A Man for Next Season

Sept 2016

It occurred to me, around about my 118th year, that I was not about to die, at least not any time soon. At first, I thought it was just a device, that thought, designed cleverly to put me at peace so that, next morning, when I woke up dead, I would be comfortable about it. But then, when day after year it did not happen, it became clear that I was differently calibrated, and that my anomaly was my reality.

I had earlier speculated that aging led to dying in a natural, organic way; your loss of friends and family a preparatory lesson in nothingness. I eagerly read the literature about how one came to accept his mundane-ness, ubiquitous-ness, surely no uniqueness, and that the great arc of life was your fate, you were a cozy part of an endless one-ness of experience. But such, it seems, is not to be my fate.

Fear morphed into bemusement. I awaited each new day just to see its content. I ceased to look at each dawn as a blessing or a gift. I took each new day, then, as my just due, granted by no deity or truth, just another of an endless stream of canvasses on which I could paint my sloppy day-ness; some good, some bad, some forgotten, all assumed, none cherished above others nor even seemingly stolen from an emptying supply of opportunities. Indeed, I came to believe that my opportunity box was, functionally, infinite.

I then entertained a variety of perceptions, lasting some palpable number of days, months, years: superiority over mere mortals; object of awe exuding soothing ease as others rushed to bathe their lives in mine and to support me; power derived from my confidence that I could start new and ambitious projects with long time-lines without concern that I might not finish.

I wrote novels. I started esoteric collections of different things, sure I would be able to fill the albums or boxes. I confidently befriended younger people, sure I was not a mere curiosity but rather a true companion. I patiently indulged the parade of those who came seeking understanding of various things: first the gerontologists, then the true scientists with their tests and vials of blood and increasingly sophisticated diagnostic devices, then philosophers, then the lost people seeking guidance I did not possess, finally the offended and angry who sought my physical harm as an unnatural abomination sent by various satans, then the clerical keepers of various gods wanting to know what he/she/it looked/felt/sounded like, and then often the just plain people who did their lives along with mine in annual parallel, the none-too-brilliant who just understood that you did each day until you ran out of them, after which you didn’t get to do them any more.

I surrendered the often revisited thought that the old view of life was just a comforting sop designed to lull into finally accepting imminent death and thus, ultimately, I came to be young again, putting death on my back burner as far removed from my quotidian existence as to be irrelevant. I ceased fearing my fear, as I had none.

My health remained at some mid-point; my vision decayed slightly; my bicycle rides slightly less robust; my colds slightly more prolonged; my life moving evenly towards some zero point but, like an immutable mathematical slope, never reaching my long black horizontal zero axis on the graph paper of time.

Other people dying remained traumatic; I had no greater comfort or understanding. Each death of a grandchild, a great grandchild, a great-great grandchild, or of a new friend, or of a new wife of any age (and they came for me for various reasons or for no reasons, as love comes and goes), all caused the same pain, but each day I arose to feel it, to process it, and then to file it away.

I came to lay down in my cellar the most tannic and long-lived wines, confident that they would not peak after my time; something maturing over decades in its bottle was perfect for my keeping. I selected authors, gathered all their collected works, and leisurely read them stem to stern in chronological order without any sense of haste. I used the monies lavished on me by the wealthy, who wanted on occasion to talk to me, or to learn something from me, or simply to be known in their circle as my major benefactor, to live well but without ostentation; I was never afforded the chance for great wealth when younger, and found it just not to be my style.

There were decades when I would, indeed, take some job. I found selling in stores to be gratifying; although the number of stores decreased markedly for a time, thereafter people reinvented them as a mode of human socialization. I spent some time traveling also; as different parts of the earth periodically passed from being war zones to placid destinations I was able, finally, to see all there was to see. I visited the extra-terrestrial places, too, but found myself missing true gravity and large trees. The coastal cities of the Pocono mountains came to be my primary home base, although I did spend some time in the lowlands of Nepal.

Scientists long ago stopped marveling at my skin; it’s just skin, like yours. They stopped marveling at my memory, it is all the same, I never could remember faces and names, and never managed to be able to forget just about everything else. I am, finally, just allowed to live, to exist. My historical memories have been recorded in great detail and are open to all at www.smithsonian/steve.org, and few come around to listen to me talk about it any more. I have said it all, or at least all that is within me. On occasion young people or writers may come to hear stories of how it once was, in the vernacular of the day, imagining telephones and automobiles and flying devices with propellers, but even these voyages back in time have abated; all that information is so accessible in the data banks that no one bothers to access it directly from the source.

And as for the “human perspective” on all that? Well, it is just the stuff of memory, and the human gloss over time has lost its attractiveness to the modern mind.

I have learned much of course, but not what it is like to die or even to fear it, both very important data points. I am intrigued by the subjects, but not enough to precipitate the event. I think I will continue to await, expecting an infinite number of future days. The ones I have been getting are, after all and by in large, reasonably happy. To sum it all up, and so very many people ask me to sum it all up for them so they can go on their way with a lesson in their pockets, I would have to say these things: change is seldom good, flowers deserve your attention, and you should marry as often as you are able because, at any age, it is good to have a way to warm your feet in bed when you have left the window open too wide.