I read the newspaper obituaries every week. It’s because I’m at that age. The age when anything is possible. People my age run multi-million dollar companies. People my age climb Mt. Everest. People my age are seasoned rock stars. But, people my age also get cancer and diabetes. People my age are starting to have back trouble and need prescriptions. In fact, people my age are starting to die.
And as unusual as it might be, it makes me a little nervous.
“How old was she?”
That’s usually the first question I ask. I’m always praying that the dead person was older than me. It makes me feel better, a little less vulnerable. I want to know if they smoked… because I don’t. I want to know if they exercised… because I have a treadmill. I want to know if they enjoyed too much whiskey and nasty frozen Mexican dinners… because I don’t… drink whiskey. I’d like to be able to pinpoint a reason that explains why that person died and I didn’t. As awful as it is, I can understand it when really old, really sick people die. But I’m not ready for people like me to start dying. It makes me a little nervous.
Recently a father in my suburb died. This man’s death hit a little too close to home for me. He was the parent of a teenager- just like me. He went to the same grocery store. He volunteered at the same school. He drove down the same highway. His death made me a little nervous.
While I was sad for this man’s family, I was, I’m embarrassed to say, also selfishly worried about myself. I thought of how difficult this loss would be for my daughter who was the same age as his. I thought of how difficult a loss like this would be for my family and my friends. I needed to find a reason that made him different than me and would convince me that my destiny was different than his had been. And so, of course, I wondered how old he was. I wondered if he smoked. I wondered if he was overweight. I wondered if he worked too many hours in a highly stressful job. I examined my standard list of reasons hoping that one might differentiate me from my suburban counterpart.
A week or two after this local father’s death, his obituary came out in our town’s newspaper. And I must say, it was a surprisingly honest and forthright obituary. Apparently, in his younger years, this man was a bank robber. “He robbed 49 banks in total before being caught by the FBI. He then spent nine years in federal prisons thinking about his life.”
Oh,I felt so much better. The stress from bank robbing and incarceration can’t be good for anyone’s health. I felt confident that I probably did have some time left on this earth, afterall. I may be at that age when people around me are getting prescriptions, getting sick and even dying. I may even have a few of my own bad habits that I need to work on. But at least I haven’t robbed any banks or been in prison. At least I had that going for me.
Check This Out!
Years ago I worked at a Waldenbooks in the Teton Mall in Idaho Falls, Idaho. My boss let me take home any book from the store that I wanted to as long as I brought it back in good condition. The husband was working long hours and I spent every waking moment immersed in the best fiction of that time. I was in heaven.
In the years since then, I've become more of a non-fiction reader. However, after thoroughly enjoying the prior Slightly Exaggerated recommendation, Water for Elephants, by Sara Gruen, I am making more of an effort to read good fiction like I used to. And here is some good fiction by first time novelist Dalia Sofer. Her book, The Septembers of Shiraz, was a Notable Book of the Year by The New York Times Book Review. Set in Iran after the fall of the Shah, a wealthy Jewish father is taken prisoner by the Revolutionary Guards. Full of history and drama it's an honest look at what motivates people. The author's family escaped Iran in 1982 when she was 10 lending an added layer of credibility to this novel. I do tend to be quite fond of books about the Middle East and this definitely kept my interest the whole time.