No, I’m not actually complaining. Most of the time natural means someone like me would have died in infancy if not before. And I don’t dislike wearing clothes, not having to kill my own meat and not being limited to eating what I can grow. (Particularly in Colorado, where I couldn’t grow much of anything, partly because I’m not the best gardener, partly because the soil was like cement.)
But it is important, sometimes, when reading/talking/writing about the past to realize that we live profoundly unnatural lives. Which need unnatural solutions or experiments sometimes. Or just reality check.
For instance, in reading historical books, I’m getting sick and tired of everyone in their twenties who is an orphan having parents who were killed “in a carriage accident.”
No, actually seriously. This is the go-to for all the young writers, who have absolutely no clue how many ways to die there still are, all over the world, much less in the past with no anti-biotics.
Seriously, I keep hearing people telling me that no, the life expectancy was about the same, if you survived childhood. Leaving aside the fact we don’t really have good enough records to claim that (other than for the very upper classes, where we do, but those were a different ball of wax, okay? and even they died younger and uglier than we do) it’s poppycock.
In pre-antibiotic world, you could die of a blister that infected. You could die of accidentally stabbing yourself with a needle. (One of the reasons my dad was obsessive about disinfecting my childhood cuts and scrapes.) You could die of a trifling cold. You could die of medical treatment (Okay, in that, you’re like moderns) and you definitely could die of child birth, hunting accidents, and just “an illness” that was never identified and that could be any of a dozen viruses we no longer even think about.
Sure, childhood — and old age — were particularly dangerous, but trust me, you arrived at sixty looking what we now think of as 80, because all the illnesses took a toll. (It’s still so in most of the world.)
But we live profoundly unnatural lives.
I remember being little and looking at people in their sixties, after the kids left home. They basically sat around waiting for death, with occasional outbreaks of grandkids visiting. It wasn’t like that for my parents, 20 years later. It’s not that way for us.
But that’s not normal or natural.
Which is why as older people we find ourselves fighting old age tooth and nail. That’s also not natural. But we must — so as not to be a burden on our kids, but also because some of us have things to do — create, produce and work, at much older ages than our ancestors did.
So we must take unnatural solutions to our unnatural problems: whether that’s specialized diets, or medicine, or simply strict regimes of exercise and health-monitoring.
And then people say “But that’s not natural. Our ancestors didn’t do any of that.”
No. Our ancestors died young. Often ridiculously young. And often lost years to illness.
Is that the natural way? Sure.
But I don’t really care. I don’t want to live forever (the idea is appalling.) But I have places to go, things to do, and things to work on.
If nature comes for me, it best be armed, because I’m not going without a fight.