In a recent late night conversation about loss, aging, and the current state of global affairs, I said, “The only comfort is in knowing we don’t have to live forever.”
Such glibness can be explained. On top of everything else in the world, I am attending two memorials within a few days. But it isn’t just me making careless jokes. On a quiet night in an Indian restaurant, our waitress asked if we’d been there before. I recalled a recent dinner, different friend, same table. The place had been packed. The waitress’s graying bun hung from her head like a climber losing steam. She gestured beyond the sitar and tabla players, out to the sidewalk. “I know,” she said, “where is everybody tonight? Did they all die?”
The three of us laughed and laughed again. Even with collective fears of imminent disaster, we laughed at the thought of the end of the world, about sitting in a little place in the East Village on a sleepy Sunday night, about being the last five people left on earth, blithely eating Chicken Tandoori while listening to live music.
But laugh as we may, anything can happen. A close friend of mine, along with five others, was killed in a small plane. It was years ago, still fresh, a beautiful spring day, clear skies. Yet the pilot scraped the roof of a building as he was coming in for a landing. It turned out he suffered from back trouble and was flying on morphine.
As I sat crying my head off at the funeral, I noticed a brass memorial plate on the back of the bench before me. It had the name Hattie on it, the dates of her birth and death, and a quote. By then, thousands of other mourners had seen it, and it was my turn for Hattie’s take on life. “Well,” the plaque said, “that’s that.”