Issue #182 / January 2022
If you could live forever (and remain healthy in body and mind) would you do it?
ELISE, PITTSBURGH, USA
Where do we find meaning in life?
ASSAF, JERUSALEM, ISRAEL
Dear Elise and Assaf,
Susie has hung a cuckoo clock in the garden of our house in London. Behind the house there is a primary school, obscured by a high, ivy-covered wall, and each day we hear the sounds of children playing. To the side of the house, across the lane, is a church. The church is forever tolling its bell. Right now everything seems to be happening at once. The crazy cuckoo clock marks out time — cuckoo! cuckoo! cuckoo!, the children scream in the schoolyard, and the bells from the church ring forth, promising us everlasting life. I sit here with my wife, two people placed within this cosmic drama, drinking coffee, absorbed in our separate temporary worlds — right now hers is Instagram and mine is answering your questions.
Elise, you asked if I would live forever if I could, well, the answer must be no. I wouldn’t because, as far as I can see, the meaning of life is nested within the set terms of our own mortality. ‘Forever’ is both incomprehensible and utterly meaningless. I don’t believe we live just for the sake of it; rather we live our lives within the poetry of our own demise, within our own time, and our own limitations, and for that very reason alone we do so meaningfully. We work, we love, we care for each other, and we suffer together, knowing that one day we will die. The children in the schoolyard run headlong toward adulthood and their own disappearance, and we adults are the living breathing reminders of that. The man who waves at me as he walks his dog up the lane will die, as will the people filing into the church at the ringing of the bell, and the shop assistant hurrying to work, and the parking inspector, and the street sweeper, all will die in time — oh, and the squirrel (ah, there he is), he too will die (ouch), and the flowers, the swaying trees, and the earth itself. It is toward this temporal inconvenience — our finitude — that we move, with only a few precious moments to add value to this world. What can we do in this time that we are given, that is running through our fingers, even now? How can we lighten our mutual predicament that is drawing ever closer? Assaf, there lies the meaning in life — it is in the expansion of ourselves, in our benevolence, to fully occupy our allotted time.
And so the cuckoo stops cuckooing, and the little wooden bird retreats to await the next hour, the children have gone back to class, and the church bells fall silent as those inside kneel and pray, and the startled sunlight catches the side of my wife’s face with sudden purpose. Unaware, she scrolls and scrolls.