Monday, November 29, 2010


“Jill Clayburgh – dead at 66.”
What’s the first thing you think when you read that?
Is it:
“She was a wonderful actress”?
“That’s really quite young”?
“How sad for her family”?
No, that’s not what you think. Not if you’re me. If you’re me, you read, “Jill Clayburgh – dead at 66”, and you think:
I’m almost 66.”
I don’t read the obituaries. I need no reminder of that Final Event. I was only aware of Jill Clayburgh’s passing, because the announcement was printed on our paper’s front page, another thing I rarely look at. And for the same reason. To swipe a line from Red River, I avoid reading the front page, because no front page ever “good-newsed me.”
Death. In all its variations. Accident. Illness. Natural disaster. A crime. (One of these gets ya, and you’re plumb out of time.)
Who came up with this macabre merry-go-round, with its unequal life spans (and gradations of good fortune)?
I know we need to move on so that other people can have their turn. But the process seems darkly bizarre.
You start with Life.
“Hi, I’m here. You can see me and touch me, and everything.”
And then, somewhere down the line,
“Where’re you going?”
“I have no idea.”
We’re here; and then we’re not. It’s strange, isn’t it? And maybe the strangest part and, at least for me, the most disturbingly incomprehensible, is the arbitrary scheduling of our Departure Dates.
We’re all going to go. But nobody knows when.
People leave us at different ages, including excruciatingly young ages. I have no idea what that’s about. A baby goes out early, I can imagine them thinking,
“Is that it? That didn’t seem worth the effort.”
They’re right, those thinking babies. It makes no sense. And that’s what we’re looking for. We are continually searching for reasons. The alternative is no reason.
“I could go at any time!”
That is simply unacceptable. So we look for explanations. So we can at least avoid going that way.
“Jill Clayburgh – dead sixty-six. Why?”
“She once dissed Cissy Spacek.”
“Well, I’ll make sure never to do that.”
I made that up. I don’t know if Jill Clayburgh ever met Cissy Spacek. But that’s a reason. They did something wrong. Their demise is therefore understandable.
Explainable death, we can live with.
“Why did he die?”

“He didn’t eat enough fiber.”
There’s a popular explanation. They ate wrong, and they died. Many people believe that. Including, possibly, myself.
Here’s a confession that will endear me to nobody. I see a guy walking in the street, he’s got this enormous, ballooning belly that arrives places twenty minutes before the rest of him. I look at this guy, a man who, if you opened up a vein, would bleed pie, and I think – and I know this is terrible, but I can’t help myself – I think:
“If this man lives longer than me, I’m going to be really angry.”
Why? Because I exercise six days a week, I consume a daily regimen of medicines and nutritional supplements, I get regular checkups, I avoid fried and fatty foods and an overindulgence in sweets, I am trying to drink more water, I floss twice a day, and now that I’m seeing an acupuncturist, I have cut back severely on wheat, dairy, caffeine and refined sugar. And this guy,
It would appear,
Does nothing.
And if he lives longer than me,
“I don’t know what I’m gonna do!”
Yes I do. What I’m going do is die. But I’m not going to be happy about it.
Like it or not, here’s what it is. Most simply expressed in a line sung by the venerable comedian Georgie Jessel, when he played “God” in a movie written by singer-songwriter Anthony Newley. The line goes like this:
“When you gotta go, you gotta go…”
That’s all there is to it. No explanation, no rhyme, and no reason.
When you gotta go, you gotta go.
This is hardly comforting. But it seems to be what it is. It’s a little comforting, I suppose, in that no one’s being singled out. Everyone gets their turn.
No. That may be intellectually comforting. But truly comforting…
Having heard myself write it, I believe it’s the opposite.
We try not to think about this stuff, but we know how well that works. This morning, the front page of the section the obituaries are printed in showcased the demise of somebody else. I took notice as I passed by.
“Dead at 91,” it said.
Did I flip inside to find out who he was, if he was married, if he left a family, what his background was, what glorious accomplishments merited his highlighting on the section’s front page? I did not. As I reached for the sports section, I simply thought,
That’s not so far.


Mac said...

I was watching Family Guy the other night and Brian was dating a woman who refused to give her age. The running joke was she was really old and they were trying to find out just how old. Then they revealed that she was fifty. Fifty?!! I'm seeing 'fifty' galloping towards me over the horizon. I can't even afford to think about death, I'm too busy thinking about being a punchline in a few short years.

Anonymous said...

"Mario Monicelli died on 29 November 2010 at the age of 95 after he threw himself from a window of the San Giovanni hospital in Rome, where he was admitted a few days earlier for prostate cancer."