Immortality Club

Earlier this year we had the induction, willy-nilly, of S, a Korean American, as the youngest Onc, that is, a member of ONCS, Octo-Nona-Centenarian Society, formed informally at Ridgewood United Methodist Church, Ridgewood, NJ, subsequent to the posting of Candor about Age (1-23-2018, typakmusings.com).

Understandably he wasn’t all that thrilled, a reluctance shared by the others: it’s not like induction into a Hall of Fame. I have had to twist their arms to quit pussyfooting about their age (1-21-2018, typakmusings.com). Reciting Candor, I point out, uncharitably, that their declaration of Onchood comes as no surprise. They have been carrying the flashing beacons: droopy jowls, collapsed look at the mouth despite extensive dental work, grey hair, sneaking roots belying the dye, shuffling gait, geriatric stoop, generally sagging, sinking appearance, some wheelchair bound, too obvious to escape anyone’s notice, unlike the subtler signs displayed by the younger “I am not telling” or “forever 39” crowd.

But S has a particular reason to refuse identification with the other Oncs. He still is or imagines himself to be full of energy, playing golf 3 or 4 days a week. No, he is not one of those living dead, zombie like. Besides he has heard somewhere that in America those above 80, considered terminal cases, are looked upon with pity, if not loathing. Disingenuously I have persuaded him that ONCS is actually like the Biblical Senate to which all the rest of the church look up as repository of wisdom and guidance, that unlike Koreans who pay lip service to respect for the elderly Americans show it in action like Senior Supplemental Security Income.

Of course I haven’t told him that America, a youth worshiping culture, looks askance at Eithgy-plussers. During fellowship after church service the younger crowd shy away from us. Rubbing elbows with Oncs is bad investment timewise: they’ll all be goners in a few years, before or shortly after they turn 90, a knockout blow coming unpredictably from any part of the body, somewhat reminiscent of the punishment meted out in the old Chinese (Korean or Japanese?) military: a company of men is ordered to stand around and keep kicking the sack in which the prisoner is enclosed, until it slumps and goes still. No wonder they look upon us as residents of a hospice wheeled out for an outing, for social exposure, like a good meal before the execution.

Though the centenarian label is tacked on, that is, 100 or older, it’s just a wishful thought. The likelihood of any of us joining that stratum is 0.005%. Besides 99.99% of those few hundred thousand worldwide who cross the threshold perish in the first decade, and only a few dozen make the Supercentenarian rank, 115 or above. There is only one verified Supra-supercentenarian, Jeanne Calment (1875–1997) of France, who died at the age of 122 years, 164 days. There is no question of any human making it to the 8th or 9th century like some Old Testament patriarchs, let alone the millennium, not contemplated even in fertile Jewish memory. Not that it matters one way or another in the spectrum of eternity.

Actually we are glad they leave us alone. We don’t have much to say. No dicta impress us. Few of us ever quote anyone, be it a sage or a god. Not because our memory is failing but because so-called insight or wisdom sounds all so tawdry.

But we, hospice residents, may be rendering one salutary public service. Like the Anchor Boy graduating last and feted by the whole class at the Naval Academy for making everybody else look good in comparison, the Oncs give the non-Oncs a sense of safety and wellbeing, akin to that of a gladiator standing over a fallen opponent.

“Let’s change our group name to Immortality Club dedicated to the promotion of research and industry to bring about immortality,” S declares.

“But there is cellular senescence,” I add my two bits. “Our cells shut down after 50 cycles of division, because telomeres capping DNA wear out.”

“Nanotechnology will repair DNA damage and ultimately reverse senescence,” S is confident. “Humans will live forever, not in deep freeze or suspended animation, but in the prime of life, active and productive. Just imagine what the world will be like.”

“Can it be done before the end of the year?” asks W, the oldest Onc at 98.

“Not that soon. That’s why we should push it as a national movement and get it funded by the government, even setting up a new Department of Immortality.”

“That would be long after I am gone,” wails W. “So unfair! No, I want no part of it.”

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