There is only one way to be born, but, as I have learned over the years, there are thousands upon thousands of ways to die. When, I was six years old, even before I had figured out how people were born, I knew one way to die: don’t eat your vegetables. At least that’s what my parents told me.
I soon learned you could die by not looking both ways when crossing highway 52, a road where large semi-trucks zoomed by, only two blocks from our house.
My older brother and his friends, who were allowed to stay up past 9 PM, said you could die laughing watching the Red Skeleton show. I imagined that they were talking about some evil, red, bony agent of the devil that took over the nation’s TV sets after bedtime. I didn’t dare sneak out and take a peak.
And the ways to die seem to expand each extra day that I live. A good friend died of lung cancer, a relative died from a blood clot, the local newspaper wrote about a man who died trying to save his dog from drowning. Wikipedia says Red Skeleton died from pneumonia. And, we all know, rock-and-roll was killed by ”greedy commercial interests”. Meanwhile there have been enough reported cesareans to convince me there might two ways to be born.
I was 22 years old when I realized there were specific ways that I did not want to die. It started with a newspaper story about a local politician who lay in the hospital with a collapsed lung.
“Collapsed lung?” I said to my student nurse girl friend.
“Yes, you can die of it.”
“You mean an organ can,–n— just like that—collapse?
“Your lung can.”
“It can? Does it hurt?”
“What do you think?”
I was too worried to think. I spent the better part of the next month inhaling and exhaling as hard as I could. Once I properly puffed up my lungs, my worries moved on.
“Does it hurt when your liver collapses?”
“Your liver doesn’t do that.”
“Easy for you to say. You are still alive and breathing with puffed up lungs.”
Now, there is a newspaper obituary, every day, of someone YOUNGER than me, an obituary which does not include the words “tragic” or ”young,” an obituary that states that the younger-than-me deceased is survived by multiple numbers of “grandchildren.” This has started me thinking again. After weeks of intense soul and body searching, I cannot find a preferred way of die.
Heart attack while having sex? Anyone old enough for that to happen is likely to die of sleeping sickness in the foreplay stage. Hurling yourself and a suicide bomber out an airplane door and saving hundreds of young lives? Today’s passengers would be thrilled it left more room in the overhead compartment. Taking a one way trip to Mars to stamp the first human footprint onto the red planet? Kids today can’t even say if it was Christopher Columbus or Neil Armstrong who first set foot on the moon.
Though I have not found a preferred way to die, I have found situations I aggressively hope to avoid. For example, in the future, I hope to avoid having a story about me and my body, being reported in “Yahoo Health News” and, “News of the Weird“; for the same reason. I hope I never experience a collapsed liver. And, of course, I hope I can avoid worrying myself to death — worrying about worrying myself to death.
I also hope to avoid being the reason that all electronic devices are ordered to carry a new warning label.
It’s true. I hope that I don’t turn senile and dare a NRA supporter to un-conceal his weapon. And, I hope the letters of my last name are never used to identify an entire new class of flesh eating bacteria.
Mostly I hope, and pray, there is no new wonder drug that allows people to live to the age of 140. By that time, I would have thought of so many things to avoid on earth, that I would be forced to volunteer for that one way trip to Mars. In that case, I’m sure to end up a member of the first human couple to have sex on the surface of the red planet. After NASA beamed the film back to earth, my 140 year old friends would be so embarrassed by the joke, that they would die laughing.