Mortality and paying it forward

Eventually everyone dies. Some today, some tomorrow; some a hundred years from now. Even if the geneticists and machine-makers of future retool our glands or put our brains in jars or computers, the specter of mortality is still with us: if not age, then some accident or disaster could end a life; and the longer one’s lifespan, the greater the probability that something accidental and unforeseen will cut it short.

And, shortly said, that just means that we all will die, eventually. There is no second life, no paradise to build a spiritual hoard for, or a hell to keep your slate clean for. Eventually we all cease to be, and we can’t take any riches or possessions with us because we aren’t going anywhere: we just die and cease to be.

Why do anything, then? Why do anything if in the end it is all futile?

Well, it isn’t. Every individual dies, but there are always children — children of mind if not children of body. A teacher lives on in her students; a father lives in his sons and daughters. Shakespeare and Milton live when their works make a reader’s eyes widen with awe and mist with tears; Marlene Dietrich isn’t gone for her voice is still heard, and in a similar way the only lasting thing we can do is to pay it all forward: teach to those after what we have heard from those before — not uncritically, though, since they were fallible mortals just like we are — while trying to add our own pieces of art and science and thought and world-bettering (and a few jokes) to the amount.

Barring a really immense disaster (and most of those we may eventually get wise enough to survive), our common line of sentience will go ever on, to so long futures and conceivably so high peaks it would be foolish to worry about their ultimate limits. Maybe even the heat death of the universe doesn’t need to be the end for them. All we can, and all we need to do is to ever learn a bit more, and make sure those after can have a bit longer a while to love, laugh and transmit than those before.

Think of yourself — if you are over thirty, or have glasses, or have ever had surgery, you owe your current life and comfort to those that spent their lives improving the sciences of human health. And even if you have been in perfect health all your life — well, what if smallpox hadn’t been eradicated? What if polio still roamed the world freely? If the doctors and nurses of the world hadn’t paid their knowledge forward, we most likely wouldn’t be alive, I writing and you reading.

All those things that keep us alive and keep us alive longer, and make our lives better, and make our lives more full of art and beauty, are based on people who wanted their descendants and the descendants of others to have a better life here, not in some dream after death. Raise a glass to them, and then make sure you appreciate their whispers from the grave, and add your own if you can.

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