Intensity is what I need to suffer for the pleasure
Heat, hard, life and death living all together
Need a small room full of me and my friendsTrying to find the means to justify the ends
— I Mother Earth
Until that moment comes, Clendinen says, he is having a good time, appreciating what he calls “the Good Short Life.” He believe it is fine, sweet and decorous—fully and naturally human—not to make old bones. We could use more of this strain in our national conversation. In which we assume (if talking about future Federal deficits) that millions of people can and should live as close to forever as they can. In which we assume (if talking about our own lives) that we’re obligated to hang on until the last machine-aided breath. In which we assume, if talking about technology, that the right question is how it can extend our lease on Earth for centuries—instead of asking what point and value all those lingering years might have.
It is sad to exit at age 27, or even at age 66. But it doesn’t mean one didn’t have a good life.
I’m fortunate enough to have someone in my life who makes me want to enjoy many, many years of shared experiences. It wasn’t always that way, though. I used to often think that living until my late forties, early fifties would be all the life I’d need. Some of that was melancholic thinking, yes, but some of it was also a realistic sense that that age was a good balance between wisdom and zest, serenity and passion. It’s the sort of thing I know better than to say in most company, but when I hear about someone who died before reaching senility, the nursing home, etc., my thought is never “Oh, how sad, they went too soon,” but rather, “Did they like the story they told?” I mean it in the Nietzschean sense of creating your life like a work of art, making yourself into an interesting character. If you reflect on the life you’ve lived, does it feel compelling to you? Would you be interested to read about the character you’ve inhabited? It’s about living well, not living long.