Happy New Year! Oh Yeah, and Someday I’m Going to Die
I had a great holiday break, better than most years, with the exception of some family health problems which seem to be on the mend, and the growing all-encompassing sense of my own mortality which has been plaguing me more than usual these past few weeks.
In part, I think I’ve been feeling this way because the decision to start trying to conceive along with the realization that my parents are getting old makes it impossible not to realize that as soon as I have kids, the most important people in my life will only ever see me as old. How depressing is that? I’ll tell you how depressing that is: very. My wife and I are starting a new hobby – european board games (think Settlers of Catan, Carcassonne, Lost Cities, Caylus). To us, this is fun and exciting – kind of cool and edgy too, since it’s a growing hobby that we know more about than most of our friends. To our kids, it will be something old people do. My music, games, and movies will be “golden oldies.” By the time our kids are old enough to appreciate us and to recognize how young and cool we used to be, we actually will be old.
I have always had a fear of aging. I was always the kid with potential, but the older I get the less possibility for fulfilling that potential I have left. I could have been a doctor. Oh! Too late! I could have been a lawyer. I could have been a skinny, sexy co-ed spring breaking in Maui in my bikini. I coulda been a champion. Now I’m a grad student in a field which no longer interests me, looking forward to a government job so I can have weekends off, and every birthday means a little less time to make and fulfill plans.
My grandma was diagnosed with terminal cancer twenty-seven years and has been living each day as if it were her last that entire time. Does that mean she goes bungee jumping on Monday, scuba-diving on Tuesday, and spends Wednesday through Sunday drunk on a beach? No. It means she spends morning until night watching tv, because what’s the point of making plans if you don’t think you’ll live to carry them out? A trip in July? Save your money, I might not be alive by then.
I know how terribly depressing this is, and I know that my religious friends and family – when faced with fear of mortality – justify life and death with thoughts of ultimate meaning and purpose. I know that a religious person would say that this anguish is caused by my atheism and my certainty that life is finite and death is final. I’ve had religious people and agnostics tell me that they could never be an atheist because atheism is too depressing. Usually I disagree with them and explain how liberating atheism is, but in this case they might be right. It would be nice to believe that after I die I get another chance, or that I get to hang out with Carl Sagan, and Madeleine L’Engle in heaven, paradise on earth, the summerlands, or somewhere else equally awesome . Unfortunately, I can’t believe something just because it’s pleasant. There is no nice-ness theory of truth. The idea of an afterlife must be comforting, but if we believe things only because they make us feel warm and fuzzy, we are denying reality. The reality is that there is no evidence or reason to think anything other than that if I am lucky I will get old and die.
Happy thoughts for your new year. Or something.