Before I pass it on, consider this: all our lives we live beneath the comfortably protective cloak of the evolutionary forces that created us. For you to exist, each of your ancestors had to survive, that much is obvious. But think of the dangers these people, stretching back through time, had to endure simply to result in you. There were volcanoes and earthquakes, famine and disease, sabre-toothed tigers, ordinary tigers, war, cut-throats and vagabonds, motorway pile-ups, things falling off buildings and suicide bombers. Somehow, the caring hand of nature shepherded each of your ancestors through all of these perils—at least to breeding age—so that you could be created. If they were hurt, they’d be fixed. If disease struck, there would be antibodies. If it all got too much for their natural defences, someone would invent medical interventions that would have them right in no time.
But of course your ancestors (the distant ones, anyway) still copped it in the end. So did mine. The caring hand of nature becomes distinctly less caring after a certain point. She may coddle you early on by providing you with the vim, not to mention the vigour, you need to tackle the risks of everyday life, but when you get to a certain age, she seems to lose interest. It’s as if her attention has been directed elsewhere, to the new young no doubt.
And at what point in our lives does this change occur? We cannot expect nature to be acting altruistically. Would we? No. Nature’s aim—our genes’ aim—is to create another lot like us (improved if possible). Thus, if we don’t look like reproducing any time soon she quickly loses interest. It’s a tough lesson to learn. If you’re not of childbearing age you can’t expect much support from a system that plans long term.
That’s the stage I’m at. The big clue is that I’ve had the snip but, even if nature isn’t actually aware of that, she knows that I’m past the customary age of baby-making and so has lost interest in my survival.
Why would she care? I’m not going to make new Pobaans to glorify her creation. For her I’m strictly short term. I’m an expense without return. Investment withdrawn, protection denied, go hang.
That’s what it’s like for us codgers. We’re left with these immensely complicated bodies which used to regenerate themselves, bit by bit, cell by cell, reliably and unthinkingly. But now we’re on our own. Our bodies continue to malfunction, crumble and degrade. We’re unloved because we’re of no value. What’s the point of fixing an old-timer, we can hear nature growling, if he has no hope of contributing to the future gene pool? Much better to concentrate resources on the ones who can. Contribute, I mean.
That’s me. I’m a hanger-on in evolutionary terms. I’m on my own. If I want to live a long life I’ll have to make the arrangements myself.
My response to all this is to try to live as healthy a life as I can. I go to the gym and work out pretty hard for a codger, and I watch my diet. But why?
Mrs Pobaan’s insight, delivered in the half-light of our glamorous boudoir, is to suggest—for herself, not me—that it is better to die happy than to live a long life.
After a moment’s suspicious contemplation of the possibility that she’s plotting a way of getting her hands on the Pobaan millions somewhat earlier than I had planned, I begin to see the wisdom in her aphorism.
What would I do if some knowledgeable doctor predicted that I had a short time to live? A year? A month?
‘Please sit down.’
‘It’s bad news, isn’t it, Doc?’
‘I’m afraid so.’
‘How long have I got?’
‘What!? How can it be a day? How could you know with such accuracy?’
‘I looked it up in a big book and people with your condition, well, they pretty much always expire after a day.’
‘So what you’re telling me is that I have only 24 hours to live.’
‘Well, since we’ve been talking it’s a little less.’
In the end, would it really matter? You could go to Las Vegas, drink a bottle of champagne, eat a box of chocolates, sleep with a lot of hookers, whatever is your fancy, but really, after that, you’re dead. The great thing about great experiences is the great memories that you can replay and reinterpret again and again. The things you’ve done in your life are part of what makes you you. When you’re dead, you can’t remember things and there’s no you to embellish with your latest (and final) experiences, which makes anything you did leading up to your demise seem particularly pointless and hollow—and that would include living a long time just for the sake of it.
Then there’s all that falling-apart business, the natural inability of our molecules to cling together and function efficiently for more than a few score years. There doesn’t seem to be any way around that, not currently available anyway. Think of the inconvenience and pain, not to mention the huge nappies, not being able to reach your own toenails and your family shouting at you.
No, Mrs Pobaan is right. Much better to check out while you’re winning, as long as you’ve finalised your will, of course.