I looked death in the face last week. Well not exactly in the face; I think death won the staring contest and the truth is, if you’ve live within commuting distance to NYC, you do this once or twice a week.
The scare wasn’t exactly with me. I had a death in the family and it wasn’t the sad event one would expect. Uncle John was 85 so it was more ‘woo hoo’ than ‘boo hoo’ but it still makes you think. Aunt Edna trailed behind him at 83 and my Dad, who wasn’t well enough to attend, is 81. My uncle had an apartment in NYC and never got married as it would have taken time away from his career.
I pulled up late to the funeral home. Trees lined the canopy covered brick walk. It led to the stairs that descended deep into the funeral home. My uncle was in the last room at the end of the dimly lit hall. As I walked, I rubbed two silver coins together in my pocket.
The usual niceties were exchanged. We shared memories of laughing around the holiday table and made jokes about how much weight some of us had packed on. We caught up with those we haven’t seen in a while and kept the drama in our hip pocket.
At wakes, people are typically on their best behavior. I’ve never seen anyone walk into a funeral home and say “That miserable SOB owes me twenty bucks. Let me get his watch.” Death somehow wipes the slate clean.
The funeral was the next morning and afterward, I had lunch with my cousins. It was almost twenty of us with the oldest of the cousins being in the mid-fifties and the youngest at eighteen, none of us really thought we’d be in the box anytime soon. We all knew Aunt Edna was next. That was until I was asked “Craig, what if you’re next?”
Next? There could be a taxi that hops the curb but outside of that, I think I have another fifty years in me. My Uncle was 85 and I’m only 42, or make that 42 ½. So all objective viewpoints would say I’m at the halfway point. I feel like I’m twenty but he felt fine a few days earlier.
Have I really accomplished all I thought I would by this point? I took a mental assessment and discovered I’m about a third of the way through my bucket list; it’s a realistic list and now that I look at it, it’s mostly materialistic. I didn’t list things like drinking Kopi Luwak coffee ( that comes from a monkey’s butt) with Jesus, Napoleon, and Megan Fox. But I did have things like have $5 million in the bank by 50 and still be able to rock the Italian suit look. And nowhere on the list was ‘find love’ and ‘laugh every day.’ Has my life become the process of accumulating more things?
Is that what we really remember about people or what they ultimately want us to? Skip Gladwell died yesterday leaving $1 million and a three bedroom condo on the upper east side. He lived fast, died young in his BMW with his model girlfriend riding shotgun.
My cousin Jeff asked me a few important questions: did I like his ex – was she settle-down material? - did I think she’d make a good mother? – did Ted Kennedy’s Chappaquiddick car have bad alignment?
The movies are littered with stories of traveling back in time to change the past and set things right; although I’m not in a bad place, if given the chance, I might change a thing or two.
If I had only gone to the college that would have paid the bill, or knew she was the one before I deep sixed us. What if I could go back and make it all right with a rear view mirror as my guide?
If I had it to do all over again, would I take the same path? Would it be all highways or would I take the side streets instead?
Kevin swore to lose twenty pounds. Terry, a successful stockbroker, asked about teachers' salaries. Jeff borrowed my phone and went to the bar.
I miss the good ole days but back then, I didn’t see them that way. I remember looking only to the future but now I have one eye on the road already traveled. In the days before my head was smooth and kissable, I wished life had a fast forward button and now I look for pause or rewind.
I do miss hair but I remember it being a giant pain in the ass. Lather, rinse, repeat.
And the whole funeral experience had me repeating a few questions. Am I doing what I really want to be doing? Am I aware that I will someday die? When I die, will there be any trips left on my subway pass?
The check came and Mike grabbed it saying lunch was on Uncle John. Then we raised our glasses: “To Uncle John.”
No one had cash for a tip as no one really uses cash in NYC anymore. I took the two silver coins from my pocket and slid them to the waitress.
When we got up to leave, Katie tossed a full pack of cigarettes on the table and Kevin left his beer unfinished. As we climbed the stairs from the restaurant, the sun was shining for the first time all week. Aunt Edna brushed her hand across my face with a vague recognition, then she kissed me on the cheek; arm in arm with Nick, she dissolved into the crowd.