By: Alisha Imtiaz
I find myself reflecting on the mortality of human life quite often. Especially in recent years with the resurgence of media belonging to the fantasy genre which puts all kinds of immortal beings at the forefront of our screens and books. You sit in a circle with your friends discussing your favourite characters, and it all seems so magnificent in the moment. These characters who are portrayed as being immortal get to go on countless adventures till the end of time with no limitations; they get to meet new people and see new places for as long as they want to. At some point, you can’t help but compare the human experience – your experience – to it.
At some point, it all comes down to the question, “would you take up immortality if you could?” And at first, it seems obvious, because in comparison, the human experience seems dull and limiting with the vulnerabilities that time burdens and wounds us with. It feels like endings are always coming in real life, and there’s nothing you can do about them. You move schools, neighbourhoods, towns, cities; you lose friendships, partners, people to the passage of time. And, there’s never a warning, it just happens and you have to accept it. In some ways, the temporary nature of human existence seems almost cruel. You go into any and all commitments knowing that one day it’ll fade away, and you’ll eventually be left with a lingering feeling of nostalgia. There is no loophole around it: “Someone has to leave first. This is a very old story. There is no other version of this story.” (Richard Siken, War of the Foxes)
However, despite the overall gloom of these concepts, most often, we fail to see the other side of it. We go through life always afraid of endings hitting us when we least expect it, but despite it all, we still continue to cling to people; we continue getting into relationships and most of all, to love. It’s terrifying and saddening but at its core, it’s a chain of soft spoken promises saying, “hey, I know we might not know each other for very long, but I’d like to make you happy for as long as we do.” I think that, in itself, takes a lot of courage and strength but most of all, intent.
The mortality of our existence itself is what pushes us to make the moments we do have that much more worthwhile. I would argue that if we weren’t mortal, so many things in our daily life would lose the depth and meaning that exist because of mortality. Having experienced the pain of everything being temporary, our actions and choices carry so much more weight. Everything we do, whether it’s the subtle things or the big gestures, all of it is laden with meaning.
This sentiment is well put by Homer in The Iliad: “The gods envy us. They envy us because we’re mortal, because any moment may be our last. Everything is more beautiful because we’re doomed. You will never be lovelier than you are now. We will never be here again.”
When faced with mortality, humans came up with concepts like cameras, photos, handwritten letters, heart-shaped lockets, anything and everything that would allow them to capture memories and freeze moments in time. We’re always trying to cling to these moments, to store it somewhere safe, because even if the moment is over, the memories stay on forever, and sometimes, that’s enough for us. Everywhere on earth, there is a legacy of love being left behind generation after generation, and, to me, that is what human nature is.
To put it simply, we have experienced the consequences of what it means to be mortal, and though it often involves pain and sadness, it also involves innumerable happy moments. The fact that, over and over, we continue to decide that the happy moments make the inevitable end worth it, is a testament to our mortality. And so, despite it all, I would not take up immortality even if I could because, in doing so, I would lose the humanity of it all.