Early last Saturday, I received a short, sad email from an old friend. Many of you may know Leonard Hayflick, who first pointed out that cells age, more than fifty years ago. He stood up for himself and for the truth of his data, in the face of strong opposition and irrationality, and finally proved that cells do not age because of the passage of time, but because of cell divisions. From that one observation – and his willingness to stand by his observations – we have come to realize that not only do cells age, but that it is cell aging that causes our bodies to age and causes all the myriad diseases of aging: “the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to.”
Len Hayflick’s wife, Ruth, died last Friday night, leaving Len alone physically, but by no means alone in spirit. He has admirers and friends throughout the world and will have them throughout time. He deserves more than we can possibly give him.
As we age, we have long suffered the slings and arrows of fortune, yet only now do we – almost, tantalizingly – have the ability to end them. The pity is, that we do so too late, not only for those who are already gone, but for those who will yet succumb before we can help. It is aging itself , and the diseases of aging, that “makes calamity of so long life”. We are so close to curing the diseases of aging, yet even that very proximity, compounded by our pressing need, makes a cure feel so tragically far away. The greater the need, the closer the goal, the more pitiable that we have yet to achieve it.
Over the next few years, many of us will suffer, and suffer needlessly. If only we could have moved faster yesterday, if only we were moving faster today, if only we will move faster tomorrow: we would have saved lives yesterday, we would be saving lives today, we will have been saving more lives tomorrow. And yet, here we are more than fifty years since one honest man stood up and – with his “native hue of resolution” — pointed out reality. Why has it been half a century and yet we still suffer from diseases that could have been cured? Why does it take so long to save the lives and souls of those who still endure the sea of troubles that comes in, seemingly inevitably, as we age?
Soon, very soon, we will cure Alzheimer’s and a host of other diseases, yet however soon it will be, it will have been too late for too many of us. And far too late for some of those we love, those we long for, those we will long remember.
May those memories soon push us to create a more compassionate world.