When you get to be middle-aged it’s disconcerting because you’re in the prime of your life, but for the first time you can see the other side of the hill (and the finish line.) It’s weird to look around at your friends and realize you’ve all entered the next age bracket. And your conversations inevitably turn to the body: energy levels, aches and pains that were never there before, the advantage of having a child around to fetch things off the floor… Joint and back pains take the place of wild road trips and crazy late night antics. The old cliché is true; just as you mentally start to figure out what it really means to win in life, your body begins to show signs of defeat. In these conversations, as everyone bellyaches about their pain and loathing, someone always pipes up with, “Well, it beats the alternative.” To which I say, “Does it? Does it really?”
Is our fear of the unknown so strong that we would rather choose pain and suffering? Not me. I prefer a sudden death to spending years immobile or worse, in constant pain. I’m pretty sure I know how I’m going to die and it will be sudden. According to the palm reader at Mountain Fair my pancreas could ‘flare up’ while I’m driving, which I take to mean I’ll die in a car crash. There was something about the way she looked up at me, then quickly back down at the folding table, that made me think she could see the cause of my death in my palm. Plus, car accidents run in my family.
Probably my favorite thing about this life is that no one knows what happens when we die, and yet everyone subscribes to one theory or another. Mine is kinda like reincarnation, but with a slightly different take. Not like the movies, where an old man sits on his porch in a rocking chair— cut to a beautiful sunset on the farm, and by the time we get back to the man his chair has stopped rocking. Then, in the very next scene, he’s a baby being born with the same old man voice. I believe when we die the energy, or soul, or what-have-you; the difference in weight between a living body and a dead one; goes back to the source, back to where it came from. And I imagine this source as an abstract ball of gaseous matter that spits and sparkles like a geyser at Yellowstone. Instead of picturing individual lottery balls being thrown back into the forced-air lottery machine, I think each one of us is like a spoonful of soup; we are eaten by life and then regurgitated, so-to-speak, back into the pot on the stove.
I also like to think that, just like a video game, the levels get harder the further we go. In other words, we each started out as a white man of privilege, born somewhere like England, or Texas, and by the bonus round we’ll be a burro in Central America. With each life, as we overcome obstacles and gain empathy, we progress to a harder level of living. It could explain some of the injustices we’ve got going on in the world…
I’m hoping the in-between time is peaceful and calming, like the feeling as a child when someone plays with your hair. But I could see it being like the movie Defending Your Life starring Albert Brooks and Meryl Streep; everyone’s assigned a public defender to look back on their triumphs and trials, and a judging panel decides if they are ready for the next round. And then there’s the popular Sunday School theory; a long single file line ending with a white man with a white beard consulting a book to see if we’ve been naughty or nice. I have to admit, it’ll be a real knee-slapper for me if that turns out to be the case.
However this crazy beautiful thing we call life ends, and wherever our energy goes, I know there will be love. And hopefully, a nice little bench to rest my aching feet.