Living Forever-A Meditation for Lent, Day 29

Who wants to live forever?
Who wants to live forever?
Forever is our today
Who lives forever anyway?—Queen, Who Wants to Live Forever?

May God bless and keep you always,
May your wishes all come true,
May you always do for others
And let others do for you.
May you build a ladder to the stars
And climb on every rung,
May you stay forever young.

May you grow up to be righteous,
May you grow up to be true,
May you always know the truth
And see the lights surrounding you.
May you always be courageous,
Stand upright and be strong,
May you stay forever young.

May your hands always be busy,
May your feet always be swift,
May you have a strong foundation
When the winds of changes shift.
May your heart always be joyful,
May your song always be sung,
May you stay forever young.—Bob Dylan, Forever Young

I remember the day I would knew I would die. I was tying my shoe in the large walk-in closet in my bedroom. Bent over, staring at the little holes on the oxblood wingtips, watching my fingers tie the laces and loop them around into a bow, I was suddenly overtaken by the thought: “I am going to die someday.” I was just shy of my thirtieth birthday.

I was not supposed to think like that. My parents’ religion told me that “millions now living will never die” And that, “You Can Live Forever in Paradise on Earth. It was my religion too, and even though it sounds really stupid to say it now, I believed it with all my heart, until one day I didn’t.

Things kind of fell apart after that.

The religious quest for eternal life is as old as death itself, which is to say, as old as the consciousness of life itself, and its relative brevity. The Egyptians, the Greeks, the Romans, all believed in an eternal afterlife. In both Hinduism and Buddhism, the concept of reincarnation—the rebirth of a soul into a new body, serves as a moral corrective to life now. Virtually every ancient religious tradition from the Nordic Valhalla to the Mayan Tamoanchan, yearned toward a life after life. Christianity’s hundreds of sects have hundreds of beliefs about “heaven” and “eternity,” and its cousin, Islam both claim that they have the key to eternal life. Early Judaism stood alone in the Middle Eastern religions, as a religion without an afterlife. Eternal life was achieved through the memory of good deeds done in life, which would be talked about as long as humans could remember them. They didn’t live in the Snapchat age, so they at had a concept of nonephemera.

The convenient thing about religious afterlives is that no one can prove whether or not they exist, since you have to die to find out. So, in spite of the weird little cults like the one I grew up in, or the Transhumanist Church of Eternal Life (which is of course, in Florida, the universal epicenter of old, dying people and weirdness itself), eternal life is entirely subjective. Unless you’re a jellyfish.

Turritopsis dohrnii immortal jellyfish

Credit: Peter Schuchert, The Hydroza Directory

Well, one specie of jellyfish that is: Turritopsis dohrnii, the immortal jellyfish. This bizarre little creature, which lives in the Mediterranean Sea and the Sea of Japan, is capable of growing old and then growing young again. Scientists, because they always need some large word to justify all that time they spent in graduate school while the rest of us were binge drinking and playing video games, call it transdifferentiation, which sounds a lot like transubstantiation, which is, of course, a religious dogma. Or at least a Catholic one.

Immortal jellyfish have found the secret to eternal life. Now all we have to do is find out where their church is.

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