Thoughts by Richard Bleil
Today I watched an interesting, what, blogcast? Podcast? Some kind of cast, I guess. I’m too old to keep up with all of the lingo of you kids. But the point of the webcast? Videocast? Anyway, the point was to discuss the myriad of types of immortality in fiction, whether it is natural (like gods), or acquired (like alchemists had hoped to find), their weaknesses, and so forth. It was actually a fascinating and highly informative video especially for authors, giving them much to consider.
As I watched it, and probably because my two fathers (my biological father and my academic father) are much on my mind for reasons well-known to my readers, I started thinking about these types of immortality and couldn’t help but to consider the some of the lives these immortals lived and compare them with retirees.
It might seem like an odd comparison but keep up with me here. My two fathers, my academic father still being alive but, in a home, would have been roughly the same age. The two of them, I’m sure, led very different lives once their careers were effectively over. These, of course, are the two I think of as immortals, both of whom will continue to live as long as I do in my heart.
The problems with immortality first became apparent to me in the movie Highlander, specifically at the point of the musical short by Queen who asked, “Who wants to live forever when those around you die?” One of the central themes of this movie focused on the lives of immortals who fall in love only to see their loved ones grow old around them and pass on. How long until the pain grows to have a history that is too long, until one begins avoiding contacts at all?
I think about the elderly in homes, those who have been abandoned, and those who are fortunate enough to still be included as much as possible in family functions. As their abilities deteriorate, even if they are included in family events, they become increasingly detached. Kids might understand the familial position of these elderly in the family tree, but once the elderly becomes older, they usually don’t know anything about these elderlies. They’ve not had the opportunity to build their own histories, memories and connections. These are the fortunate of the elderlies, still brought and allowed to see their families and offspring grow and succeed, and yet, like an immortal, they fade more and more into the background.
I’ve come to believe that as far as retirement goes, there are two types of retirees. My father was a brilliant man. Not highly educated, but brilliant nonetheless. There is nothing he couldn’t repair, and he had an innate understanding of physics. I’ll never forget when mom brought home a plywood snowperson as a winter decoration for the house, maybe four feet tall, asking dad to hang it. We all expected him to drill holes in the brick wall between two windows in the front, but he really hated drilling holes in the house. Instead, he took too “L” brackets, loosely strung a wire between them, and hung the decoration on the wire with “S” hooks under its arms. It was brilliant, the mass of the decoration drew the wire tight, which drew the brackets inwards, and friction kept it on the house through the worst and windiest of winters without slipping once.
But when he retired, this brilliant man retired. He did next to nothing; he stopped repairing things, he never volunteered his time, he did (to the best of my knowledge) nothing. I know my sister visited frequently and they invited him to family gatherings, but he never got out. As a result, I believe he got bored, which probably aged him more than the years did. Before he passed on, he even suggested that he was just ready to move on.
My academic father, on the other hand, I know kept active after retiring from his primary job. He had built his own foundation in his home country, traveled to meetings, and while he stepped aside for his replacement to step up and shine, I’m sure he continued to read, study and work. He spent months out of the US and in his home country, visiting and working, I’m guessing less and less as he turned over more and more of the operation as he aged, and yet, I’m sure he was still present. It’s unfortunate that his mind eventually eroded to the point where his wife felt it necessary to put him into the home, but she simply could not keep up with his needs.
In the world of immortals, there are two kinds of characters in the fictional universe. Some, like my father, simply withdraw. They begin to believe their actions irrelevant, recognizing that some things cannot be changed. Regardless of the immortal’s efforts, people die, history marches on, evil regimes continue to rise and fall. These characters become bitter, drifting and refusing to become involved, withdrawing into their own worlds. These are the immortals, and the retirees, that reach a point where they just want it to be over and done with. They simply give up.
The others see their efforts as having value. Alone they cannot change the tide of history, but they can provide a continuous influence that mere mortals cannot. These are often the retirees that continue to live rich and fulfilling lives, much like my academic father for as long as he could (his wife, by the way, I’m sure is still active and living a fulfilling life). I’m sure my academic father is still wanting to remain active, but is simply unable at this point, but until his recent declines there is no doubt in my mind that he had a fabulous retirement until very recently.
Wow, this is a depressing post. Sorry about that.