I’ve been thinking a lot about death these last few weeks as, I suppose, many of you have.
At my age, musing on the final curtain becomes sort of a hobby, inasmuch as the realization has set in that fully three-quarters of my life is in the past, if I’m at all lucky. If my (grandly optimistic) estimate is correct, that would mean the time allotted to me on this planet would bring me to the age of 85, give or take a few weeks. Fingers crossed I’ll be here until the year 2041, my grand exit coming sometime in the late spring of that annum. Cool — that means I’ll get to see flying cars and vacation trips to the Moon and….
Wait a minute. Those were the prognostications of the 1960s for the year 2000, which we all know passed sans cars with wings. Hell, even trips to the Moon enjoyed by daring astronauts had long been scratched by then due to ennui and bean-counterism.
In any case, whatever 2041 holds, I just may be around to see it. Still, the prospect of a couple more decades of respiration seems a modest — terrifyingly so — aspiration. Hell, when I was 15, I knew deep in my heart I was going to live at least until the year 3535, when we’d be traveling the universe via wormholes, and arranging lunch dates with god, Albert Einstein, and Ava Gardner.
Where Do You Wanna Go? Club Lago? Okay, Club Lago.
In our youth, we know we’ll live forever, or something close to it. All those olds walking around? The damn fools; they let themselves get old! Not me. I’m active. I can eat and drink and bonk from morning to morning and still find a way to get up for work. Dying’s what happens to other people.
Then, suddenly, we look in the mirror and see that old goat looking back. Golly! Did I let myself get that way?
So now, rather than another millennium and a half in front of me, there’s — at best — a scant twenty or so years, if all goes well with my body and among my species-mates. Yikes.
Yeah, death. It’s coming. And the truth is I’ve sat in my recliner and started cold sweating on any number of occasions late at night, wondering if this goddamned COVID-19 thing is going to rub me out. Sometimes I shake my head and successfully move on to another train of thought and sometimes I can shake the coconut like a bobble-head doll and still I obsess over the End of Me.
Wouldn’t you know it? I’m of two minds when it comes to the final countdown. Just as I entertain contradictory feelings about the whole of the human race (I both love it and hate it), I find I’m torn between two polar positions re: death.
On the one hand, my last breath is the absolutely, positively, incontrovertibly most terrifying thought ever to run through my mind. Honest, my skin turns cold. The hairs on my arms stand straight up. Miscellaneous orifices either open or close in direct opposition to their intended states.
I want to gnash my teeth and moan, Why does this all have to end?
Then again, just as often I lament, When is all this shit finally gonna end?
Funny thing is, I consider both my attitudes toward humanity and mortality to be about as healthy as they can possibly be. Those who profess to love all people unconditionally are either blind as bats or have drunk some mighty powerful Kool-Aid. Same with those who swear up and down that life is precious and wonderful and dear god in heaven never take me away from this paradise.
Life is indeed precious and wonderful…, now and then. I do love all people…, occasionally. Yet there are often physical and emotional pains beyond endurance that cause us to wish for a quick exit. And there are monstrous jerks walking among us about whom we rightfully think, Y’know, if he got hit by a speeding truck right about now….
I’ve always been puzzled by people who say they love the changing of the seasons, that the dead of winter makes them appreciate spring and summer all the more. My retort to them always has been, That’s like saying I hope I get sentenced to ten years in prison so when my release date rolls around I’ll be happy as a pig in the mud.
But the truth is it’s the roller coaster, the crazy line graph of life that forces us to appreciate the good, the beautiful, the sublime. Just as you can’t really know what makes a great play or song or movie or book w/o partaking of awful examples of the same, the secret to understanding happiness — or at least contentment — is to have suffered, either profoundly or somewhat.
Am I suffering right now? I don’t want to go that far. I’ve seen the meme about what Anne Frank had to endure and been resentful of the intended sentiment — for pity’s sake, we don’t all have to be subjected to the worst horrors humans can visit upon one another before we’re given license to complain, yet I’ve realized our current enforced grounding isn’t the worst thing that’s ever happened. But it is an ordeal.
Some, like The Loved One and others who identify with the personality type Susan Cain wrote about in Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, are reveling in the solitude, in the absence of the challenges of other people.
Me? I feel like I’m starving for human company. I went to the Kroger to stock up this past Friday. The first person I encountered, in the produce section, made eye contact with me. I nodded and smiled (although I doubt she noticed that, what with my mask on) and said, “It feels great just to see people.”
“Isn’t it the truth?” she replied, surely smiling underneath her mask. I felt warm and squishy for the next couple of hours. I’ll bet she did too.
I was thrilled to be alive, at least for those few short hours.