Death we prefer not to face…I’ve reached that age where I understand the essayist Joseph Epstein when he wrote the other day that
I now not only read the obits, but do so before all else in the paper. A good day in the obituaries for me is one in which everyone who has died is above 90; a poor one is one in which everyone listed is younger than I. Henry James remarked that, at the age of 50, someone he knows dies every week. With the increased longevity since James’s time to our own, I’d say the age currently is closer to 70. I cannot say, like James, that someone I know dies every week; someone I know dies every month is closer to it. Sometimes people I know die in clusters of three or four. My friend Edward Shils, who died at 85, used to warn on such occasions, “Be careful, Joseph, the machine-gunner is out.”
I find myself thinking of the dear friends who have died, with foreknowledge that they will soon enough be followed by many more. If one turns out to be long-lived, part of the deal is that of the friends one most cares about more are likely to be dead than alive…….(but he later asserts that, at most, 4 people will really care when he is gone!)
Perfectly natural to think about death, to be befuddled and anxious and even terrified of it, but it would be a mistake to let it spoil your day.Truth is, most of us don’t. We keep our appointments, cherish our small victories, suffer our defeats; if moderately well-balanced, we recognize our true insignificance without letting it interfere with attempting to realize our dreams. If we are serious about our religion and we feel we have lived decent lives, the question of the afterlife will have been settled. For those of us—I include myself here—who do not closely follow the dictates of a religion yet believe in a higher power ruling the universe, we have to seek such wisdom on the subject of death where we can find it….
I have had a good and lucky run, having been born to honorable and intelligent parents in the most interesting country in the world during a period of unrivaled prosperity and vast technological advance. I prefer to think I’ve got the best out of my ability, and have been properly appreciated for what I’ve managed to accomplish. One may regard one’s death as a tragic event, or view it as the ineluctable conclusion to the great good fortune of having been born to begin with. I’m going with the latter.