Last night, it suddenly occurred to me that I’m 45 years old, and that a lot of people die by the age of 60. I’m not in terribly bad shape, but I’d say that consoling myself with that is sort of like whistling past the graveyard – a lot of shit happens to fit people, too.
The human body is not your precision Swiss watch, where one can account for every tick and tock, replace a single worn out gear and have the whole thing running on again as if nothing had happened. The body is an organic mess of unfathomable complexity, and it keeps throwing up surprises. Pick up any Reader’s Digest and you will read about at least one new radical, hitherto unsuspected process that is making medical scientists skip their lunches and wet their pants in glee. Pick up any metropolitan tabloid and you will read of some poor bastard who went face-down in his lunchroom soup for no apparent reason.
And then there’s Chance – that wild card that the Universe throws on the table just when you thought you had a winning hand. Along comes a drunk driver and runs 200 pounds of steel and rubber all over those gym-toned muscles, calcium-nurtured bones and carefully moisturized skin of yours. There goes your hard-won physical wellbeing. There go those good looks. Here come an instant of incredible torture, gut-wrenching ugliness, the deletion of all your carefully hoarded knowledge and permanent, uncompromising oblivion.
Occasionally, my eyes meet those of someone across the street, at a bus stop or at the local tea vendor and I see a reciprocating flicker of dull knowledge… it’s no use. We strive. We struggle. We set out to win, lose instead, wrench ourselves onto the path again, win for the moment and feel good about ourselves – and all the while, we are only whistling past the graveyard. Death awaits us all somewhere along the line, and the more we add to our lives by ways of victories, experiences, knowledge and possessions, the more terrified and unwilling we will be when the moment comes to give it all up and face annihilation. The luckiest among us will go in an unaware flash – the luckless ones will see it coming and have enough time to be extremely afraid of being utterly, completely erased at the end of at least some degree of mental and physical suffering.
I see knowledge of this in the eyes of someone struck immobile and speechless by a stroke. “I have lived a long and eventful life,” those eyes say. “I have experienced practically everything that can be experienced in the gamut of possible human experiences. Nothing has prepared me for this. Everything I did, everything I learned and everything I strove for was related to life. To enhance the quality, security and durability of life. But I don’t know how to die! Death is not life – death is the End of Everything!! I don’t want to die…!!”
I mention the inevitability of death to some friends over coffee. One laughs nervously, looks away and says, “Sheeeeit, you are such a loser. Order yourself something stronger – that java is not cutting it!’ Another looks at his watch, fumbles for a cigarette and lights up.
The good-looking middle-aged woman at the next table throws me a poisonous look, hurriedly pays her bill and leaves.