Death: A Lively Discussion

Oh, it's not such a gloomy topic; really, death isn't so bad once you get used to it. Personally, I think it builds character. And remember, when they say 'death and taxes', it doesn't mean both at the same time. You don't have to pay taxes when you're dead. Although I'm maybe a little reluctant to have publically raised the idea. I can see it now: Line 213: income from decomposition (attach schedule 2h and proof of death).

Anyway, death is something we all have to face. No one, with the exception of Keith Richards, can elude death. So why not accept it, and maybe even welcome it? A little death never hurt anyone. Besides, most doctors agree that death can be quite restful. A person could even practise once in a while in advance: Ring! Hello? This is Dinkelfritz Carpet Cleaning and Uranium Removal calling with a special promotion on-"I'm sorry, I can't take advantage of your offer. I'm dead. Try next week."

And many people find that their lives are significantly improved through death. My uncle Lester, for example, has been a new man since dying. He gets along much better with his wife, and spends a lot more time outside than he used to. He also seemed to find that his sore legs bother him much less than they had before, and to boot, he's on much better terms with his neighbors. So think of the positives before you judge death so harshly. I can personally attest that my life has often been improved by certain people dying.

Yet some of you persist in maligning death and asking, "what's so great about death? What has it ever done for me?" As much as I find your lifeist views inappropriate, I will try to sympathize. I know myself that death just isn't what it used to be. And inside every one of us, during moderately stressful moments such as parachute failure, there is a tendency not to placidly and rationally accept our situation but to yell, "yaaahh!" And at these moments, everybody suddenly becomes very religious, promising that if we are spared we'll be nicer to poodles, even though they look stupid, and eat more yogurt, and not flatuate in church, even if the last time you were there they only had seven commandments.

So this last little missive is on death and on facing our fears of it. Perhaps the best way to discuss the matter is to talk about different topics that cause anxiety about death to rise up in us. I realize this is a grave and monumentous undertaking, but it's something that must be confronted; these are situations so fatal to our self-confidence. The study of death must not be allowed to lose its vitality. And I know I'm on the right track, because someone just read this last paragraph and told me that the joke was really dying.

Flying is the classic anxiety-producing activity. Many people are simply petrified of flying. They will cross the country on rusty rollerskates listening to John Denver before submitting themselves to the great blue open. I've never understood this fear myself. So you're hurtling through the air in a two-hundred-ton steel box at 930 kilometres an hour; what's the big deal? Yet so be it; let's try to analyze this phobia and see why people fear that flying will lead to their deaths.

You might not remember Canada 3000. When I was a student I usually needed to cash in pop bottles to buy bus fare, and so I didn't fly often. When I did, I tended to fly Canada 3000 because it was the cheapest. I don't know what the 3000 stood for; perhaps there was an early brochure for the airline which beamed, 'look how much money we save you by not bothering with 3000 unnecessary engine and cabin parts!'

But the fare price was right, even if we often had to chip in for gas before boarding, and the particular trip I'm thinking of was cross-country, which meant two whole bags of peanuts on the flight. Anyway, after a few dozen of the heftier passengers had helped to push-start the plane, we elected a pilot and were on our way to our destination.

The flight itself was fairly uneventful, other than the pilot occasionally coming on the intercom and saying, "we request that you keep your seatbelts fast-hey, cool! Just like back in 'Nam!" But at some point, perhaps because we weren't pedalling fast enough, the airplane began to lose altitude rapidly. Out came the butterflies, and I don't mean the ones tattooed on the pilot's forehead. I'm sure most people know the feeling of being calm on the outside, and saying, "Ha! ha! ha! Of course, it's just natural turbulence in the airflow around the wings, caused by factors of..", while inside they are saying, "Yaaaahh! I don't want to dieee! Please, Lord! I promise to eat more yogurt!"

What happened was that the turbulence had become very noticeable, as seen by subtle clues such as our meals hanging in mid-air over the trays. But, eventually, things calmed down and returned to normal, and I peacefully went back to listening to my headset and looking out the window, watching the duct tape flap around on the wings. There was no memory of what had happened other than the captain's last message: "Thank you for enduring flight 739. I know I need a drink... Ah, what the hay! We're almost there."

