Before her death, our 16-year-old cat Sparky — with whom we had shared so many memories — took up residence with an elderly, forgetful couple two doors down. It is not uncommon for animals, especially cats, to take themselves away to a quiet spot under the stairs or in a hedge to breathe their last, but it hurt that ours decided to do so a full year before she carked it.
The neighbours eventually discovered she belonged to us but, in a moment of graciousness, mum told them they could have her if it pleased them. They had begun calling her Fluffy despite periodic reminders this was not her name. They fed her milk and erected something of a cat-palace for her in which to sleep.
When she died, our cat was buried in the yard of her new parents beneath a sign that said: “Sparky / Fluffy”. It was a nod to her twin lives. It was as if, hounded from physics by cat fanciers, Schrodinger had become a sign-writer.
In her prime, Sparky had a habit of bringing in half a mouse. The front she kept for herself. The hind quarters were dumped somewhere on the kitchen floor for us to find. What does anyone do with half a mouse? Ask a scientist. In one experiment to tackle the effects of ageing, an old mouse is surgically connected to a young mouse, shares its blood and becomes younger. This has been touted as a success story for the older mouse — though, curiously, one never hears much about what the youthful one made of the whole ordeal. Did it wake up older? Yearn for the bubonic plague?
Sparky was not a scientist. She hated everything she didn’t understand. And I suspect, like me, she didn’t want to live forever, unlike the new breed of tech billionaires such as Google co-founder Sergey Brin and his wife.
Some weeks I don’t particularly feel like living past Tuesday. I think it’s because I am not a billionaire, nor particularly suited to Mondays.
During religious classes as a child, the idea of eternity bugged me. The whole point of being alive is that we die.
Mum has swung the pendulum a little too far in the opposite direction, if you ask me. She rang me a few weeks ago to gleefully inform me that she had updated her will. A magpie statue named Eddie, bought on a trip to Phillip Island and named after the Collingwood boss, is mine.
Thank you, I tell her, while imagining the impossible bleak absurdity of the day I take him home. My sister, having expressed an intense dislike for a set of discoloured doilies, will be the new happy owner of them when mum goes. We have been hearing about our mother’s hypothetical will since we were in primary school, which might sound macabre but it was her way of telling us she was prepared.
Emily Dickinson couldn’t stop for death until she got into a carriage with him. It’s like Uber, but for mortality. The tech billionaires Peter Thiel and Sergey and Jeff Bezos have seen the writing on the wall, however, and have decided they want to beat Dickinson at her own game. Immortality is the one thing money cannot buy, so they’ve tried to bring the start-up culture to winding down. They’re up against evolution, of course, which is the ultimate start- up. Start small. After much faffing about one might end up with a eukaryote cell and then a fish; a whale; a human. Eventually you end up with a product doing things for which it was never designed.
Our bodies fail precisely after we reach the age at which we should have passed on our genes. Everything beyond that is evolutionarily pointless. It’s shooting sperm into the Pacific.
Assuming parts of our mind don’t live irretrievably in our bodies, futurists like Ray Kurzweil don’t think the answer to eternal life even relies on keeping these fleshy appendages alive. We just jump ship, to another one. Or a computer. Or a toaster, if you’re into that sort of thing.
I’m not sure we need to try so hard. Do we really want to make Lord of the Rings longer?
I’ve not met a person of limited means who wants to live forever, or indeed much longer than they already do. Life, even in the struggle of it, is a finite gift and the joy we make in it is powerful because we know it cannot last.