Friday, June 24, 2016

Dropping Like Flies

The older you get, the less reason there is to pussy-foot around the topic of mortality. I'm not purposely trying to be morbid. I realize that "almost 50" doesn't directly equate to "one foot in the grave."

We're all as young as we feel, in which case my relative age changes more rapidly than Donald Trump's estimated net worth. In the span of any given day I can go from feeling like an awe-inspired toddler to a tottering old fool depending on how the day plays out. My general take on mortality is to ignore it, live each day as it comes, and try to go to bed content in the knowledge I haven't wronged anyone and, with any luck, have made the world a slightly better place in which to be.

Then the alumni newsletter arrives in the mail.

Brimming with pictures of people I don't know doing things in a place from which I am now 26 years removed, the alumni newsletter is a mildly entertaining distraction. It's nice to see my alma matter keeping up with the times and bettering the lives of its students. I particularly enjoy issues of the newsletter that don't dedicate 75% of their space to college sports. I couldn't possibly give less of a fornication which team won what trophy, or what player was named All-American. Didn't care when I went there. Really, really, really don't care now. I'd much rather read how the university is preparing kids for the future, not how many of its alumni will suffer early-onset joint trouble and concussion-related memory issues.

Like many alumni, the first section of the newsletter I flip to is the one in which alumni provide updates on their wherabouts and doings. And why not? It's the most directly relatable part of the newsletter. There might be a name I recall, or a photo that jogs a pleasant reminiscence.

    "Look, there's so-and-so! He's vice president of a bank!"

    "And there's what's-her-name! She supervising physician at a teaching hospital in Oxnard!"

Stuff like that. Every now and then, I might even see my own name in there and hope someone, somewhere, sees it and says something like: "There's that guy! I remember that guy! Says here he just self-published his third book. Poor bastard still doesn't have an agent..."

Unfortunately, adjacent to that section of the newsletter is a page titled "In Memorium." The college obituary column; the list of names that, until recently, was largely free of people my age. The section that once was occupied mostly by deceased alumni from the 1970s and earlier decades. The section of the newsletter that really didn't apply, or if it did, marked a singularity; a unique tragedy; a cancer or car accident that caused an anomaly in the life-expectancy statistics. Not so any longer.

I counted ten names in the issue that arrived this week. Ten names of people my age or slightly younger who apparently dropped like flies at a Raid-huffing party without even warranting special comment as to how, or how tragically young they were when it happened. So many of them together in one list probably makes it difficult to find space enough to put much more than their names and year of graduation. Besides, alumni from the 1950s and 1960s were hogging all the column inches.

Rather than worrying about silly things like aging and dying, however, spotting so many of my former classmates In Memorium has made me wonder what I'm leaving behind. What have I accomplished to be proud of? What legacies -- apart from encouraging the daily consumption of chocolate and teaching my children it's okay to laugh at highly inappropriate times -- am I responsible for that will make the world a better place once I'm gone?

I've written a few books and a few hundred blog entries. I've tried my best to be helpful to people throughout the course of my life. I've tried to be as responsible a person as my degree of attention deficit disorder permits. My Lovely Wife and I have saved money, worked hard and tried to provide an example for our children to follow as they move into adulthood. Perhaps, in the end, that has to be enough.

I won't last forever and nothing I create will, either. But, with a little luck, the children we brought into this world will brighten a few corners of it. I'm good with that.