The letter from Mommie Fearest, who's afraid she'll lose her kids to drugs and alcohol, touched on a question I've been tossing around for a while: Why is our culture so NUTS about life? It's like we always see dying as the very worst thing that can happen, and killing as the very worst thing that we can do to one another. Personally (and I mean no disrespect to our differently abled citizens), I'd find living with a major disability worse than death. Similarly, I'd find enslavement worse than death. But I know there are people who truly want anencephalic babies (born without brains) to live long and happy lives. And they want deeply depressed individuals, who get no joy from life and see no prospect of things getting better, to avoid suicide.
Could you please explain this mindless esteem for life?
Death Warmed Over
Death Warmed Over: Geez, who do you think I am, God? Allah? Buddha? Oprah? Not only can I not explain what you refer to as "this mindless esteem for life," I (like you) have trouble subscribing to it. Don't get me wrong, I'd prefer to stick around a little while longer, see how things turn out, eat a few more Snickers bars, as I suspect you would, DWO. But let's face it, life ain't all it's cracked up to be. And death, in my humble opinion, has gotten something of a bum rap over the years. The Grim Reaper, for instance - why is he always portrayed as grim? Year after year, bumper crops. You'd think the guy would be dancing in the streets, not sneaking up behind people and placing a bony hand on their shoulder.
"Oh, it's nothing," I once told my 6-year-old nephew when he asked me about death, "just a whole bunch of nothing." And as his parents were rushing him to the ER (okay, his bedroom), I realized that some of us are afraid of nothing, even though there's nothing to be afraid of. "Not to be here, not to be anywhere, and soon," Philip Larkin wrote in his death-obsessed poem, "Aubade." But I find the whole idea of not being here or anywhere rather comforting. It's like drifting off to sleep after a very long day, like calling a truce after a very long fight, like arriving in a port after a very long journey at sea. Yes, port, and I'm not even religious! Imagine if the port's streets were paved with gold (or Snickers bars).
Lest I break into a Lawd-I'm-comin'-home spiritual, let's leave religion out of this for the moment, shall we? Let's just look death squarely in the eye and see who blinks first. Okay, so what do you see? I see...nothing, plenty of nothing, and nothing's plenty for me. In fact, I'll take nothing over a whole bunch of possible somethings - a life of unmitigated pain, for instance. But hey, that's me. Others will go with the unmitigated pain. And who am I to say I'm right and they're wrong? "I've had a good life, I'm ready to go," some people say toward the end of theirs. "I've had a bad life, I'm ready to go," others say, whether toward the end, the beginning or in the middle somewhere. And death tries to accommodate them all.
So you see, Death Warmed Over, I view these things pretty much the way you do. The difference, I think, is that I have less trouble imagining why other people might view them differently. Some of those with major disabilities are among the happiest people I've ever met, for instance. And those who are enslaved may prefer to fight for their freedom rather than roll over and die. Deeply depressed individuals? Day after deeply depressing day, they choose life, and I respect that choice. And if they chose otherwise, I like to think I'd respect that choice as well. Some argue that death renders life absurd. Some argue that it gives life its meaning. But isn't it possible that both sides are right? And would we really want it any other way?
For the life of me, write to: MR. RIGHT, ISTHMUS, 101 KING ST., MADISON, WI 53703. OR CALL 251-1206, EXT. 152. OR E-MAIL MRRIGHT@ISTHMUS.COM.