Death Is No Respecter of Persons

I don’t like death.  Sometimes it just doesn’t seem fair.  But then why should it?  Life isn’t either.  I’ve spent a lot of time resisting the pain of life, inwardly wishing I were dead.  Now that I practically am, I’m not so sure it’s the best thing to want anymore.

My life has been much easier than the lives of most of the people in this world, yet I’ve insisted on complaining about my lot and feeling sorry for myself instead of being grateful for what I’ve got.  This makes me feel guilty and unworthy of my good fortune, inviting me to squander even more opportunities as a way to get even with myself for not deserving all the lucky breaks I’ve had.

This attitude is not only stupid and counterproductive, but dangerously unhealthy.  For whatever reason I’m inclined to take myself too seriously and refuse to laugh at the bad things that happen to me, even though various misfortunes befall everyone in a variety of ways, every single day, all year long, forever and ever, amen.

Certain Christians are apt to blame people themselves for their woes, claiming we’re born in original sin.  While I know that nobody’s perfect, I still don’t understand why so many of us have to suffer so much.  Why does life have to smack of so much inadequacy?  Why do we feel so incomplete?  

My wife Jina, who’s a hardcore Christian who knows Jesus personally and has his number on her Rolodex, claims to have all the answers.  Even she’s unhappy though, probably because she’s unlucky enough to be married to me.  Don’t worry–the feeling’s mutual.  The other night she chewed me out because she got fed up with all my griping.

“You want community without responsibility.  I thought you cared, but you were just pretending.  Look at you–you’ve turned into Homer Simpson.  You’ve gotten so fat and lazy.  All you do is sit around and burp.”

(I think Barney Gumble is the one on The Simpsons who does most of the burping, not that I’m an expert on the finer points of the program.)

When I moan about aching from Lyme disease and its attendant rheumatoid arthritis, she tells me I’ve gotten over it and I should quit my bellyaching.  When I walk around barefoot in the apartment, she tells me to put on some socks or slippers, saying I still have athlete’s foot, even though I insist I’ve gotten over it.  

She has her own set of health problems that keep her busy, and at times she seems to exaggerate them.  Maybe we just make each other sick.

On Tuesday while we were eating deokkboggi (tubular Korean rice cakes in sweet and spicy red pepper sauce) and soondae (japchae noodles wrapped in a swine’s bowel, as opposed to one of the Beatles saying “Sunday”) with one of our elementary school students, the boy asked her in Korean why we didn’t have a baby.

When she translated the question for me, I said to him, “We forgot to.”

Sometimes I think if I were married to a different woman, I wouldn’t mind having a child.  Who knows?  Maybe I’d even like it.  But our marriage has been enough of a Murphy’s Law situation to tell me if Jina and I had a kid, it would be a disaster.  He or she would probably commit suicide.  At least I would if I were him or her.

Speaking of suicide, it’s always nice to have as an option.  It’s one of the worst possible decisions a person can make, but it’s also a platinum opportunity to tell life where to stick it.  Life doesn’t have to suck; you can always choose to die instead.

Having spent too much time in this no-man’s land has resulted in a self-betrayal that’s enabled me to botch a major portion of my life.  I don’t regret having chosen to continue instead of topping myself earlier on, and if any part of me survived wholesale self-cancellation–in the sense of a soul or spirit or detached narrator of everlasting proceedings in the aftermath of this curious aberration called life, I doubt I’d ever forgive myself for undergoing such drastic measures to relieve the stupid pain that never goes away for long.

Finding dignity in the humiliating fiasco of human existence, especially while your body and memory are deteriorating and the air around you is becoming unbreathable, is a challenge, to say the least.  

There’s a coffee chain in Seoul that always plays the song “The Girl from Ipanema.”  It’s a great bossa nova tune from the sixties that everyone in the world has probably heard at least once, if not a hundred times.  From my vantage point as a middle-aged man becoming more familiar with decay’s unattractive formula that makes so many of us less appealing to others as the years gradually devour us, I can identify with the disregarded male protagonist of the song.

Oh, but he watches so sadly.

How can he tell her he loves her?

Yes, he would give his heart gladly.

But each day when she walks to the sea,

She looks straight ahead, not at he. 

Before you accuse singer Astrud Gilberto of bad grammar, please realize that the song was originally written by a man and sung in the first person, so the last word used to be “me,” as it is in the inferior version sung by the late Frank Sinatra.

And yet, all these remarkably beautiful women who walk down the street, preoccupied with their own lives, concerns, and romantic adventures that have nothing to do with me, will undergo the same deterioration over time and confront the same ignominious fate.

As William Butler Yeats said, “And what if excess of love bewildered them until they died?”

His poem Politics ends with another line that rings all too true:

But oh that I were young again

And held her in my arms!

For those of you suffering from the same plight, you might find some desperate solace in the schadenfreude that by the time a lot of the beautiful people enjoying the fruits of youth today are your age, the world will be an uninhabitable wasteland.

So cheer up as you do a swan dive into your grave!

That we all share the same destiny is the best argument I know for being kind to and taking care of one another.  My overinflated appetite for glory and gluttonous resentment of those who appear to be better off than I am (despite the advantages I mentioned above and their own eventual decline) conspire to do me in ahead of time.

Should I be cut off in mid-sentence and forced to abide by mortality’s inescapable inertia until I’m nothing but a box of bones, at least I’ll be able to conclude with Breaking Bad‘s Walter White that I “got what I deserved,” only without the comeuppance that allows him to succumb with a smile on his face.

That kind of thing only happens on TV.


4 thoughts on “Death Is No Respecter of Persons

  1. I’m doing better now, thanks, although I wouldn’t mind a little more rain so we could have some cleaner air. How’s everything going with you? Enjoying fatherhood so far?

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