I turned 50 two days ago. Happy Birthday to me. You all are probably tired of hearing about my birthday preparations, but it's almost over, I promise. The thing is, I had a terrible time with my 40th birthday, and as I approached the half-century mark, I was afraid of history repeating itself. Luckily, the Universe is generous, and provides us with second chances--or third or fourth chances--so we have the opportunity to get it right. I'm grateful I've needed only two chances at meeting the march of time with grace, dignity, gratitude and appreciation for the ephemeral nature of life. And my meditation on mortality has led me, of course, to contemplate the joys and challenges of immortality, as portrayed in my beloved paranormal fantasy novels. One of the hallmarks of paranormal fiction, of course, is the inclusion of immortal, or near-immortal characters. Each series does it differently, of course, but all of my favorite authors explore, to more or less extent, the consequences of living forever, or at least for hundreds or thousands of years.
But really, it's more than just immortality. It's living forever or almost forever in prime physical and mental condition. As we traverse middle age on our way to our golden years, our limitations are two-fold: the knowledge that there are fewer years in front of us than behind us, and the fact that our spirits, which may be young and vibrant, are trapped in a corporal cage that is deteriorating even as we speak. These limitations are sobering, to say the least, which is why, perhaps, we tend to drink more as we age. Just kidding.
For the immortal characters in my beloved books, there is no mandate to achieve anything today, because there is always tomorrow. There is no reason to make the hard choices and eat right, exercise, sleep and manage stress. There are no consequences for missed opportunities or not living a healthy lifestyle, so there is no reason to do it. Some of my favorite books reflect this aspect of immortal youth; in the Fever series, by Karen Marie Moning, the ancient Fae, both Seelie and Unseelie, choose to drink periodically from the cauldron of forgetting lest they lose their minds completely. In Nalini Singh's Archangel series, another one of my favorites, the oldest and most powerful of the Archangels eventually go mad and need to be put down as sociopathic dangers to the world.
If there is no imperative to action, because there is no motivation for achievement or excellence, then only a tiny percentage of immortals would choose to do anything worthwhile or contributory in anything resembling a timely manner. Why bother? I'll do it tomorrow. This would be procrastination on steroids. Think Paris Hilton multiplied by thousands. Wasted lives.
On the other hand, an infinite or near infinite number of years could be used to make huge contributions to the world. An unlimited amount of time to study, create, construct, produce, meditate and change the world. In this I'm reminded of Dragos Cuelebre in Thea Harrison's books (my favorite alpha male of all time), Edward Cullen of Twilight fame and Raphael of Nalini Singh's Archangel series. All of these males managed (in their authors' fantasy worlds) to avoid madness and make something of the many years they were given. But they are the exception rather than the rule.
This is probably true for the rest of us, too. It is the rare soul who consistently chooses to do good and do well. Even though we only get a few short decades relative to these immortals, we have the same choices to make with our time. We just have less of it, so the decisions become more acute in their consequences. We need to take seriously JRR Tolkien's exhortation that all we have to do is decide what to do with the time that we have (a quote you've heard me reference). Because our time is short.
I've been thinking a lot about how I spend my time and how I want to spend it moving forward. Harder questions than they seem. Hedonism and indolence may look attractive at first, especially if we are busy or if we feel like we do a lot for others and not necessarily for ourselves. But self-indulgence is a specious luxury that will inevitably lead to self destruction, but probably not until we've taken at least some of those we love down with us. And while I'm not a proponent of infinite selflessness--on the grounds that we can't give away what we haven't got--I do believe that giving of ourselves in a meaningful manner is the key to a life well lived.
How can we give ourselves in a positive way? There is a concept called kenosis, or self-emptying, described in Christian theology (seminarian here, remember?) that means making room for the Divine will, rather than throwing our will all over the place and deluding ourselves that we are in control. We're not. Life can turn on a dime no matter how much money, power, fame, skill, beauty, or intelligence we have. Because we are not immortal, nothing can save us from death--either tomorrow because of a drunk driver, or years from now because of the inevitable failure of the flesh. We all walk the same path.
Asking ourselves what we are being called to do and to be by something bigger than we are--the Universe, the Divine, God, Goddess, the gods--pick your favorite(s)--is always a good idea. For me, it's important to question--constantly at times--whether I'm doing what I'm supposed to do and becoming who I'm supposed to be. These questions are at the heart of kenosis--self-emptying to make room for the Divine will to guide us.
Perhaps when one is immortal there is no external reference and all such beings are self-referential by definition. If so, that actually sucks for them. I've had enough experience of my life and myself to be horrified at the thought that I would have the last word and be the ultimate arbiter of truth and goodness. Be afraid, be very afraid.
Or not, if you are human and living an existence that looks beyond yourself for meaning and guidance while visiting this mortal coil. Embrace mortality and enjoy each anniversary of your birth as evidence of enduring grace. That's how I spent my birthday. Cheers.