‘When will you die?’ asked the programme trailer, ‘when you are seventy, eighty, a hundred, a hundred and fifty? What about five hundred?’ The programme trailed would look at the potential of technology to allow us to become ‘immortal’.
‘Like the elves in ‘Lord of the Rings”, I thought. Tolkien’s mythical heroes always seemed an attractive race of beings. Hadn’t the Elven king Thranduil had fought Sauron the Dark Lord some three thousand years prior to the events of the Fellowship of the Ring? Such longevity would completely transform life, and when the elves did depart from the present world, they didn’t die, they sailed to the grey havens. It seemed a prospect infinitely more attractive than the brief moment of human life.
Undoubtedly, the programme itself will be altogether more prosaic than the literary lines of Tolkien, the focus on medical techniques of prolonging existence rather than an unlocking of secrets of how to become elven. But if life could be prolonged, what difference would it make?
If we could live until a hundred and fifty years of age, with a reasonable quality of life, would it make a great difference to the way we live now? Would the additional years be devoted to the achievement of things for which there is presently not enough time – studies for which there had not previously been time, reading all the books which we had promised ourselves, planting the perfect garden, learning skills we had never considered, doing all those things we missed out on?
Or would the extra time be used much as much of the present time? Upon the death of a mutual friend, a friend once pointed out the old adage, ‘it is not the years in your life, it’s the life in your years that matters’. At the time, it seemed a pointing out of the obvious, but the passing years have reinforced the truth of his comment.
A friend in college days, whose life was cut tragically short, had an extraordinary capacity to get three times as much life from his days as anyone else. While on a three year full time course of studies, he worked at the night desk of a national newspaper, taught himself Russian so at to have a better understanding of Orthodox Christianity, and still found time for a social life.
Perhaps it’s possible to live 150 years, and still be only 50, and perhaps it’s possible to last until the age of 150 having lived only 50 years.