‘I read in the paper,’ he said, ‘that drinking coffee lowers your risk of dying.’
‘Joe,’ I said kindly, but with just a hint of malice. ‘Even the most vacuous, spurious, and sensationalist newspaper headlines always have a kernel of truth. Except for the times they don’t. This report is misleading; you cannot lower your risk of dying. It’s not optional, some day you will no longer be around to charm and delight future generations in the many, many ways you have charmed and delighted us.’
Death is simple, but vastly complicated. There is a cognitive dissonance here; we know we are going to die, but we don’t really know it.
It’s down the road a bit, just round the corner, out of sight, and we wouldn’t thank anyone for informing us precisely the date of our future demise; we prefer to let ill tidings tell themselves when they be felt.
As we get older, the evidence for our certain demise accumulates; sickness piles on sickness, cancer piles upon degenerative disease, piles pile upon piles. It’s a grim prospect, but as usual, cognitive dissonance makes the world go round and stops us all being depressed by our own mortality and the weakness and fragility of our flesh.
And who wants to live forever? As Tennyson said: ‘Old men must die, else the earth grow mouldy’; from Tithonus babbling endlessly in loathsome old age in the palace of dawn, to the sad plight of the struldbrugs in Gulliver’s Travels, the perils of immortality have been well signposted.
The first man to become immortal (or more strictly speaking amortal, you can always get hit by a bus) will be a hero; they’ll fete him and praise him and he’ll definitely get laid. But then jealousy and rancour will set in, and our hero will realise that boredom is the new black.
‘We fight the long defeat, Joe,’ I said. ‘But you and I shall grow old and diminish together, and share a comfortable and mellow dotage.’
Even speaking these words made me depressed; a dread vista, Joe and I, together, for years and years, piles upon piles…
‘Not if Trump starts a nuclear war first,’ he said.
‘Every cloud has a silver lining,’ I said.
- Dr Farrell is a GP from County Armagh. Follow him on Twitter @drlfarrell