I am spending time in Denmark at the moment. Walks on the beach, strolls though Copenhagen at dusk – not bad, at all. Yet, early November in Denmark is the slightly uneasy time when Nature cannot quite make up its mind whether it is autumn or winter. Remarkably, temperatures are not much lower than in July (tells you something about the July we had!), but there is no doubt that the direction is winter. Soon we will wake up to gardens covered by frost’s embroidery. But we are not yet there! The sun still has authority and trees are still not naked. Unmistakably, this is not New England foliage with its blazing colours. Instead leaves are turning yellow with the tenderness so typical of Danish nature.
One can be upset about the need to wrap oneself in many layers, about the onset of a season which is physically demanding, about the short days and long nights. Despite this I would not want to live permanently in a place with eternal summer. For me the procession of seasons is important. It is a cycle I relate to, a cycle that symbolises something of fundamental human significance.
Perhaps I would like that summers were longer and winters shorter, something which can be achieved by moving further south. But moving to Vienna, I did not achieve exactly that. I achieved that summers and winters became longer, and spring and autumn shorter. Of course, I do not condemn those who choose eternal summer (or eternal winter). Only, for me, seasons are attractive because they provide variety and cyclical repetition.
Seasons represent an overarching issue worth reflecting on. Human lives have their own seasonality, and although we have extended each life season tremendously in the last few decades, we should be cautious with changing the human condition fundamentally. This is a key message of my book.
Over the last sixty years average lifetimes have gone up by 50 percent. These 24 years of additional lifetime we have essentially spread out over youth, middle and old age, but arguably we have been decreasing childhood to benefit youth. With frighteningly early sexual first times, unhindered access to mature information for the immature, and pubescent pop stars peddling youth ideals (or smut) to their peers, we have robbed children of the privilege of letting childhood run its natural course. With a likely lifetime of 80+ years should children really want to become adult with 12? Psychoanalysis has shown us the incredibly formative importance of childhood; we become nostalgic about childhood, and yet we curtail it! The Bible tells us that unless ye ‘become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven’. Seems we are making it harder than it needs to be!
At the other end of youth we try to extend it by all sorts of artificial means with comical if not tragic results. Valentino and Sophia Loren trying to look 30 when 80 are not a pleasant sight. Old age is dreaded even if extended, although in truth many people find old age a blessing in their heart of hearts. So much to digest, so many lives to assist, so many grandchildren to spoil, so much earned freedom and joy, even under the shadow of physical decline and possible illness. The mildness and loving fostered by old age are not sufficiently prized, neither by society nor by those living it.
When earthly immortality comes within our reach, one of our dilemmas will again be how to time the seasons of our lives. Will we do 200 million years as children, 400 million years as youths, and infinity as the middle-aged, thus cutting out old age altogether? For all the attraction of youth, are you sure you want to spend 400 million years there, and infinity as a successful middle-aged lawyer? Are you sure? Really?