[Note: If you are yourself at death’s door, or know others knocking there, you should read this only knowing that I’ve lost recent friends. I speak of this with humor, but a humor born of pain.]
A number of people have died. That’s been going on a long time, and the human race has mostly come to accept it. With age, you realize that either you watch your loved ones go west or they watch you, and there’s grief either way. Unless you’re such a sonofabitch that they’re glad of it—though your dog may be sad for a bit.
But if you’re reasonably lovable, you’re likely to have friends and relatives who won’t be happy about it. So you have two problems: them and yourself. For them, you can offer directives—cremate me, get drunk, bury my heart at Wounded Knee, etc.—and you can try not to leave a big mess. Not so easy, though, to make your campground as clean as you found it. There’s the money and property, of course, though that may be simpler than the vast mass of trinkets, correspondence, photos, books—or in our case puppets, videos, scripts, music files, blog posts, stage props—that you can’t bring yourself to get rid of . . . until somebody has to do it for you.
That’s one problem I start to face at 78. I like to plan ahead, and I have an almost pathological sense of Responsibility—but I’ve still got a number of projects on the table and probably will continue to have until my heart or kidneys decide it’s time for a break. So the big mess is almost inevitable.
(Might be the up-side of atomic warfare is that it gets rid of you and also your boxes of crap.)
The other challenge is to clarify to myself what I think about death. To a degree, the “clean-up” compulsion is a way of dodging the issue. Like a grunt in the trenches, if you focus on picking fleas you might stay sane through the night bombardment. But that gets me only so far. Eventually the bombardment intrudes on your concentration.
For many, the prescription is belief in life after death—from economy-size metempsychosis to jumbo Heaven with all the trimmings. To each his own, but for me that’s never been credible except on the mythopoetic level—to which I take frequent vacations.
And yet . . .
It’s the subject—the required course—that we all face. Some avoid it through accumulation of power, money, or other symbols of invulnerability. Others, like myself, curl into our sardonic cocoons, talk of “kicking the bucket,” “taking the flop,” “buying the farm,” “going west”—the standup comic blatting on until his mike goes dead.
In fact, I strain hard to imagine a world without me. Shouldn’t be that hard, as before my birth I couldn’t imagine a world with me so I’ve at least had nine months of trying to imagine the impossible. There’s refuge, of course, in finding peace through Buddhist focus on impermanence, but while my prefrontal cortex may grok that, it’s harder to convince the voters on the cellular level.
The best I can do right now is to create a kind of story in my head involving a hero who’s left the party and never shows up again. Hopefully, I’ve still got some years to rewrite this first draft.