Friday, July 22, 2016

"When Somebody You Know Dies..."

When somebody you know dies – Garry Shandling, Garry Marshall – it’s been a bad year for “Garrys” – it inevitably shakes you up.  

After you grieve – in proportion to how well you knew them, how old they were when they went, the specific circumstances of their departure and their proximity to your own age – you can’t help but start thinking.  You don’t want to.  But “The Issue” is glaringly “front and center.”

Understanding death’s finality – that, for example, I can write blog posts and they can’t – yes, you may initially feel grateful that, although their time has sadly arrived yours thankfully has not – you’re in the foxhole and the guy beside you was picked off.  But how exactly do you respond to that?

Two disparate alternatives:

“Wow.  I just dodged a bullet.” 


“Well, I guess it’s just a matter of time.”

The initiating source of these alternatives:


“Comforting Relief” versus “Fatalistic Resignation.”

Eventually, you stop thinking primarily about them – for some the process takes decades; others “move on” driving home from the cemetery – and you begin thinking primarily about yourself.  The common denominator of these ponderings is this:

There is still time.  How much time, we’ve just been starkly reminded, is capriciously up in the air.  It could be a while.  It could be… you don’t finish this sentence.

The question is…

What will you do with that information?

Again, depending on attitude, there are differing outlooks:

“Carpe diem appears the sensible approach.  Our life expectancy is finite.  Do not waste a second of it.

But then, grounded in an opposing perspective, there is “Don’t waste a second of it doing what?”  Building sand castles that are inevitably washed away?  Keeping busy for the sake of keeping busy?  Making a name for yourself that – probably sooner than you think – will almost certainly be obliterated?

I realize that’s a “downer” perspective, but remember, you’re upset.  Plus, “downer” perspectives are necessarily incorrect. 

With these the diametrical alternatives, what path do you finally proceed down?

Two ends of the continuum: 

Fueled by your attitude, you take surrenderingly to your bed awaiting “The Grim Reaper” to show up.  Or you explode into “overdrive”, knowing the clock is inexorably ticking and that there is no precious time to waste. 

So you conquer that mountain.  (Literally or metaphorically.)  You eat that second – or fifth – macaroon.  You intensify your relationships.  You see Victoria Falls.  (Possibly all in the same week.)  Everyone’s list is different.  But underscoring them all is the driving imperative:


The person who took to their bed says:

You do.  I’ll wait here.” 

(Rationale:  If we all destined for the same outcome, why tire yourself out?)

Contrasting responses to “There’s only one way out of here and it’s not standing up.” 

And that’s the end of it?


Sooner or later, you get exhausted always “doing”.  And you get bored to tears lying in bed.  So what happens?  The “doers” do less.  The surrenderers eventually do something.

All managing “The Inevitable” by forgetting there is one.

It’s not a glamorous solution.  It’s not heroic.  (It actually is, though not dramatically so.)  There is no box office blockbuster based on

“You put one foot in front of the other.” 

But that ultimately, it seems, is all we’ve got. 

And it works.  We commit to our chosen activities, the “Bad Thoughts” hovering harmlessly on the periphery, and we’re covered – the status quo of blissful obliviousness. 

Then somebody else you know dies.

And it’s “Here we go again.” 


Wendy M. Grossman said...

There's the Agatha Christie approach. In several of her books she had elderly characters who scanned the obits with relish, exulting when they found someone they knew (especially the ones they didn't like) and gleefully noting that they'd outlived them. Christie based a lot of her older village characters on the life she'd known in English villages, so it's likely that this was (perhaps with slight exaggeration) based on people she'd known. What they thought when she was no longer observing them we don't know, of course.

But it seems a good illustration of the old Irish toast: "May you live forever - and may I live to bury you."


Anonymous said...

There is literally no precious time to waste, eat the macaroon Earl.

FFS said...

When you are younger the only threats are illness and accidents. When you hit seventy you hear the clock ticking really loudly and figure you have between 1 day and 25 years if you are really lucky. Then you think how quickly the last 25 went and then read a blog about dying and you start drinking at noon.