When someone has a birthday, we Jews typically say, “To 120!” As in, “may you live until 120!” As in, “this is great cake, and I could go for at least 120 more servings.”
It’s meant as a show of affection. A phrase that links the birthday boy to our biblical understanding of old, old age. But in a few years time, if a cohort of gerontologists has it right, “To 120!” might become an insult.
A few years ago Aubrey de Grey, a Cambridge gerontologist and co-founder of the Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence Research Foundation, made headlines when he said, “The first person to live to 150 years old has already been born.”
This year, de Grey began saying that we are on the cusp of a biological revolution that will enable many of us, who are already born, to reach the ripe old age of 1,000. One Thousand! That’s. So. Much. Cake.
The trick to living a vampirically long life, according to de Grey, rests in science’s just-around-the-corner ability to correct the wear and tear of living. Therapies that stimulate the immune system, treatments to help regenerate tissue. Science that keeps us one step ahead of degenerating. He calls it “longevity escape velocity.”
I call it “terrifying.”
I hope to live a long time. But there’s long, and there’s too long. Imagine if you were born in 1015 and were still alive today. You lived through medieval times and now you, I don’t know, work at Medieval Times. You’ve seen more bloodshed and more discoveries than any one human has any right to. You’ve buried friends and generations of family members, and now you’re 1,000 years old and playing Candy Crush on your iPhone just waiting for the day that G-d sees fit to finally—finally—let you die already.
Because, let’s face it, that’s what you’d be doing. Many of us think we want to live forever, but then we forget that we can’t manage to fill the days we already have allotted to us with anything resembling meaning and purpose. I spent a half-hour walking between Which Wich and Chipotle, trying to decide which carb-pushing joint to give my money to today (Chipotle won). A half-hour. How will mankind benefit by prolonging my stunning indecision for 1,000 years?
It’s charming and romantic to think that if we knew we could conquer aging, we’d all suddenly contribute to art, science and beauty. That we would individually and collectively propel mankind to great heights. But, as is evidenced by the cosmetic surgery industry and the stratospheric sales of Viagra, we’d probably set our sights much, much lower.
So, if the first person to live to blow out 1,000 birthday candles has already been born, then good for him or her. I, for one, am not interested in being that person. I like cake. But eventually, I think I’ll have my fill.
Mayrav Saar is a writer based in Los Angeles.