To start with: I have no idea what’s going to happen with Ukraine or the debt ceiling or the election. No one else does either: that’s why these things are called crises. Most voters have the attention span of a turnip, so we can only wait and see what happens, dependent on pundits who’re paid to warn us what might.
We’ll likely survive this stuff, but how and with what consequences, I don’t know. We’ve survived obvious scams, no different from the obvious scams that are out there now. Can’t blame the scammers, really: most of us will take those bucks, if offered. Our flexible brains will find a work-around.
But that’s not what I’m thinking about. Right now it’s more personal.
One of my friends is diagnosed with brain cancer, another with Parkinson’s, and others are dropping like flies. I’m 81 and have just had a concussion and brain bleed. I’ve learned at this late stage to walk again, and I feel just fine. But one is led think a lot about the time for checking out. Not so much an obsession, but just as a thought of, “Oh, it’s getting to be that time.”
You can whisper it, “You’regonnadie…” You can speak it out boldly, “You are going to die.” You can scream it out screamingly: “YOU’RE FUCKIN’ GONNA DIE!!!” But it pretty much means the same, no matter how you say it, and it will not truly register. How can it? Nobody wants to hear it, not even the cockroach scuttling over the counter.
We construct elaborate systems to deal with this. Concepts of an afterlife. Values like patriotism to convince folks to go to the slaughterhouse. Naming rights to art museums. Entry onto the lists of best-sellers, award-winners, classics, geniuses, or bankable movie stars, charitable foundations, football trophies, halls of fame. Some such strategies are harmless, some have good effects, some reek with blood.
But what I feel like saying to myself right now is, “It’s time.” Time to recall what I’ve always known from song and story: I’ll die. It’s time to think what that means. Whatever I believe of an afterlife, this one will be kaput. Those knickknacks on the mantelpiece, someone will have to sort them, give them away or keep them or junk them. That stuff I thought might make me live forever, it won’t. I’m toast. If not now, tomorrow. No more triumphs or stinky reviews. I’ve known that since childhood, but now it’s real.
I’m okay with that. But it takes some adjustment. Other than wanting to live forever and forego the hospital indignities, I want to see the next installment of the news. I want to know what’s happening with my kids and my wife. And I still want to have an effect, meaning I want something to persist, even if it’s on the shelf gathering dust.
Which isn’t saying anything that hasn’t been said—many times before and in luscious words. It just occurs to me to say it. In my case, it doesn’t radically affect my worklist—I still do my song and dance. It doesn’t affect my mood—I retain my sense of the comic. But it makes life much simpler, I think.