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Happy New Year! Oh Yeah, and Someday I’m Going to Die

January 8, 2009

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.

13 Comments leave one →
  1. January 8, 2009 1:07 pm

    I guess I’m here to make you feel even older.

    Listening to Michael Jackson’s Thriller today is equivalent to listening to Elvis Presley’s first album when Thriller came out in 1982.

    Jason Kottke has some other timeline twins, surely to make you feel old:

  2. teambaby permalink
    January 8, 2009 3:09 pm

    I hope it’s not too ironic to say “amen”! I’m not afraid of getting old (it’s awesome to gain more and more perspective in life), but I’m so afraid of dying; therefore, I’m not enjoying getting older anymore. And wanting to have kids is just exacerbating that. I feel the same way; the only thing that ever makes me wish I believed in some kind of religion is because maybe having an afterlife, a heaven — SOMETHING more conscious than turning into energy and recyclable matter — would make me less thanatophobic.

    On the other hand? I read somewhere that many religious people are afraid of dying anyway, some more so than atheists/agnostics. So I don’t think it really even works that well as an antidote.

  3. January 9, 2009 4:05 pm

    Love, love, love, euro style board games. Carcassonne is my absolute favorite game ever. We bought Pandemic over the holidays, that game is great too. Works really well as a 2 player game, if that’s important to you. Ricochet Robots is pretty great too. Geeze, I could go on about games forever, but I’ll spare you.

  4. January 10, 2009 9:12 am

    I really like Carcasonne, but I think something in my brain just doesn’t get that particular flavour of strategy. I have never been able to win a game :). Whether or not a game works as a two-player is pretty important to us, actually, so thanks for the recommendations. We were pretty frustrated by the hoops you have to jump through to make Alhambra a two-player game, and we rarely play it,for that reason.

  5. January 10, 2009 9:17 am

    teambaby: Thanatophobic? Awesome, you rock! That is such a great word. About your point though, I guess anecdotally I could back that up. So many religious people that I know are just as afraid of death and aging as I am even though – to maintain logical consistency – they shouldn’t be. I guess it’s just a human sentiment.

    Thanks, Jeff, for your cheery ray of sunshine to brighten up my blues. That helps, to know that my kids will think of Smells Like Teen Spirit the way I think of Seasons in the Sun. Although, apparently Thriller and I both came out in the same year. Maybe I can use that fact to make someone else feel old.

  6. January 10, 2009 2:16 pm

    Ooo, I love Alhambra, but I’ve never played it two player. That’s a game we don’t own, but we play at game night. Fortunately, we have geeky friends, so we share games.

  7. January 10, 2009 5:40 pm

    Game night… that’s something I need to get going. Once I’m done my thesis. 🙂

  8. Veronica permalink
    January 19, 2009 4:29 am

    I used to be scared of dying as a kid, and even now, with being so unhealthy I worry about dying, but not for the same reasons I used to be. More because I cant be here for my daughter and I am sad to say that once you have kids the reasons your afraid is more for them and very different and no less scary!
    You should move to Australia to have babies and then you can stay here with us muahahahaha.. Love you lots xoxoxo

  9. trish permalink
    April 15, 2009 5:41 pm

    I love Settlers of Catan!!! So fun! Have you played the expansion pack yet?:)

  10. May 24, 2009 10:49 pm

    Отличная статья, спасибо!

  11. November 4, 2009 9:37 am

    Just came across your post at random. You seem like you might be able to speak to a question I have been batting around. At the end of your post you refer to rationality and reason. My question is related to the ground for that statement. Can you outline for me why you think the atheistic position can speak about rationality at all?
    It seems like there would have to be some arbiter of what rationality is outside of the individual otherwise the question would be whose reason, what rationality. The appeal to reason seems to undermine the whole atheistic position, because embedded in it is a pursuit of truth, but truth is itself a concept that needs an ultimate arbiter or it crumbles into a dream. Humans can’t be that arbiter because of our finite and limited nature.
    If you have time to flesh out your thinking on reason I would welcome your input.

  12. PiterJankovich permalink
    March 29, 2010 6:47 am

    My name is Piter Jankovich. oOnly want to tell, that your blog is really cool
    And want to ask you: is this blog your hobby?
    P.S. Sorry for my bad english

  13. June 14, 2010 1:06 am

    A Fantastic wordpress post, I will save this in my Furl account. Have a great evening.

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