I reread the funeral director/poet Thomas Lynch's great book, The Undertaking. I read most of it at a hotel swimming pool in Phoenix, Ariz. A perfect setting to contemplate death.
I was put in mind of the late aunt of a friend of mine who had the same thing to say at the end of any activity—whether she was coming out of a movie, leaving the dentist's office, finishing the last frame of a bowling game or walking into the parking lot after a funeral or a wedding. "Well," she'd say in a way that assumed everyone with her would agree with the sentiment, "thank God that's over." (It works as a great epitaph, too; could really crack 'em up on a tomb stone.)
I remembered my friend Jason Green's response to my question, posed on Writing Boots six years ago, "Why is it a bigger tragedy when a child dies?" Because life is basically "awesome," he said, and the earlier you die, the more awesomeness you miss out on. I remembered overhearing as a kid, my mother tell my crying older sister on a back porch that if she had it to do all over again, she wouldn't. To Jason, I countered that life is also by turns terribly painful, demanding, fearful, tedious and confusing, and a dead kid gets out of all that stuff. But nobody wants to hear about that—and with a kid of my own, I don't either.
And I marveled for the thousandth time about the equanimity—the deep down calm—with which I receive good news and bad news. Learning that the publisher is paying a big advance or learning that your contract isn't being renewed. Learning that the loan has gone through and learning that you have a year's worth of gruesome dental work ahead. Learning that your wife is pregnant and learning that your father has pancreatic cancer—the voice inside you tells you the same thing in each case, and in largely the same tone of voice. In that moment it says calmly, Something is happening. Pay attention.
I'm similarly taken that I can be in precisely the same mood beside a swimming pool in Phoenix as I am in line at the post office in Chicago in February. And this morning, at my desk with a heap of work in front of me, I'm in the same mood as I was beside a swimming pool in Phoenix.
We want and we wish and we hope and we fear. But when it comes down to it, we are up for anything.
And as I said yesterday, that's good to know.