SMOKE: 95 Years Hard Labour
Originally published: 7 May 2004
As you know I'm not Death's biggest fan - I'm afraid of very few things and by far the biggest of those fears is of dying. Maybe if I believed in an afterlife I wouldn't be so afraid of death.
But I don't, so I am.
I could gladly live forever, provided they don't find a way to halt ageing when I turn 80 (I wouldn't want to spend the next billion or so years as an octogenarian, but I'd be quite happy to remain an even 32).
It would be fun to see what my lungs look like after a billion years of 60 B&H a day - tar the planet, baby.
I've always had a love of history and to witness it firsthand (provided you have a stout memory) would be awesome.
The only problem with immortality is loved ones - if they can't live forever then you'd start out with a wife who was too young for you, she'd eventually be your age and one day she'd be an old woman, who you would have to bury when she dies. Repeat to infinity. Gotta cause some psychological problems.
Unfortunately none of that is likely to happen for me, which means that one day my biggest fear will be realised. Naturally I'd like that day to be put off for as long as possible, and to reach 100 would be a serious bonus.
Speaking of which - the world's oldest woman has just turned 116 and is going strong. The only wonder is how she made it as far as she did, when you consider the life she's had.
Hanna Barysevich lives just outside Minsk, the capital city of Belarus (one of the former Soviet republics), not far from the town where she was born - Buda - in 1888.
She still walks unaided and apart from degenerating eyesight and occasional headaches (join the club, sister) she's fit as a mule and strong as an ox.
Which is odd, when you consider that she spent 95 years of those 116 working on a kolkhoz - a collective farm - doing nothing but hard labour.
Now she lives in a house with one of her daughters (who's 78), and as she told the Associated Press: "I'm tired of living already, but God still hasn't collected me".
She's lived through the Bolshevik uprising, a Czar or two, the Stalin purges, two world wars, the first powered air flight, the birth of radio and television, the invention of movies and cars, the first man on the moon and every stitch of progress made in the 20th century.
Her husband was arrested by Stalin's secret police for being an enemy of the people (he supposedly harmed the kolkhoz in some way) and he was deported to Siberia, never to be seen again. She never remarried and indeed never had another man, raising her three children herself.
She's always eaten staple village fair - sausages, pork fat, bread and milk. Note the complete lack of McDonalds in that diet.
And if you ask me, that's 116 years wasted on someone. The contribution Hanna has made to humankind can only be measured at a sub-atomic level and having never learned to read or write I doubt she has much of a perspective on the world beyond her own meagre existence.
Why not give 116 years to Nelson Mandela? Or Britney Spears? The list of great people is endless.
That may all sound very holier-than-though and intolerant of other cultures, but of course I don't really begrudge Hanna her 95 years of hard labour.
The point I'm making is that if you manage to get to the rarified atmosphere of 100 and onwards, you want to have got full value for those years. I don't see subsistence farming just to keep yourself alive as getting value out of life.
In much the same way as I don't understand how people can simply work to earn a salary to feed themselves and have shelter until the day they're 65, then sit in a home for the elderly - living off a few hundred a month - until they die. How can you possibly describe that as life?
I'm not for a moment suggesting people should drop the crap job they struggled to get and become a waitresses in Hollywood, but routine - just like Hanna's 95 years of doing the exact same thing every day - has a way of trapping you until one day you can't get out and have to accept the inevitable.
Fear of the unknown is what prompts routine and being fearful is also no way to live your life. After all - what else do you have to fear other than death? And if you're not afraid of death, then what's the problem?
Imagine there's a time-lapse camera high up in the sky which records your every movement during each day, for a week. If you were to watch the speeded-up version of your seven days, what would your pattern be?
Would you zip to and fro in exactly the same pattern, which repeats itself for a week, or would there be no apparent pattern to it? What about if you watched the tape from your last month? Or the last year? Or the past five?
When you get stuck in routine you tend not to challenge it and the less you challenge it - and yourself - the more set becomes your time-lapse pattern.
When you see the same thing repeated over years it's time to start worrying, because a city-full of patterns of people doing the same thing day in and day out is just a little spooky - talk about futuristic automatons.
There are many who are victims of their circumstance, much like Hanna, I would suppose, but for those who aren't there can be no greater crime than to be vapid.
All Smoked Out,