Blame the onrush of autumn–Halloween, the sudden cold temperatures, the yard turned orange from wind-stripped tree litter–but my thoughts have recently been bouncing to the issue of mortality. I’m not a morbid person by nature, but I certainly ponder the end often enough. Given the preponderance of auto-accident fatalities (37,000 annually in the U.S.) and mass shootings (also far too numerous), a random ‘untimely’ death feels less unlikely than it used to.
In the Arts
Artistic reminders abound. Dave Matthews’ So Damn Lucky describes a bad car accident (where the narrator disregarded his partner’s cautionary advice). The last four minutes of Pink Floyd’s Shine on You Crazy Diamond seems like the ultimate statement on ‘moving on.’ John Lennon‘s “Watching the Wheels” always makes me think of my wife’s late brother Eric, as I heard it soon after his funeral and it made me weep. (Perhaps there was something about Lennon’s voluntary ‘quitting’ the music business, only to be tragically murdered several weeks later.) The events feel tied together.
In the film Glory, Colonel Robert Shaw is given a moment to gaze at birds flapping above the South Carolina surf. He has volunteered his 54th Regiment (Massachusetts) to charge an important Confederate fort (Wagner), even though losses will be heavy. Shaw senses he’s going to die that very evening. We aren’t told what he’s thinking–we just have to imagine it for ourselves.
One of the stark exercises journalists are asked to go through is to write their own obituary. How would you sum up your life in 400 words? Space is limited, and difficult choices have to be made.
Contrast that with Steven Dalt, the hero of F. Paul Wilson’s The Healer. Thanks to a symbiotic relationship with an amazing, all-learning creature, Dalt lives (in the story) some 1,200 years. While this longevity and his godlike ability to heal people (through knowledge and psychic abilities) sounds grand, it also comes with terrible costs. He outlives everyone he meets, including his wife and subsequent partners. In the end, given the chance to rule Humankind (being victorious over its far-away nemesis), he ponders the meaning (or meaninglessness) of existence. If you could go anywhere and do anything, what would be the point of it all? Even hedonism would get old. Wouldn’t it?
Immortality and limitless pleasure are not problems any of us have, of course. While there’s a part of me that’s fine with being an entertainer (how best to describe a writer?) that doesn’t seem like enough. Neither does making heaps of money (though this could be used in various beneficial ways).
So as I embark on a website design path, and hope for success, I’ll have my eyes on several prizes (doing solid work, employing people, fulfilling others’ wishes). When I look back, at least I can say I tried some cool things (besides raising great kids and supporting noble causes). Without better answers to the big question, these attempts seem good enough.