To be immortal is to live forever and maybe that would be a good thing, except than you would have to live beyond the lives of those around you, including those you hold most dear.
Hello again and welcome to the continuation of my Immortal Life series. This time I’ll be writing about those who have to live with their immortality and who at one time or another fall to despondency over their own existence.
What is an unnaturally long life like? How do they perceive the world around them? And how do those living such long lives cope with their existence?
I’ve always had a fascination regarding what an immortal life might be like. What comes to mind is, that if you were immortal or had the capability to live beyond a normal lifespan, inevitably you would outlive those around you: your friends, your family, and everyone. If that weren’t enough, you would also be living through even more technological changes and advances than what a usual lifespan will go through. It’s hard to imagine what that would be like. I mean, I struggle sometimes to realize how much has already changed within my own short life, but to imagine someone living through different era’s of history… is another beast altogether.
Much like how there are people who can’t adapt to the changes of technology in their lifetimes, I wonder if an immortal would face similar challenges. Is the mind forever molded from the age it reached maturity, or can the mind continue to change grow perpetually accepting new age after new age?
But my thoughts are wandering a bit off track. What I want to focus on here are the problems that immortals have with coping with their unnatural existence.
I’ll be leaving Hohenheim alone for now since he’s been a recent subject, but I’ll come back to him a little later. Right now let’s see about the legendary outlaw, Vash the Stampede from Trigun. To start off he’s not immortal, but he does live far longer than a human does. Vash is in fact not human at all, but a being refered to as a ‘plant,’ being who are used as black boxes of technology. Despite his cheerful and silly bravado, Vash carries with him the history of the world which humanity has crash landed upon. Vash lived before this eventful crash and continues to live among the people who have managed to survive on this planet, but his fate is tied to another, his brother, who causes destruction and death in stark contrast to Vash’s hope for love and peace. The responsibilities Vash carries allow him to overcome the growing fears of and within himself.
How does this come about? As Vash comes to realizations concerning what kinds of powers he is capable of and how those powers can be used as a means to create terrible destruction, he grows afraid of that power inherent in himself, but as Vash struggles against his brother and continues to uphold the principles that he regards with high respect, Vash begins to accept that power within himself as being yet another part of him. Out of all characters of fiction, Vash is a very strong contender for the number one for me. He lives by principles of which I think anyone should strive to uphold in their own lives. The path he takes is not easy, but it is worth it because of that.
As I said, Vash, along with his power, carries with him a self imposed responsibility for the lives of the people on the planet.
Here are some thoughts from some characters during the manga:
Luida: “However many year pass, he sees so many people’s faces… as they live and die on this planet.”
Wolfwood: “Is this his attempt at absolution? Is that what this is?”
Luida: “That’s a foolish question. You’d know it just by looking at the scars on his body. If his scars were erased, thatwould be using his true immortality.”
Wolfwood: “Amazing don’t you think?”
Luida: “Yes, indeed. He knows the name and face of everyone who lives here.”
Wolfwood: “What an idiot.”
Luida: “Seriously. To live a long life… or to die a difficult death… He does nothing but nice things. In the months and years he’s on this planet, he comes into contact with many people… On this planet, his friends die, his acquaintances are murdered, and some friends even point a gun in his direction… He continues to wander through his own hell.”
Wolfwood: (“…is he …smiling? Spinning ’round and ’round… teetering dizzily… all alone… rescuing so many… his scars and his troubles multiply.. A true gun-man… who only looks on the bright side of life? Right? Vash the Stampede?”)
Well you saw it coming, it’s Hohenheim’s turn, so let’s get to it!
Originally the slave to an alchemist of the king of Xerxes, Hohenheim’s destiny changes after being chosen to give blood in an alchemical experiments which in turn create ‘Homuculus.’ Later, through the design of Homunculus, both he and Hohenheim essentially become living philosopher’s stones, created from the 1,072,658 lives inhabiting the nation of Xerxes. From the moment which Hohenheim obtained this unwanted immortality, he is given power, sadness, and, what may have kept him going, responsibility.
Shortly after this horrific event, Hohenheim begins to seek out those who reside within himself, knowing what path he must take against ‘the Little One in the Flask, Homunculus.’ He both begs their forgiveness and hopes for their help. In time he has the chance to speak with all of 536,329 souls , who support him in this path.
Hohenheim is able to move on toward the future, but at times during his life he suffers against his existence. The most poignant visions of his suffering are the nightmarish images that paint himself as a monster.
It is the nonhuman nature of his existence which drives at his sanity and self-loathing. What I mean is, Hohenheim remains the same in his appearance despite the number of years which go by, but those around him age and eventually die which make him feel inhuman. As Hohenheim compares himself in this way to others, the reality of his existence haunts him, yet he is able to find happiness and a purpose through both the love of others, and through the will of the souls he is attached to. Eventually during his journeys across the land, Hohenheim finds love in the village of Risembool and begins a family, a wish he once shared long ago while he still lived in Xerxes.
It may be that the genuine affections of this struggling man were able to finally give him back his belief in his own humanity.
Hohenheim: “I’ve witnessed many deaths since gaining this body. But I was able to suppress the sadness by telling myself that death is just a speck in the grand scheme of things. Whenever I’d witness something beautiful or wondrous, I’d accept this body, thinking it’d give me time to see them all… That’s how it’s always been for me. Until I met you and had kids, Trisha.”
“I never age, but I’m watching my kids age and grow like trees… I’m terrified all of a sudden. It reminds me that I truly am a monster.”
Trisha: “You know… someday, I’ll turn into a wrinkled old woman who looks like a monster. But no matter how I end up looking, I’ll always be happy to take a picture with the family where everyone is smiling. So please.. stay with your family. Don’t distance yourself from us and leave us alone. Don’t hurt yourself by saying you’re a monster.”
Hohenheim: (“I was planning to accept this body and continue living like this. But I’ve changed my mind. I want to age and die with Trisha and the kids.”)
The life of an immortal among mortals can be a life of loneliness and despair. Yet, among such a life there is the greater possibility of love and acceptance. Even someone as disconnected from the natural flow of humanity may find their place and purpose in life and it keeps them strong to face the isolation of immortality. Fight against the darkness in your heart and find the answer.
As Vash would say, “This world is made of LOVE and PEACE!”