To Be Mortal

A Short Story by A.J. Gallows

He was fascinated with his own death, the young man.

He’d spent many nights in restless fits of panic over the problem of mortality. Such a simple issue on paper, but so impossible to fix. It’s just organ failure really. Hearts, bones, brains, and other bits of anatomy failing as the years go on. It was enough to make him consider a future in the sciences. His objective: a cure to death. Perhaps if there was someone with his initiative, his stubbornness to live, leading the march towards immortality, the problem of death would be solved before the end of his time… perhaps.

But it was too much of a risk. What if he failed? Would he be willing to waste decades of his life in pursuit of a chance to evade death? He reconsidered.

Perhaps living forever was a fool’s errand. Maybe he just ought to live the few years he had on this earth as happy as possible. Put aside the sciences and go towards commerce. Become an entrepreneur and start a couple of businesses. Earn enough money to buy his happiness instead. Yes, that would work. He’d buy vacation houses in the Maldives, Fiji, Hawaii, buy all the most expensive cars, perhaps even purchase a plane or two, or maybe a yacht. Maybe that would help him forget about the impermanence of it all. Perhaps that would distract him from his mind and body’s slow yet inevitable decay. 

Perhaps not.

Eighty years, or thereabout. That was all he’d get. And even then, after sixty they’d become cumbersome to live. His back would ache, arthritis would plague his joints, he’d lose his hearing slowly until even the eternally ticking clock of mortal dread would escape his attention. The young man would not be young forever. And the thought of it made all the excitement of wealth seem useless.

Forget fast cars and expensive vacations then. His would be a life refining his mind. If he could not live forever, he’d spend his days getting as close to omniscience as possible, filling his mind with facts and philosophy. He’d study and teach at the most prestigious universities, read countless books, spend his days sharing ideas with other wise men in the private libraries of wealthy intellectuals, smoking cigars and discussing the meaning of the universe. And perhaps he’d even write a book of his own. A collection of all his accumulated ideas over the course of his life. He’d call it Aphorisms on Life and Death: A Philosophical Inquiry into the Impossibility of Eudaimonia. And when asked what his greatest accomplishment was on his deathbed he’d say, “I thought. I lived a long life thinking about things and reading about other people who thought similar things.”

And then he would die.

Soon it would be his eighteenth birthday. The age of adulthood. The end of blissful innocence. He’d spent a sizeable portion of the past year thinking of his death, the young man. So much so that his life took a back seat. Whatever choices he made would always come back to the same question. What will it all matter after I’m dead? It never failed to make him miserable. He considered the tragedy of all who came before him, the countless humans who believed their lives amounted to anything before they ended up in the dirt with everyone else, food for the worms below, fertilizer for the plants above.

What he would give to be immortal.

For it was never a matter of death, really. It was a matter of how he wanted to spend the rest of his life. To live forever meant having infinite possibilities for mistakes. Infinite second chances. But to be mortal meant everything was finite. For now, he was too young to have any regrets. And yet his greatest fear was the regrets of a time yet to pass.