In the Genesis account of the fall, after Adam and Eve eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, God definitively escorts them out of the Garden of Eden. Naysayers like to characterize this as God's capricious wrath.
Ah, but it's not so. The end of Genesis' chapter three explains how this was God's kindness. Once Adam and Eve had become sinners, God shooed them out of the garden so that they wouldn't eat from the tree of eternal life and live forever in their fallen condition.
But move the clocks ahead to the 21st century, and like every generation before us, we're still trying to claw our way back into the garden to get at that second tree.
And so Time magazine, in its most recent issue, carried extensive coverage about the quest for, if not eternal life, at least for extraordinary longevity. In the United States, we live to age 78, on average more than 30 years longer than we did at the turn of the 20th century. According to Time, some experts predict that babies born in 2050 will live on average to age 89.
And new information on how to achieve longevity is coming in every day.
Some of the findings — including that omega-3 acids may lengthen telomeres — sent me out to the grocery store for some supplements and fish. Fast. I'm big on telomeres. These are tips at the end of chromosomes, and the longer they are the better. They are a marker for biological age, which is entirely different from chronological age. Supposedly stress really shortens these all-important little protective guys. And that's bad.
I've often looked at my children and silently chastised them for shortening my telomeres. Seriously. Then, I found out that regular exercise lengthens these little guys. I've never been in better shape.
Elsewhere in the issue of Time was the news that resveratrol, found in red wine, has some sort of anti-aging attributes. Well, I've got that covered. If they find out anything like that about coffee, I'll be living until I'm about 1,000.
Some of the other research — including that obesity-related premature death may wipe out all the benefits of America's decreased smoking habit — elicited a "Duh!" from me. Talk about one step forward and two steps back. At the other end of the spectrum, there are findings that diets severely restricted in calories can lengthen life spans. So we'd be living longer and looking strung out, like Photoshop-altered images of models. But we would be completely miserable because we'd always be starving. No, thanks.
Then there's the next level. A whole raft of anti-aging drugs that will be hitting the market in decades to come. That's along with genetically engineering DNA, injections of human growth hormones and slowing aging with a product that comes from semen. (Let's not go there.) Pretty soon we may have a raft of Benjamin Buttons walking around, going back in time and looking younger by the day.
Actually, I have a good friend who prefers an easier route. She argues that when a woman hits 40, she shouldn't start lying that she's five years younger than she is, but, rather, five years older. Then one is really destined to get someone saying, "Are you kidding me? You look fantastic!" Perfect.
Back to the garden. I'll make all kinds of reasonable efforts to live long and well. (And I'm not ruling out some cosmetic involvement along the way, either.) I'm just not going to go to extremes to get back into Eden in this world. For starters, one can't. Besides, I'm guessing that one of God's purposes in allowing us to age is that it can help us not get too attached to this world, but rather long to be free from its "fallenness" — demonstrated in those aging bodies! — when the time comes.
Well, at least I can try to start having that more positive "take" on my shortening telomeres.
Betsy Hart is the author of "It Takes a Parent: How the Culture of Pushover Parenting Is Hurting Our Kids — And What to Do About It" (Putnam Books). Reach her through email@example.com.