Not jumping off a bridge or anything. We’re not drama queens over here. I mean just looking out over the broad expanse of everything within our cherished purview, in my case the torpid slate gray Savannah River, thick with cargo ships and anachronistic riverboats from the breezy deck of a luxurious rooftop bar, with a nearly frozen drink in my fist, a plate piled high with rare, cured meats stretched out before me, Steely Dan sneaking out of the speakers to underscore the incredible, remarkable, piebald periwinkle and sunlit clouds and thinking to yourself—to myself—I may never see this again.
Not that I’m sick or anything
I’m fine. Breezed through Covid with only the minimum number of proximity terrors. Heart like a freight train. Cancer held at bay somehow, by some magical force of genetics and luck. Soul like a warm hug from a lumberjack. Good family life. A ton of friends. Honestly, my life is a goddam treat. But, like many of you reading this story, I am a man of a certain age (56 in 2021). My heroes are dropping like flies. Second-circle friends and former associates are falling over from the usual molecular and biotic suspects. I am old enough to drop dead for no apparent reason and not only would no one gnash their teeth nor rend their garments at the sheer audacity of the scythe bearing final boss, they’d probably shrug their shoulders and say, well, yeah.
Meaning I spend more time than I used to contemplating death
This kind of work requires fortitude. Fear of the concept of death is written into the human instructions manual. Not the fear of death—people regularly face death and hardly even notice. No, what we’re afraid of is the concept of death, the idea of it, because to conceptualize his eldritchness means to conceptualize one’s relationship with reality, with life, with the universe and that means wrestling with both hands the frenetic and stellated fangdom of one’s pointlessness. In the long run, when measured by nearly any cosmic yardstick, we just don’t matter that much. We hardly exist.
Which makes our expiration even less meaningful
Sure, your friends and family will have a rough week. Your kids will argue about who gets the credenza. Your friends will bring bottles to the wake and tell wildly embellished stories about your legendary antics. Sure. Of course, they will. But it’ll fade. And it’ll fade quick. People have work to do. Homes to clean. Errands to run. Your death will vanish under the crushing immediacy of picking perfectly fresh avocados. Your demise will evaporate beneath the glare of managing dental appointments. A year from now someone will jingle their keys in their pocket and it will remind them of that time you did that one thing and they’ll smile, then hand the coat check girl their ticket and look out into the night wondering if the valet scratched their car.
Which brings us to the rooftop deck overlooking the Savannah River
Because the guy at the table behind me is giving the waiter a hard time. He’s not being a jerk—not intentionally—but he’s ordering a Jameson’s like it’s a Yamakazi 55 and quoting scripture and making the littlest bit of fun of his girlfriend/sister/mom/captive, all while pointing out the purposes of the more esoteric architectural embellishments of a passing cargo ship. He’s wearing cheap sunglasses, a shirt with pictures on it, and even cheaper jeans and his girlfriend/sister/mom/captive has sighed meaningfully at least three times and the waiter—Austin; he’s going for a degree in international business, speaks French, played college ball—the waiter is using a tone of voice one reserves for an eighth cousin twice removed who’s thrust their pinky into the potato salad, licked it, and are now aiming their pale, gelatinous digit back into the tub of tuber before someone—the waiter, Austin—gently guides it elsewhere, all qualities that get my Alabama up, that make me want to say something withering and searingly brilliant and multileveled which will make three people within earshot chuckle for three entirely different reasons, but no.
Because contemplating death makes you a better person
This buffoon behind me, in the broad expanse of all things within my cherished purview, doesn’t register. He’s not in my lesson plan. I am a man hurtling toward the pale. Every battle matters now. I can’t just appoint my attention to any old jackassery. The beam of my attention should land on vital imagery. It should illuminate the toasty aromatic pages of the classics. It should reach toward beauty, toward sensuality, toward joy.
Because this life, this one life, is not a table read
It is your only performance. Every minute counts. Every moment is a lesson learned. Every nanosecond informs the next hundred million years. So maybe take a minute, maybe learn the waiter’s name and why he’s here and where he’s going, and then ask his recommendation for a good, solid whiskey to hold in your hand while you ruminate on that land beyond the pale from which none have yet returned. And if your wife, that wild and brassy brilliant scientist/lawyer/badass interrupts your mortality musing by scream giggling over a Reddit video of some drunk collegiate losing her pre-nebriate mind over chicken salad and a lack of wifi, join your waiter—Austin, probably will end up in law, solid head on his shoulders, politeness as a superpower—in explosive laughter because all instances of joy are landmarks of progress toward a happy demise and you married her on purpose.
So what whiskey should I drink while brooding over death?
Who the fuck knows, kid? Jack? Jim? Johnny? Does it really matter? I mean, yes. It does matter but death is personal and you’re the one dying to know so I can’t tell you which whiskey to drink. You’ll have to figure that out on your own.