Ice and Immortality
There nothing like a little ice to remind us of our mortality. Not the ice in the soda glass ice, but the kind you don’t notice when you’re walking your dog that causes you to take a really nasty fall where you smack your shoulder and then the back of your head. That kind of ice.
Which is what happened to me two days ago, in the midst of this rather long, cold, and really not a lot of fun Boston winter.
And so my body, which is in fairly good shape “for someone my age” is going through backache, headache and the kind of overall feeling you get when you lose a fight.
Which brings up mortality. My mind is pretty active these days—writing, teaching, lecturing—and in and of itself it feels like it could go on for a really long time. No end in sight. But my body, like everyone else’s, shows and feels the marks of time. And its essential vulnerability shines forth after anything like that fall.
All persons are mortal; I am a person; therefore…(you can finish it off).
For people who believe in reincarnation or the Afterlife, of course, this is not a big problem. If I keep my moral nose clean I’ll spend an eternity with God, or at least get reincarnated as someone who has an easier time in math class. But these beliefs don’t work for me. It’s not even that I think they are false so much as they don’t attract me enough to think seriously about them. As William James might put it, they are just not “live options” on my mental horizon.
So that’s it? When my time comes will it simply be “game over” with no reset button? Oh I suppose one could say I will “live on” in the memory of family and friends, students and readers of my books and articles. But given how many people are writing these days, and my intellectual distance from the greats, that won’t amount to much. And given my current family situation, grandchildren are not something that’s likely, to say the least.
But there is something else, something powerful and important. In fact, I’m going to live—if not forever, than at least for a really long time. It just won’t be as “me”; that is, the “me” that is Roger Gottlieb, writer, professor, father, American, with my own slightly strange mix of Judaism-socialism-spirituality-environmentalism-feminism. No, it will be this body, broken down into pieces, consumed by worms or insects or bacteria, its energy down to the smallest atom cycled and recycled and recycled again. In the words of Rachel Carson, secular patron saint of modern environmentalism, I can look forward to a “material immortality” as part of the miracle of this earthly ecosystem. If there will be an end to that eventually, when in a few billion years the sun explodes and the earth is consumed in the heavenly fire, well that’s all right.
On that last day, think of what good company I’ll be in when we all go together to whatever comes—or doesn’t come—next.