Recently an old friend contacted me from Athens. His father, he said, had just died at 101. He had been illiterate, had spent his whole life tending sheep in the Greek countryside, but had gone to Athens to get hospital care after a series of strokes. However, the old man remained completely lucid, and when his children visited him in his hospital bed and asked him how he was, he would say with black humour, “Waiting for death, but quite well apart from that.”
What is waiting for death like for someone who never needed to wear a watch?
Contrary to most people’s everyday experience, space-time is not a rigid Euclidean framework, but is warped by objects, may be curved and bounded, is riddled with black holes and possibly wormholes and has 11 or more dimensions. The scientific theory of time and space is wildly out of line with the urban mind’s imaginings. Social time is not scientific time. Emotional time is not social time. Kant wrote that since we necessarily grasp the world through the structures of our brain we cannot possibly understand it fully. Time is an empty, elastic form that must be filled by emotions and thoughts, and so we dictate how it flows in accordance with our culture, education and programming, and each person’s time is individual.
How did time pass for that man who could not read, and who lived his life by the rising and setting of the sun and by the seasons? Whose birth was registered at a time when children could be well into toddlerhood by the time the parents got to the nearest town hall…so he may have been even older than 101.
“In the last year of his life he was still walking up and down his fields and tending his vegetables in the garden,” said my friend. His mother, in her nineties, is still alive, also fully lucid…also illiterate.
These examples apparently give the lie to all the stereotypes about learning and keeping the brain educated and active in order to prolong life and mental agility. The research can’t be wrong though, and it seems logical….no doubt clean living away from the stress and pollution of the city helped my friends’ parents to live so long and so healthily. Perhaps being immune to social stereotyping too, and to counting the years as we are forced to do in an urban environment. There was no retirement age for a Greek farmer either…so no social cues to deal with… no age at which the mind signals to the body that it is time to slow down and prepare for decrepitude.
But …what if we can combine all of the above i.e. 1) immunity to social cues and stereotyping 2) clean living and 3) literacy and lifelong learning…? Then think how long we, the next generation, may now be able to live. 120 will soon be commonplace.