I just turned 78, and my husband of 56 years is 82. Old age isn't for sissies. In fact, it sucks. Say this out loud, and someone will reply sweetly: "But it's better than the alternative."
Perhaps, but I have never understood the desire for immortality. To know that one is mortal, that death is inescapable, is looked upon as a curse. A worse curse would be knowing you couldn't die. How awful it would be to know that you must go on and on with no end in sight! Death is the ultimate blessing.
Belief in an afterlife is fine, but I am talking about earthly existence. Here and now and in the flesh. It's happening, folks: Human beings are approaching immortality. We're already replacing body parts, and now we have discovered a way to rebuild the human heart.
Mankind is creating human life in a petri dish. At the same time, man is endangering living plants and animals all over the world. If we continue the present trend, one half of all of the species in earth will be gone within the next decade. The economic loss alone is horrendous.
Two weeks ago, Robert Edwards, now 85, received the Nobel Prize in medicine for his pioneer work on in vitro fertilization. In 1978 when Louise Brown, the first IVF baby was born, many people spoke out in opposition. Scientists, they said, were playing God. But today, 4 million babies have been born using IVF, and infertile couples around the globe bless Edwards' name.
On the border between Switzerland and France scientists are delving into the deepest laws of nature to learn how the material world came into being. The Large Hadron Collider sends high-energy particles smashing into one another at incredible speeds in the hope of finding what is sometimes called the "God particle." If the Higg boson, its correct name, can be found, it may explain the origin of all matter.
By themselves, these are not bad things, but mankind is still searching for bigger and more destructive ways to wage war. The U.S. Pentagon wants a new generation of thermonuclear bombs, and computer viruses are being developed that can disable a nation's security systems. Meanwhile, terrorist cults infect the minds of ignorant people everywhere.
Something is very wrong. We are approaching a threshold of some sort, and there seems little we can do to stop it. One thing is certain: We cannot avoid change. I flinch every time I hear someone say that Americans must preserve their lifestyle. It is impossible.
A lot goes through the mind when an individual reaches the end of life. First denial. Then anger, regret and a profound sadness, but there is another almost universal emotion: Suddenly life becomes incredibly beautiful. Sunlight on water, the swaying of trees in the wind, a spider web, a raindrop, all are suddenly appreciated as never before.
Perhaps it takes a universal crisis to trigger this emotion in humanity as a whole. Life is precious. Love matters when nothing else does. The world as we know it cannot continue, and scary as it sounds, this is not necessarily a defeat.
Commercialism is consuming our resources. Pollution is making the earth sick. Every technological advancement carries with it unexpected complications. No, the world is not coming to an end, but something is. It has to. I think we all know it.
First: denial. How many people said climate change wasn't real? Now there's no question. The earth is heating up. Once our economy was threatened with irrational exuberance, now it faces lingering recession. Surely the economy will right itself eventually. Or maybe not.
Next: anger. But anger won't change anything. Take heart. Mankind is one of the most adaptable species on earth, and we have innate inner resources other animals don't posses.
"Love your neighbor." But if that's too difficult, just try being civil to one another.
Joan King lives in Sautee. Her column appears biweekly on Tuesdays and on gainesvilletimes.com.