I’m going to be honest – today’s challenge got to me. When I was young death was an abstraction, and it wasn’t one I feared. I fear aging, but not dying, I said, and it was true. Still is, to some extent. I’d far rather kick over dead right now than to lose my ability to fend for myself, physically or mentally.
If you’d asked me, when I was 25, what song would I like played at my funeral, I’d probably have come up with something insufferably self-conscious and, depending on my mood that day, even cavalier. Throw me a party. Play “Dancing With Myself” and pogo like there’s no tomorrow. Because, you know, there isn’t. Not for me. Celebrate my life. Blah blah blah.
But now I’ve reached the point where Death isn’t this mysterious land on the other side of the planet that I’ve only seen pictures of, it’s a looming shore that some days I can actually make out through the mists from the railings of the boat on which I’m traveling. And this damned question, now, today, made me stop and actually think about, well, being dead and wanting to make sure that whoever shows up at my memorial service will walk away with a memory that will stick with them, and perhaps that will help make some sense of my life. Or better yet, their own lives.
Leave it to music to haul me into a funk over mortality.
Anyway, I’m assuming that most of the people who come to my funeral will be sad. (Not all, though – I’m hoping that in the remainder of my life I can do enough to assure that the Westboro Baptist Church is across the street protesting, and if they are, I hope my friends will rejoice in the notion that, by gods, I won.) Perhaps my friends will reflect on the moments of sadness in my life that they remember, or that they were a part of themselves. If so, I hope they’ll acknowledge what Joseph Campbell said – to live is to suffer. We are bound together by nothing so much as the fact that we all hurt, and it is through our shared battle to overcome hurt that we experience the single trait that Philip K. Dick asserts makes us human: empathy.
At my funeral, I hope someone will stand up and read John Donne’s “Meditation XVII,” and later, as everyone is toasting my memory with a taste of malt, I hope they’ll find five and a half minutes for REM’s “Everybody Hurts.”