Mark Twain’s beloved daughter, Olivia (Susy) Clemens, died on this day in 1896, of spinal meningitis, at the age of 24. Twain was devastated by the calamity.
“I did not know that Susy was part of us; I did not know that she could go away; I did not know that she could go away, and take our lives with her, yet leave our dull bodies behind,” he wrote.
Twain said another time that he never knew a man over 50 who would willingly live his life over again. Twain claimed to feel the same way about it, despite his worldwide fame and adulation. Much more unbearable than your own decline, he said, was the loss of those near and dear to you.
What about immortality? Twain’s comment on life eternal sums up, probably, what most of us think of it:
“I have never seen what to me seemed an atom of proof that there is a future life. And yet -- I am inclined to expect one.”
But why? If life is more burden than boon, why would we wish to prolong it?
A new Pew Research Center poll shows that most Americans don’t want to live much longer than the current life expectancy; 60 percent don’t want to live past 90, and 30 percent would rather not even reach 80. And yet everybody wants to get to Heaven.
The explanation, of course, is that we expect the afterlife to be different. The sufferings of this life will drop away and we’ll bask in the company of all the loved ones we ever knew—never mind the logistics of it.
The French writer Anatole France wrote, “The average man, who does not know what to do with his life, wants another one which will last forever.” That’s right. Let’s get this party started—anywhere but here.
Susy Clemens’ gravestone reads:
“Warm summer sun, shine kindly here;
Warm southern wind, blow softly here;
Green sod above, lie light, lie light --
Good-night, dear heart, good-night, good-night.”