A Magical Elixir of Life

Gilgamesh Cunieform

Gilgamesh and his best friend Enkidu had many adventures together. Then Enkidu died. Gilgamesh was inconsolable with grief and loneliness. But he was also afraid of his own death. He spent the remainder of his life searching for a magical elixir that could allow him to live forever.  

Gilgamesh was a mythical king of Uruk, a Sumerian city-state in what is now Iraq.  His story is told in the Epic of Gilgamesh, written between 2150 – 1400 BCE.  It was the first major piece of literature in the western world and has survived only in fragmented form. One version includes a story about a man who saved his family and animals aboard a boat during a great flood (probably a floating reed platform like those used for millennia by the Marsh Arabs until Saddam Hussein gassed them to death in the 1980’s).  Today we know the Old Testament adaptation of the story as Noah and the Great Flood. 

Gilgamesh’s story may have been written over 4000 years ago, but he was not so different from us today.  We are still looking for the magical elixir of life.  Gilgamesh hoped the gods would tell him the secret to immortality but they never did.

Today, our “gods” are the allegedly scientific studies on the benefits of exercise and healthy food.  I say alleged because the studies usually provide conflicting advice and are often sponsored by industries that have a stake in the outcome.  

For example, years ago a study told us not to eat eggs because they have cholesterol which is bad for us. Then a study told us that eggs are loaded with protein; so they are good for us. The poultry industry celebrated.  Another study told us sugar is bad for us because it can cause diabetes. Then a study claimed that lab rats died from consuming massive quantities of saccharine and other sugar substitutes.  Suddenly sugar was good for us again. Sugar beet farmers and sugarcane refineries rejoiced.

Along with dietary changes, we’re told to exercise regularly.  Anyone with the requisite income can buy a Pelaton exercise machine and a subscription to have a 20-something fitness instructor haranguing them via a video link.  After we pass the age of 40, do we really think we’ll look ripped like a 20-year-old? Do we really want to?  I’d rather sit in a comfortable chair with a suitable beverage and a bag of pretzels while I watch 20-somethings playing soccer or football. 

Here’s what all the pundits of longevity never admit.  If we live forever, we’ll outline all our friends. We won’t have anyone to talk to who shares our life’s experiences. We’ll end up as lonely as Gilgamesh was after Enkidu died.  Instead of agonizing over living forever, why not accept that the magical elixir to long life is a sense of humor and enjoying time spent with friends, family, and our favorite foods?

Norma Shirk is an author, speaker, business owner and an attorney. In 2011, she founded Corporate Compliance Risk Advisor, LLC (www.complianceriskadvisor.com), a human resources consulting firm for small employers. 

She writes a weekly blog that alternates between human resources issues (www.hrcompliancejungle.com) and history (History by Norma, www.normashirk.com).  She is also a founder and monthly contributor to the Her Savvy blog, www.hersavvy.com.   In 2018, she published, Psycho Bosses and Obnoxious Co-Workers, an amusing look at workplace behavior.

Ms. Shirk frequently speaks to a variety of audiences on topics ranging from human resources issues to historical events and persons.

She may be contacted at norma.shirk@complianceriskadvisor.com.

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