Sep 17 2016

Alice was one of seven children. She gave birth to four of her own. She was seven times a grandmother. Then, she was over a dozen-fold a great grandmother. The family started to notice there was something strange by the middle of the fourth generation after hers.

“Alice,” I whispered to her one Christmas as she watched children more than a century younger than her open presents she’d picked for them, “you have been given a great gift that is difficult to understand, but all that matters is that you use it with kindness.” I didn’t know if she’d heard me. The “veil” thins for you, when you’re that old, but she’d never met or even seen me. She didn’t know who I was, but maybe I’d seen a case similar to hers, before.

A very young child clumsily ripped the paper away from a box containing a dinosaur, and the child clapped her hands and shrieked in delight.

“That’s the main thing,” Alice said, watching the child, enraptured.

“That’s the main thing, Alice,” I tried to whisper back in her ear.

One by one, she watched her children die. She didn’t understand it. She begged God to stop. She asked God why she was different, but she praised and thanked Him, if it be His will.

I came to her at a funeral, one night. I tried to tell her, “Alice, God is not testing you. God does not play fast-and-loose with the hearts and minds of kind people, if She truly is God. She derives no entertainment from this, and She feels what you feel. What She feels most is the ecstasy and grief of the Mother.”

Through fierce tears, she smiled and said, “I’d like to give God a piece of my mind,” and laughed. “I think He’s asleep on the job.” Her army of a family looked on as if a holy mystery.

She said, “What the mother feels most is the joy and the pain and the absence of the child.”

She gradually took a different, reverent attitude toward religion. She took an interest in science. She was an immigrant from a poor family. Her education was limited, and she had an aversion to the complicated math, but she read books about science in plain English. She’d talk about it with the kids’ kids’ kids, when she’d cook and the army would come for Sunday dinner. Some of them wanted to study science and medicine, and they’d point to her as chief among their reasons.

Years passed, and more and more people began to notice how special she was, outside of her family. Doctors and scientists felt compelled to try to explain her. Religions pointed to an obvious explanation that, luckily, many people were only ready to take with a grain of salt, including her. She became a “meme,” whatever the Hell that meant; her youngest descendants joked that it finally clinched her true immortality. People tried to ask her, “Why?” but she knew she did’t know the reason why, much less the Reason Why.

She barely recognized the world anymore. She lived long enough to distinguish the difference in the climate on the basis of simple personal anecdotal recollection. She started to realize that it was going to be a real problem for her grand kids, somewhere shortly down the generations. She used her little bit of fame to remind the world about it. She spoke simply about how her “greatest” grandchildren wanted to fly in rocket ships. Money came in incidental to her singular circumstances, and she donated much of it to feed people she considered her neighbors and children, and to help clean energy alternatives. By her hundredth birthday, which was a distant memory in itself, she had already resolved never to miss another election.

Who knows what impact she really had? People started to take the existential threats to “her children” generally seriously, though. She was a well behaved grandmother, but she told off a senator at a public speaking engagement she was invited to, once. “I’m gonna have to explain what kind of a selfish liar you were to your grand kids, one day,” she said, “when they ask me why the world is under water and you said it wasn’t gonna happen, when none of the scientists agreed with you. I’m gonna have to tell them that you loved your seven convertibles more than them.”

She listened carefully to everyone, but there was no authority over her, anymore. She had become sort of a fixture in history, but all she really cared about was when the kids were coming over for dinner, next. She’d say, “When you’re born round, you don’t die square.” She never grew insensitive to the inevitable deaths of her loved ones, despite the insight that helped her accept them. She never stopped feeling the joy and the absence of the child. In fact, she came to consider them all her children, the whole planet, and many came to call her “Grandma.”

She lived to recall first-hand the rise and fall of nations, all the “television broadcasts” about war and revolution, though television as she’d known it had become outmoded. She didn’t know the difference or care. Medical explanations for her longevity failed, and people started to reach for fundamental physical ones. A contingent among Christians started a dialog about whether she was a prophet, or even the Second Coming. “I don’t think so,” was her honest and insightful answer.

She’d read about how the human brain was coming to be better understood as a computer. That’s all she’d use a computer for, to read the news, and to look at the pictures of her many-times-great grandchildren. It got to the point that she felt she was reading a different language. In fact, a good twenty percent of the commonly used words hadn’t existed when she was born.

She thought about the afterlife, which was understandable. She seriously considered the possibility that she was already there, that she didn’t even remember the transition. I tended to think she was on the right track.

The kids got silicon neural implants. “At least they’re not tattoos,” she joked, though she’d love them if they covered their whole damn faces in tattoos, and some of them did. The planet got along, somehow, and “that’s the main thing.”

She’d long been the oldest one of any of them, the census-takers were basically certain. They started to have to exclude her from scientific data sets. Some people live longer for reasons, but we might conclude that her reason was different. As far as she was concerned, her only reason was to see how “the kids” did, and to cook them some macaroni if she could.

One of the kids in the family joked that “Grandma” had single-handedly proven the many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics, and the kid joked that she herself aspired just to be half as nice as “Grandma” when it happened to her. “Grandma” remembered the science books in plain English, and she said, “Nikki, you might be right about something! We’re gonna see when you’re all as old as me!” She had trouble explaining why that made her so happy, for some reason.

Her “kids” got it together, and she was so proud of them. She lived to see the day the first exoplanet colonization mission departed, and she was by the launchpad to wave goodbye. She didn’t know if God existed, but she tried to thank someone for her prayers fulfilled.

“I love you so much,” was all she could think, crying. “I love you so much.”

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