to
medical science to lengthen our lot. Our reason considered the benefits
of culture and society and deep thinking, while our
hindbrains saw the
benefits of continuing to breathe. Back when it was theoretical, people
would point out a few possible drawbacks to living forever, but I don't
think any would have spurned the opportunity to try (and when the dream
was realized, nobody did). I remember the words of the immortal being
Lorien in the 20th century science fiction story Babylon 5: You find
that even love does not last forever; the shortlived have the luxury of
imagining that it does. We haven't come anywhere near the million
year mark like he had, so we may still be ensconced in our delusions,
but so far we've confirmed that the love of soulmates can last for
hundreds of years, anyway — not to say that the occasional
separation of a few years isn't welcome, and even beneficial.
After we found out how to live forever, the focus of our science changed
as we devoted more efforts to philosophy and living in peace and less to
playing with leptons and bosons. It was the combination
of both that led us to discover actual proof that we humans possess
souls that outlast our mortal coil. While we still don't know for sure
what happens to them, which did allow some ancient arguments to endure,
and even gave near-forgotten ones new vitality, it did bring comfort to
most. Everyone saw the irony that that assurance had to wait to be
discovered until we had, for the most part, stopped dying. We all
congratulated ourselves on the discovery, and settled into a smug
complacency regarding our uniqueness in the universe. A few peoples' egos
had a problem when it was discovered that swallows
(the African kind)
had souls also. Some old mystics had an even harder time accepting that
dolphins didn't, after we'd surveyed them
all and found that we and the swallows were the only species so blessed.
It seemed that the stage was set for us to enjoy our eternal reward right
here on Earth. What else could there be after such a revolution?
Whereas the team that had proved our souls had been
hailed as heroes,
Dr. Saied Razi's reception on his grim announcement nine years ago had
been more akin to — well, less polite than we've become accustomed
to. He probably foresaw that, which is why he quietly had his findings
corroborated separately, in private, before going public.
Humanity was faced with its biggest ethical quandary ever after we
absorbed the shock of learning that our souls began "leaking" after
about the age of four hundred. Was this vindication of those, long ago,
that believed that man was not supposed to live so long? And the problem
now is: what do we do about it? Nobody knows what happens to them, just
that by the time a person gets to about eight hundred, and probably not
later than fifteen hundred according to the extrapolations, his soul
would be completely gone. No theologian thought it
reasonable that people might be "gradually" going to heaven, and the
only alternative seems to be that the soulless have lost their key to
the afterlife. If we have, in fact, gone too far in messing with God's
plan, then it seems we must quit ourselves of the longevity we'd spent millennia searching for.
Thanks to the reputation I'd gained over the last two centuries
following the publication of my writings and poetry about the nature of
life, the human race has come to me for the answer. If I give the word,
we will once again become a race of children watching their parents die;
a race that will probably never again see thinkers like de Fornier or
By the light of the full moon, I walk up the sand to the stone steps and
up to the house at the edge of the cliff. The lights are all out so I
proceed quietly to the bedroom and sit on the edge of the bureau, where
I can indulge in the simple pleasure of watching Edward sleep.
I'd thought I was so lucky to have just missed the last generation of
men who had to constantly worry about how much time they had to share
with their mahal — and I am. But it's turned out to be yet
another example of TANSTAAFL. I got into bed carefully so as not to
wake him, and felt him turn to face me as I stroked his hair. I took his
hand in mine, the warmth clicking somewhere deep in my animal brain and,
as it filtered up to my consciousness, getting translated into the pure
contentment I'd been blessed with for these past few centuries, that I'd
never found with anyone else. I hadn't thought I could possibly appreciate
these times with Edward any more than I'd come to, but these past few
days, in the potential shadow of the ancient fear of the unknown
returning to us all, I find that I can after all.
I listen to the rhythm of his quiet breathing, and smile as I always do
when I notice that, in the seconds since coming to bed, mine has come
into synchrony with it. But the smile is accompanied by a slight
furrow of the brow as I wonder how many more breaths, how many more
heartbeats, remain in our duet.
While the long term consequences of my decision will affect generations
yet to come, there is also the question of the people living now. Edward
and I are presumably just beginning the slide into spiritual oblivion,
though we have a long way to go. Are we to end our lives while we're
still assured of Heaven? Yet would that very act deny it to us?
Thinking of the high Noumenal Compatibility Quotient we'd received long
after he'd declared us soulmates (we'd taken the test more as a
curiosity rather than from any doubts), I could visualize it slowly decaying
as we continued on. Wouldn't allowing that to happen be the far greater
transgression against our Creator?
It is the privilege of mankind to take pleasure in the love of another;
are not decisions such as I've been asked to make, properly the bailiwick
of the gods?
It's going to be another long night.