I am a dead man.
Not in the literal sense, of course. My flesh is warm and my blood is pumping. And not, as far as i know, in the imminent sense either. I’m sure I’ve somehow jinxed myself by registering this domain name and starting this blog, but I am only in my mid-thirties, and as an American white male should thus reasonably expect to live at least another forty or so years.
But I am still a dead man. In the end, the end is all there is. And for whatever reason, I’ve always been convinced that mine was going to be an untimely end (before the age of 40 is what I used to tell people, though I often find myself becoming a less specific fortune teller the closer I get to that milestone).
To my chagrin, I’ve lately been sensing the specter of ‘Pale Death … knocking with impartial foot’. His looming presence is beginning to consume me, to fill more and more of my restful moments with dread and unease. When I’m sitting alone, in the silence of the night, I feel tumors spreading, aneurysms popping, hearts stopping.
The fear is likely unwarranted. Aside from an accelerating list of aches and pains that I attribute almost as much to a keen and sharply honed sense of hypochondria as I do to run-of-the-mill aging, I believe I’m relatively healthy. My family doesn’t have the best genes – cancer, heart disease, diabetes are all likely swimming laps somewhere in my gene pool – but three of my four grandparents lived until their 80s, and no one that I know of in my immediate-ish family died prior to their fortieth birthday.
Yet I can’t escape this sense of foreboding. And I’m not entirely sure I want to, either. Fear of death can be paralyzing, but it can also produce good. Indeed, man’s greatest tragedy may just be that despite being confronted with death constantly, despite watching it slouch closer and closer from pet to grandparent to parent to friend to spouse, with each step gaining relevance and menace, that he remains incapable of truly imagining himself on his own death bed … at least not for a prolonged enough period of time to make a difference.
For if you could just somehow carry around the intensity of watching up close a loved one die, take that pain and suffering and heaviness and wear it on you like some sort of morbid talisman (Ivan Ilych’s ‘Respice Finem’ medallion, perhaps), a constant reminder that you were destined to one day meet the same fate, wouldn’t you change things? You’d bungee jump, and dance til 3, and learn another language, and travel to every continent, and leave the office on time to have dinner with the kids, right?
Surely, if you knew you were going to die in six months, you wouldn’t spend your final days watching VH1 reality shows (as awesome as they are). You wouldn’t be as annoyed at the person who bumped into you on the subway. You wouldn’t deny yourself a trip to visit your parents or a much-needed getaway vacation because you’re worried about having enough money in your savings account. And you certainly wouldn’t be as bothered by the fact that flash-based photography now provides clear and convincing evidence that you will one day soon be as bald as your dad. You’d be nicer, more generous, more thoughtful, more patient, more loving, more adventurous, more appreciative. Wouldn’t you?
And if you had a dream of being a writer, of maybe writing the next great american novel, you surely wouldn’t push it aside just for some silly reason like you know you’re not capable of it, that you’re not talented enough, nor determined enough, and that in the end you know you’ll be laughed at.
I saw this documentary on the Yankee great Mickey Mantle last month. He always thought – and for much more legitimate reasons than i have – that he was going to die young, so he lived hard and experienced much. He could have been a better person and father, and sure, he had regrets at the end, but who doesn’t? We have it so ass-backward as a society – to work so hard, and struggle so much, while we’re in the prime of our lives, only to hopefully have a few good, peaceful years At the end …
… we are all dead men. The why may remain a mystery, but the how, what, where and when will all be revealed in due time. But likely not in time for us to change who we are, what we’ve accomplished, how we’ll be remembered.
We are all dead men. It’s time to live life accordingly.