That’s the way I like it, baby
I don’t wanna live forever
For we are all insulted by
The mere suggestion that we die
Each moment and that each great I
Is but a process in a process
Within a field that never closes;
As proper people find it strange
That we are changed by what we change,
That no event can happen twice
And that no two existences
Can ever be alike; we’d rather
Be perfect copies of our father,
Prefer our idées fixes to be
True of a fixed reality.
No wonder, then, we lose our nerve
And blubber when we should observe…
– W.H. Auden
As was so often the case for me, it was Alan Watts who said it perfectly: there is a world of difference between having all the time you want, and having time without end. It’s easy to imagine lying on your deathbed lamenting the fact that you left too many things unfinished and unattempted, but wouldn’t knowing that you could never die actually be a form of torture? An American Buddhist writer I like a lot, Steve Hagen, used an example of real flowers vs. artificial ones to illustrate how the fact of mortality is what makes a flower (or life itself, of course) precious in the first place – “we want it because it dies, because it’s fleeting, because it fades.” When it becomes plastic and predictable, it loses meaning and we lose interest. I can’t even say I want to live to old age itself, let alone hang around for millennia.
So you want this lovely consciousness of yours to last forever? Is that not immodest? Are you not mindful of all the other things which would then be obliged to endure you to all eternity, as they have endured you up to now with a more than Christian patience? Or do you think to inspire them with an everlasting sense of pleasure at your existence? A single immortal man on earth would be enough to drive everything else on earth to a universal rage for death and suicide out of satiety with him! And you earth-dwellers, with your petty conception of a couple of thousand little minutes, want to burden eternal existence with yourselves everlastingly! Could anything be more importunate! Finally, let us be indulgent with a being of a mere seventy years! He has not been able to imagine the everlasting boredom he himself would experience – he has not had enough time to do so!