[This is the draft of a lay sermon given at First Universalist Church of Rochester, N.Y., on July 20, 2014]
I remember lying in a hospital bed some 20 years ago after having had a pre-cancerous lobe of my right lung removed. I got to thinking that this body part was not going to regenerate and that, in fact, the warranty had expired on many of my body parts.
Lying there in the bed, I began to fantasize about what it would be like if this wasn’t so—if I didn’t have to grow old and die, if I could live indefinitely, in vigorous physical and mental health, like Robert A. Heinlein’s Lazarus Long or Chelsea Quinn Yarbro’s Saint Germain.
I imagined having infinite time to do everything I ever had dreamed of doing. I could read every book I ever wanted to read. I could study every subject I was ever interested in, and could master every skill I lacked. I could travel and see every sight I ever wanted to see. There would be nothing I could not do—that is, if I were capable of doing it and willing to do the work.
I tried to imagine my future life for 50 or 100 or 200 years into the future and, to my surprise, I couldn’t imagine a future that I would like.
There are only two things I know with certainty about the future. One is that it will not be like the present. The other is that I can’t predict it. I am amazed at the transformations that have taken place during my lifetime. None of the changes that I expected in my youth have come about, but things that I took for granted have been utterly transformed. Sometimes it seems to me that the only things that haven’t changed are the structures of economic and political power.
The future brings the challenge of having to adapt to change. Learning new things is delightful when it is voluntary. I delight in things new technology makes possible—my blog, for example. At the same time I am happy to be old and retired, and to be in a position in which I don’t have to master new knowledge and skills that I’m not interested in.
The worst thing about living forever would be that I would leave my friends behind. If you live long enough—I haven’t yet lived to that point myself—you see all your contemporaries disappear, one by one. I have made newer and younger friends, but to me, at age 77, a “young” friend is someone in their 40s or 50s. I don’t really share the experience and thinking of the new generation.
If I lived long enough, not only everyone that I loved and cared about were gone, but everything that I loved and cared about would be no more.
The world during my lifetime has changed in many ways that I don’t understand and can’t relate to, from the music to the technology to the manners and morals. What would it be like in 50 or 100 or 200 years from now? I would be as alienated as someone from the 18th or 19th century in the world today.
I am curious to know the future. The far future would be an interesting place to visit. But I’m not sure I would want to live there.
What would be the point of living so long if I lived it as a grouchy old man? I already find myself talking much too much about how different things are today from the way they used to be.