Arthur C. Clarke on Immortality and Decadence, Death and Life

… it was the two extremes of human population range that fascinated him most of all. They very young and the very old – both were equally strange and equally amazing. Airlee’s most senior inhabitant had barely obtained his second century, and had only a few more years of life before him. When he had reached that age, Alvin reminded himself, his body would scarcely have altered – whereas this old man, who had no chain of future existences to look forward to as compensation, had almost exhausted his physical powers. His hair was almost completely white, and his face an unbelievably intricate mass of wrinkles.

He seemed to spend most of this time sitting in the sun, or walking slowly around the village exchanging greetings with everyone he met. As far as Alvin could tell he was completely contented, asking no more of life, and was not distressed by its approaching end.

Here was a philosophy so much at at variance with that of Diaspar as to be completely beyond Alvin’s comprehension. Why should anyone accept death when it was so unnecessary, when you had the choice of living for a thousand years and then leaping forward through the millenia to make a new start in a world that you had helped to shape? This was one mystery he was determined to solve as soon as he had the chance of discussing it frankly. It was very hard for him to believe that Lys had made this choice of its own free will, if it knew the alternative existed.

He found part of his answer among the children, those little creatures who were as strange to him as any of the animals of Lys. He spent much of his time among them, watching them at their play and eventually being accepted by them as a friend. Sometimes it seemed to him that they were not human at all, their motives, their logic and their language were so alien. He would look unbelievingly at the adults and ask himself how it was possible that they could have evolved from these extraordinary creatures who seemed to spend all their lives in a private world of their own.

And yet, even while they baffled him, they aroused within his heart a feeling he had never known before. When – which was not often, but sometimes happened – they burst into tears of frustration or despair, their tiny disappointments seemed to him more tragic than Man’s long retreat after the loss of his galactic empire. That was something too huge and remote for comprehension, but the weeping of a child could pierce one to the heart.

Alvin had met love in Diaspar, but now he was learning something equally precious, and without which love itself could never reach its highest fulfillment but must remain ever incomplete.

He was learning tenderness.

Arthur C. Clarke – The City and the Stars

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