Although many people still hold the idea that children’s books are saccharine bedtime stories, they are actually often at the forefront of bringing into conversation controversial or complex issues facing society. Sometimes they even take concepts that adults still tiptoe around and hand them openly to children to think about and discuss.
A book that I remember loving as a 4th grader came to mind recently. Tuck Everlasting, published by Natalie Babbitt in 1975, deals with the concept of immortality. It tells the story of Winnie Foster, who discovers a family guarding a secret – that they inadvertently drank from a ‘fountain of youth’ – and the tragedies that come with their timelessness.
Of course, there are many stories – modern and ancient, for kids and adults – that take on the idea of immortality, but the relatable characters in Tuck Everlasting make the topic very accessible to young readers and the emotion in it is believable.
As crash-preventative self-driving cars are developed, fatal diseases prevented and cured, organs grown in labs, and mechanical body parts engineered, it’s obviously important to keep this topic of immortality in conversation. Of course these innovations are noble and have already improved the quality of life for many. But at what point is it okay to just let people die?
There’s a HUGE part of me that wishes a doctor could have stuck a robot heart into my dad so that he’d be around to meet my kids some day. But I also know that my dad, wary of Aspirin and baffled by how to turn on a computer (… says his flip-phone wielding daughter), would have hated that.
And it’s not only important whether increasing lifespan is valuable for individuals, but how it affects life on earth. If these innovations extend the lifespan by 25 years, then that’s an entire extra generation of people on this planet in addition to the already growing population. Even if it’s widely agreed upon that extending life is a good thing, our innovative energy needs to go into systems for supporting the growing population without increasing hunger or homelessness or environmental degradation before we eliminate all the main ways that humans die.
Or maybe I’m just an old curmudgeon afraid of progress. But to me, progress means a better life, not an endless one.
I didn’t mean to make this quite such a soapbox-y (or, you know, paranoid technophobe-y) post.
What I did mean to do was to recommend reading Tuck Everlasting. It’s a great book.
And to ask your thoughts. What is your outlook on immortality? What’s your idea of progress? Are there any books you recommend that take on an issue that’s been resonating with you lately?
Thanks for bearing with me. And remember to try to live life in a way that, when it comes down to the end, you’ll be glad whether a doctor comes and sticks a robot heart in you or not.