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Living on the beach - delta_november — LiveJournal

Dec. 18th, 2014

09:25 am - Living on the beach

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One of my favourite books is On The Beach by Nevil Shute.  It posits the question: what would you do if you knew with certainty that everybody would die in two years.  When I first read it I found it an interesting philosophical question.  If the time was a hundred years, you would probably continue with life as normal.  If the time was 24 hours, you might spend it in one last party.  Two years is in the tricky middle ground: long enough that you still need to grow food but short enough that you wonder at the necessity of educating your children for careers that they will never get to work.

Recently, from a number of angles, I have been struck by a very real variant on this problem.  What do you do if there is one person in your life who will die in two years?  It's a similarly tricky middle ground.  Our lives are filled with people who have only a few decades to go, and we know how to interact with them.  If somebody only has a week to go, we're all comfortable dropping everything else to spend time with them.  Two years is a long time to be completely selfless, but short enough that it's potentially possible.  For added angst, realize that people on their way out may behave badly.  How much slack do you grant?

My friend J is blogging his thoughts about his wife's metastatic breast cancer here, and it's a powerful read.  My details are very different, but many of the thoughts are the same.

The engineer in me suggests that this may be a solved problem.  While Shute's hypothetical is unknowable, humans have been dealing with illness forever.  Maybe a literature review is in order...