A Year 8 student approached me with a book his father had bought in a second-hand shop. “Sir,” he said, “my Dad found this in a shop. Would you like to have it?”
It was an unexpected moment. The book was a small, hardback collection of Bible verses and devotional readings. Dated 1892, it was typical of much of the popular Christian literature of the time.
I leafed through the book. “Do you know what I would like you to do, Ivan? I would like you to write today’s date into this book and take it home and put it in a safe place. In the year 2100, that’s eighty years’ time, when you are in your nineties, I would like you to take out this book and think of this moment in 2020. Would you do that?”
“I will sir.”
I smiled at the thought that a strange, old teacher might be remembered at the turn of the next century. Perhaps it was me striving for an ongoing existence. Perhaps a rebelling against the awareness that the boy might hardly in his thirties before his teacher has died.
Mortality means nothing to a twelve year old boy, there is no reason why it should.
I pondered the stories I had heard as a child. Do you know what the most untrue line in fairy tale is?
It’s not the talking animals, or the magical events, or the dragons and the witches. The most untrue line in any fairy tale is the last one: “And they all lived happily ever after”.
They don’t. They don’t live happily ever after. They might live happily for a while, but they don’t live happily forever. They die.
Perhaps that’s the best part of those childhood stories: the forever bit. The stories finish with no shadows; no mortality; no ageing; not even the slightest wrinkle upon the face of the princess. It’s an escape from what we know intuitively to be inevitable.
The boy living until the Twenty-Second Century need have no thought for the inevitable. His life expectancy will be much longer than that of his teacher. There is speculation in some quarters that the first person to live a thousand years may already have been born, such are the advances in medical science.
To those of us born before the digital age, the ever after is not a possible aspiration.
The day after the book conversation, I saw the boy. “Sir,” he said,”I have put the date in that book and put it into my box of special things. I will look at it in 2100.”
I believe he will.