"I don't mind having to die..."
“I don’t mind having to die. I’ve had my good time.
And I don’t mind having to pay for it.”
Most people confront their mortality when Life brings them a harsh reminder of the contract that they signed at birth. The one that says that at some point in the future they have to leave this Earth. Like when a good friend who appeared to be the picture of health drops dead from a heart attack.
You see that look in funeral parlors, all the time.
“It could have been me,” is the usual comment.
“Or any one of us,” acquaintances answer.
Everyone looks to the floor. The Catholics like to cross themselves when they make these comments. For the most part a couple of days of sadness and introspection follow. Then people go back to overeating, not exercising, and being mean to their loved ones. It’s Life.
I’m a bit odd that way. I’ve been thinking about death since I was a little boy. Probably a consequence of my Catechism lessons. I clearly remember Sister Carmelita, all four feet eleven inches of her, describing the torture that burning to death would be if we went to Hell. Every day, every hour, in unspeakable pain. I used to wake up at night and run to my mother’s bed. Once I woke her up I would tell her that I didn’t want to die. She’d let me sleep with her for a bit. Once I fell asleep she’d transfer me to my room.
So I think that I developed death exhaustion. At some point I stopped caring. It was a very intellectual exercise, devoid of much feeling. It’s like an event: you graduate college; you get married; you have children; you die. A neat timeline, much like the ones that you see in the history textbooks. The book cannot end, cannot even be printed, if you don’t die.
Of late Death has found a way to preoccupy me again. Ever since Trump got elected. I did not sleep well on election night. Shame that I didn’t have my mom’s bed to run to. I kept thinking of all of the ways that things would get screwed up. I’m sorry to say that I was wrong: It’s worse.
For some reason the Prince of Orange has decided to wait a bit before he drains the swamp. Instead he’s brought a bunch of alligators and poisonous snakes into it. Maybe, I don’t know, His Excellency figured that the weak creatures who lived in the swamp had to be eaten up by his alligator friends before he could proceed with the drainage. As with everything that he does, one ends up with the same sentence:
“What was he thinking?”
Yesterday I began to ruminate about what it would be like to be engaged in a nuclear war against China. Would Russia help us out? Probably not: Vladimir would let us pull each other’s eyes out of their sockets, then he would pounce on both of us. We’d never see him coming. Now that would be a heck of a Soviet Empire!
I was lying on my bed, next to my wife, thinking about Sister Carmelita and the burning Hell that she described. A nuclear conflict for sure qualifies. I thought about all of the mean things I’ve done in my life. I’m no saint, but really, roasting under a Hydrogen bomb? Plus, everyone would get the same comeuppance. Surely there were many people who had misbehaved worse than me. How could anyone make sure that they had worse burns?
We have this really cool sound system in our apartment. Every room is wired. I began to listen to the second movement of Joaquín Rodrigo’s Aranjuez Concerto.
“That’s beautiful,” said my wife.
“It’s one of my favorites,” I said. “When I die I want this to be played at my funeral.”
We lay next to each other, my wife reading her news magazine, me looking at the ceiling and imagining the long row of mourners that came to wish her well. Two minutes went by.
“Honey, I hate to tell you this, but they’re not going to stay to listen to this whole thing.”
There. The spell is broken. I had imagined a funeral parlor chapel kind of floating along a mist-filled background. She brought me to reality. I had to make a plan.
“Maybe we can have the service at the symphony. Have a free concert for all of our friends. Of course we’d have to fill the place up, so we’d have the symphony invite all of the subscribers, plus maybe any underprivileged children who would like to study music.”
She gave me the look.
“You’re not leaving me enough money to pay for that.”
Back to reality.
“True. But who knows, maybe before I die I’ll write a hugely successful book. We can use that income to pay for the concert.”
“Or you can buy a lottery ticket. Same chance you’ll get your wish.”
She can be so annoying when she gets down to the details.
“I’ll surprise you. The first half they can play Aranjuez. After the intermission I’d like for them to play the Moody Blues’ Days of Future Passed. Then as an encore a short Puerto Rican love song. Something by Rafael Hernández. That is an unforgettable evening right there.”
She picked up her magazine and started reading again.
“You worry too much. It will be OK.”
“You don’t get it. Nobody seems to get it! There’s all these alligators in the swamp!”
She got out of bed.
“I’ll go make dinner.”
Tonight I’ll write the first chapter of my book. Time is running out.