The Great Egress

January 17, 2014

Mark Twain was born when Halley’s comet was visible in the night sky. He departed, as he’d predicted, seventy-six years later, when Halley’s comet was again visible. Oscar Wilde, after complaining for hours about the wallpaper in the hospital where he lay dying, finally said, “Either the wallpaper goes or I do.” Some people say that story isn’t true, but, knowing Oscar Wilde, I have to believe it is true.

While they lived interesting lives they also had interesting deaths. I don’t want to sound morbid but I’d like to have an interesting death. I’m not in any hurry to cash in my chips. Admittedly if I were hit by a bus or electrocuted by a falling wire tomorrow people can say, “Isn’t that interesting—he was just talking about dying.” But I’d prefer that it be at least several more decades, because there are some things I’d still like to do, like visiting the southern hemisphere and paying off that loan. If anything I’d like to be old enough that I’ll be able to have some idea that it’s coming soon, and I have reason to believe I’m likely to live a pretty long life. P.T. Barnum had his obituary printed a week before he died so he could have the pleasure of reading it. That’s impeccable timing, and an interesting way to go, although at his age he must have been aware that there’s a sucker dying every minute. And I know statistics are on my side.

I once took an online quiz that asked a series of questions about where I lived, various habits, and so on, and when I clicked the button for the final results it told me, based on statistics, that I’d die at eighty-one of a heart attack. Then I felt kind of guilty because one of the questions was, “Do you talk to strangers?” I’d said “no”, because I thought it was an ambiguous and possibly loaded question. When I went back and changed my answer to “yes” it said I’d die at eighty-two and be murdered. By whom? The quiz wouldn’t get that specific, although I have a feeling its author had serial killers in mind, because serial killers will often lure their victims in by starting a conversation with them. It still seems pretty unlikely. Anyone who knows anything about statistics knows the number of bona fide serial killers is so small that you probably have a greater chance of meeting someone who’s survived being struck by lightning. Twice. Although I do find it interesting that talking to strangers would actually add a year to my life.

And even though it would be an easy way to know exactly when the end was coming I don’t want to commit suicide. That would just be embarrassing, no matter how interesting the means of my demise, because everybody would be standing around saying, “Well that came off looking a bit contrived,” because everybody I know always talks like they’re in a British costume drama. Plus I’ve never committed suicide before, and if I don’t like it I can’t exactly say, “Maybe I did it wrong. Let me give it another try.” That’s why it’s one of the few exceptions to my general philosophy of always being willing to try anything at least twice. Whatever way I go it’s got to be natural causes, which is usually the polite way of describing a massive coronary, although I think it could also mean being strangled by a giant squid, which would be really interesting. Also I can’t think of any way of effectively and successfully shuffling off the mortal coil that doesn’t involve a lot of pain, and, call me a wimp, but I’m very big on avoiding pain. It’s one of the reasons another exception to my philosophy of trying at least twice is gouging out my eye with a fork, even though if I get it wrong, or right for that matter, the first time I’ve still got a spare. I had an uncle who, in his late eighties, was sitting on his bed getting dressed to go to breakfast one morning and simply fell over dead. It’s not an interesting way to go, although it’s not necessarily a bad one either, and he’d at least lived a full life. Anyway a friend of mine told me, “He must have been in terrible pain.” For a long time this really upset me. I didn’t spend a lot of time dwelling on my own death, but when I thought about it I hoped it would be painless, like falling asleep. And then I started wondering how my friend knew what my uncle felt when he was ringing down the curtain. It’s not like he’d had a chance to talk to my uncle, and even if he did I hope he asked something more useful than “So, did it hurt?” I hope he asked, “So, where’d you bury the money?”, and that he’d at least have the decency to split it with me. I can say that I’m not too concerned about what will happen to me after I’m pushing up the daisies.

Maybe there’s a Heaven, maybe there’s a Hell. Maybe it’s simply nothing. I can’t remember anything that happened before I was born, so it would make sense that I don’t remember anything after I’m off the twig either. Reincarnation is an intriguing possibility, especially the belief that we come back as a higher form of life after we join the choir invisible. What’s a higher form of life, though? And is it always preferable? Most people I think would rather be a lion than a leech, but that’s only because they haven’t thought about it. Lions have to hang out on the hot veldt all day, being stung by flies, and they can’t chase down a gazelle they go hungry. Being a leech sounds like a lot more fun to me. You hang out in the pool all day, and when food comes it’s an all-you-can-eat buffet. Plus they’re hermaphrodites, which would make dating a lot easier. Mostly though I don’t dwell on it. I figure it’s a long way off, and I’ve got time to plan. I have come up with a few ideas to make my final departure interesting, but I won’t share them. I don’t want to spoil the surprise.

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