It doesn't matter what you do. In this life, whatever you accomplish, it's all just something else to be added to the list. The list that gets read at your memorial service. The list for your
obituary. The list can't just consist of "Joe died." Or, "this person is no longer with us."
In death, we still want to boast.
Sitting on a cold church pew, in the same suit I wore to weddings, my 14 year-old love handles spilling out over my belt, I heard all the fond memories and accomplishments of my grandmother. Restless, fidgety, I heard about her volunteer work. My birthday was coming up the following day. It would be my first birthday without her. But, Mary worked countless hours for the church. She fed homeless people. She would give the shirt off her back. Some things I didn't know. But, I knew I just missed my grandmother. That was enough. It still is.
This girl I went to school with. She had the most amazing rack. Countless young men - and quite a few teachers - salivated over those melons. She looked amazing. Two weeks ago I saw her at the mall. Her tits are gone. She had them removed. Cancer. Just like this jock I went to school with. He nailed every cheerleader at least once. He was a stud at college and came home to open a health club. His testicles are gone. Cancer.
A few weeks ago some church group was lining the highway. They had signs with scrawlings about Jesus loving us and how hell is not a desirable place. Grown men and women with nothing better to do than picket sin. Some of them actually seemed lucid enough to know what they were so gladly doing. I guess that's something else for their lists.
Death comes in so many forms. Bad words like Cancer. Words that just sound bad. Hepatitis. Typhoid. Anthrax. Words that would make you cringe even if you didn't know their meaning. Then, one day, you're toweling off after your post-workout shower and you notice a strange spot on your arm. Melanoma.
So death comes with pleasant sounding words also.
You find yourself sitting in a waiting room. You can't quit looking at that spot on your arm; and some guy walks in. He's fit and toned. White teeth and clean finger nails. He doesn't smoke. A little bit of conversation and you find out he doesn't drink either. He jogs three miles a day. Swims laps every night. Lifts five times a week. You find out he's 36 and he has cancer. Then you look across the room and see some obese guy. Grimy and greasy. He reeks of stale smoke. His pores leak out the scent of alcohol. You learn he's doing a routine follow-up because he's in remission.
A couple months later the health nut is dead. The fat guy is still smoking a carton each week. He's still cancer free.
"You really should wear sunblock whenever you go out," the doctor says. "Your complexion is so fair. You're really a high-risk."
The doctor notices your lymph nodes are swollen. He starts wondering aloud how many tests he should do.
"Do you smoke? How much exercise do you get?" he asks while my gut sticks out much further than it should. My shirtless torso reveals muscle tone like that of a veal.
You sit at home, doodling on a sketch pad. Something you haven't done since high school. Just looking for ways to pass the time. Anything to keep from thinking about your list. Anything to keep you from thinking about how you're fast-approaching 40 and you have no offspring. Anything to keep from remembering you're single. Single and not worth much money. Anything to keep you from remembering you've been floating through life for the past several years. And you just can't help but put the list together mentally.
You start thinking, and you realize you haven't climbed a mountain. You haven't ridden a bull. You haven't been to Europe. Haven't gone to see the Yankees play at their home in the bronx. You haven't made a fortune. You haven't finished college. You haven't coached little league.
Then death makes you want to live, if only so you can fill out that list. If only so your eulogy will last at least five minutes. Death wouldn't be so bad if your life weren't so embarrassing. You can handle not being around, just so long as people have something to talk about. You don't even have to hear it. You just want to know that all of this gets talked about.
You think all these things and you start to realize you don't care whether or not anyone would really miss you. Just so long as they know you've made some kind of contribution. You know you'll never have a statue erected in your honor. But that doesn't matter. You know you'll never have a hospital wing named after you. You know no one will fly their flag at half-mast. You just want something in print. You just want the minister to read a long list.
And just when you've stopped contemplating what it's all about you hear the word "benign."
The list gets filed away and your life continues; and you miss how alive you felt when you thought you were dying. Life takes over and you continue on. You stop thinking about the list; but you just can't wait until you can be scared again.
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