May 19, 2005 (Ira Pilgrim)


For some we loved, the loveliest and the best

That from his Vintage rolling Time hath prest,

Have drunk their Cup a Round or two before,

And one by one crept silently to rest.

And we that now make merry in the Room

They left, and Summer dresses in new bloom,

Ourselves must we beneath the Couch of Earth

Descend --ourselves to make a couch-- for whom?

Edward Fitzgerald (1809-1883), The Rubaiyat of Omar Khyyam

February 10, 2005

Today I turn eighty. The first thought that comes to my mind is, as Jimmy Duranty used to say, "What a revoltin' development dis is."

I suspect that the popular consensus is that I have been very fortunate. If I lived to 90 or 100, I will be considered to be one of the few who have been blessed by fate. There seems to be unanimity among people that the longer a person lives, the better. Scientists are busily trying to extend man's life span. What for?

This longevity is unique in the living world. Once a mammal has reproduced and the young are grown to the point where they are self-sufficient, his/her work is finished. Only man has to search for something to do until he/she dies.

During my research days, much of what I did was follow what happened to mice when they aged. That didn't take too long because while the natural life span of a man is the proverbial three score and ten, a mouse does the same thing in about 2 years.

My wife has found the secret. She is kept very busy teaching the teachers who will teach the children. One of my functions is as her support. I am her computer guru and I keep things running and fix the many things that break down. I keep us supplied with firewood and do the many things that are necessary for someone who lives without access to the things that come out of the wall for town and city dwellers (water, electricity, telephone). I read and write. Aside from that, I am useless. Not really; I help to support the great support network that supplies people with food, energy, services and entertainment. In other words, I consume.

Immortality has gotten a good bit of press in the past. The German legend of Dr.Faustus was made into the very successful play, "Faust" by Goethe and operas by Gounod and Berlioz. Faust is a very old philosopher and magician who has discovered the secret of how to communicate with the Devil. He makes a deal to trade his soul for youth. Considering what a soul is worth, Faust easily gets the best of the deal. He gets to re-live some of his youth with a girl (Marguerite in French or Gretchen in German) and gets her pregnant and she kills her child. Faust is damned to hell, where he has to spend eternity with Helen of Troy, Cleopatra, and other famous women. One thing that made the play and opera a roaring success is the fact that there aren't many old men who haven't wished to be able to relive what may well be the most pleasurable activity known. There is no indication that Faust has either regret or repentance. Marguerite is damned and then forgiven and goes to heaven, where she presumably spend eternity being bored to tears. If she had stayed damned, she might have spent eternity with Faust. Big deal!

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