The moral of the story is that certain things feed on themselves; it was because some of us were jittery about flying that we panicked over perfectly normal things that happen during the trip. Flying really is safe, and things are under control. At least until the bar opens. So try to conquer your phobias, and ignore the painting in the airport of the Hindenberg with the caption, 'Better luck next time.'

Healthy lifestyles

Overheard in a lounge:
"Shame on you for smoking!"
"They're my lungs. I'll do what I want with them."
"But your second-hand smoke is harming me!"
"How so? Is it turning your hair plaid or something?"
"Don't you know that Statistics Canada did a study on it? They proved that 100% of people exposed to second-hand smoke in 1832 are now dead. So there!"
"Alright! I'll smoke outside."
"Yes, but I'll still have to pay your medical bills through taxes someday, which diverts money that could be spent treating other diseases, like halitosis. So start acting responsibly. Why don't you treat your body better and exercise, like I do when I go nude bungee-skydiving over the waterfalls every weekend?"

This is the problem with discussing healthy lifestyles; it has such a political aspect to it. Lobbyists, who usually don't give a Bre-X share about the general population, suddenly become obsessed that our diet has too much riboflavin in it, that we stay up too late, that we drive too fast, and that we don't eat enough yogurt. (I suppose some lobbyists are religious, too.) The reason for this nattering is that these activities make us die sooner and put a burden on our health system. But my question is, don't some elements in society benefit from us dying early? Why don't they have lobbyists? I can see the billboard now: 'Mmm, mmm-raw pork fat. Brought to you by the national council of funeral homes.'

Most of us are willing to make reasonable allowances to keep ourselves in good health; we limit ourselves to vanilla milkshakes, and we try to spread a thinner coating of warm lard on our french-fries. But I suspect that most of us have a secret loathing for those Health-Nazis who live on carrots and mineral water and spend their days jogging between provinces, and we fantasize that after a lifetime of bugging us to wear sunblock and not to eat meat or play cards on Tuesdays or drink, that they will be suitably rewarded by having their perfect bodies hit by a truck filled with brussel sprouts. So don't worry too much about your health. You only get to die once; try to savor it. There's already enough stiff competition (sorry) for our time without worrying about exercising.

My Aunt Catherine has a phobia about being lost, and when I was small and I would go on a trip with her she had to make sure she had the best maps and directions. We would then tear down the highway at 65 kilometres an hour, occasionally being passed by farming combines. None of this behavior rubbed off on me; I'm sure some of my travel maps say 'here be dragons' on the edges. But then, I never had her phobia. I do have a phobia about Halle Berry breaking into my home and forcibly giving me a Swedish massage, but that's all. Well, maybe it isn't exactly a phobia per se

Someone once gave me something to think about when they told me that ancient man would have laughed at our unnecessary fear of insects and snakes, and would have shuddered at how, without a second thought, we will cross a busy road on foot and dodge cars. It made me think deeply because I wondered, "hey, wouldn't the drivers slow down if there was a guy standing there barefoot in a deerskin with a spear in his hand? They might even stop, expecting free samples of something." And maybe ancient man didn't have to worry about insects; maybe they would avoid him if he had never really had a bath in his life. Perhaps ancient man would fear us more, anyway: "brrr, look at that horrible monster over there, Glorg! He smells clean and minty-fresh!" And then the other would say, "Oh my gosh! Look at that billboard-the Rolling Stones are still touring!"

But I'm getting off topic. It's time to put some life back into this talk about death, by Gadfrey. The point is that people fear death, and have strange hang-ups about it, such as ghosts, and drowning, and being chased by drunken aardvarks with running chainsaws strapped to them. It seemed to bother my high-school math teacher. But there's nothing to be afraid of; death is perfectly natural. It's unfortunate that we can only be dead once; it might be a pleasant way to spend a weekend once in a while. It would be better than jogging, which only seems like death, and thus wouldn't be as much fun. The point is that we should enjoy life and act in moderation, as I always try to. So pass me a smoke with my yogurt.