Saturday, July 30, 2011

How to Live Forever

Because it was still 100 degrees at 5 p.m., I decided there was no way I'd subject myself to the Nationals game tonight, even though I missed it Wednesday for work. So I had to find something new to do and knew my laptop was dead (my 5 year old laptop...still works fine -- hence you can read this and it's not all blackberry-formatted). Because I'd been constantly in the E Street Cinema the last few weeks, I was acutely aware of a documentary coming out called "How to Live Forever" that examined aging, death, and whether these were truly inevitable things. Not from a super-scientific point of view, much more of a populist sort of mid-life crisis assessment. And today, it opened at the E Street Cinema and the director was there for a Q&A. Having missed the Q&A with the people associated with Project Nim last week when it sold out before I got tickets, I had to go.

And I'm glad I did. It's a light documentary considering that really so much of it is about death. It's somewhere in between the Errol Morris school and Michael Moore. But one of the questions that he asked a number of people on the street really struck a chord with me because it was bizarrely appropriate to a conversation I had earlier this week while exemplifying why I am a bad role model and should not be let near summer associates.

The question was: "if you could take a pill that would let you live 500 years, would you take it?" The people on the street that he asked were basically split -- half seemed to think that life's brevity was a value of some sort (these were either truly decrepit people or people who were far from having to contemplate death), half said yes (with a special poignance from one person, who pointed out he was recovering from his second cancer surgery).

My conversation came about in a different way but sort of touched on similar ground. In order to talk about anything but work, I asked the summer associates what they were doing with their time in between working and going back to school. One of them had a great many travels planned, the other was going to a wedding and was planning to go skydiving.

Because my brain doesn't involve itself before I speak, I just say "I could never do that." The reason? It's not because I'm afraid of heights or even that I'm afraid my parachute wouldn't open (though that probably plays an insignificant role). Rather, it's the fear that I would get in the air and decide that maybe it's not worth it to pull the rip cord. It's not that I'm suicidal, I couldn't even contemplate that seriously. It's that I lack 100% certainty that, given the actual obligation to do something or vanish, I'd do something. It's much easier and much less troubling to simply continue to exist and not have to confront those decisions. There are plenty of days where I think I don't know how people have kids, because I have it easy and this still sucks. I'm healthy, I have a job, I'm financially secure (until August 2, thanks a lot, tea party). And there are a lot of days where I am ready to chuck it all.

It's certainly possible other people feel this way, but I suspected it's not a terribly common belief. Well, I thought that for a day. The next day, I learned that the summer associate who is not going skydiving apparently told one of my co-workers that my theory was "brilliant". Either I'm apparently onto something and there's a whole community of us who practice fundamentalist ambivalence or he may be more troubled than we know.