Jeff Pearlman

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My death

marat-death

I haven’t been especially morbid of late, so I figured I’d give it a go.

Last night it took for-ev-er to fall asleep, which meant I started thinking about the inevitability of death. This is rarely a good thing.

I hate thinking about death. I really, truly do. I wish I could be all spiritual about the whole thing, or take comfort from the ol Gump-ism, “Death is a part of life. It’s just a part of life.” Yet no matter how many times I see Sally Field deliver those lines on HBO (or occasionally TBS), it does me little good. Death certainly is a part of life, but it’s not a part I’m particularly fond of. Or, in other words, I don’t want to be dead—yet the choice doesn’t actually exist. I will, factually, be dead. Hopefully not tomorrow. Or the day after that. But, in a grand-scheme-of-the-universe sort of way, too soon. Way too soon.

Here’s an odd twist to the perspective: Music, movies and sports hurt the cause. For example, I was driving a few hours ago when “Shoop” by Salt N Pepa came on the radio. I pressed the INFO button and saw that the song came out in 1993—16 years ago. In my mind, the tune was out, what, five years ago? Maybe six? I mean, time absolutely flies. And in 16 years, I’ll be 53. And in 16 years after that, I’ll be 69. And in 16 years after that, I’ll be 85. And in 16 years after that, I’ll be, well, either slurping strained peas from my diaper-padded chair in the assisted living facility, or pushing the little daisies and making them come up. Almost certainly, the latter.

The same goes for sports. I vividly remember watching the 1981 World Series between the Dodgers and Yankees—28 years ago. In that same span, I’m 65. Oy.

I try—really, I do—to deal with the inevitability. I think of how fortunate I am. I live with passion and zest, and embrace my wife and children with tremendous gusto. I rarely sit on the couch and watch Jets-Bills when there’s something exciting or interesting to do. I love my job. I take long runs, because it’s the only way I know how to stretch out time; the only way to make an hour feel like two hours.

But, come day’s end, I’m haunted by the inevitability. Relief will actually come with death, when I no longer fear the fear. But until then, the black hole exists.

Does anyone else have these thoughts? And, save for Jesus and such, how do you deal with them?

  • terri

    I have thought of death at times and I know that it is part of life; however, I don’t really believe in death. That may sound crazy to some. I believe that we only change form and that life, maybe not as we know it, still exist. I have seen things which cause me to have this view of death. I know that whenever someone changes form, I am the one who has to be strong for the others. Lucky me. I try to give them an example of the way we look at this transformation. The example is that of a seed being planted in the ground, the shell rots and a new life comes forth. It is the same thing but in a different form. Not reincarnation, changing into an animal or whatever, the individual is still the same individual only in a different form. My mother once mentioned an experience in which she said that she could see herself and what the doctors were doing to revive her. She had details that only one who was there could have known. How does one explain this? How can one see oneself, the shell of a body and what doctors are doing, while one is considered to be deceased? The individual is in another form and still living.

  • Jim

    That’s wild, I thought I was the only person who did those kinds of calculations in my head!

    I even think about death in the context of my marriage. I have a wonderful marriage but every so often I catch myself thinking, “This wonderful marriage is going to end in sadness because one of us probably is going to die before the other one.”

    I have heard it said that the older you get, the less you dwell on or fear death. I don’t know if that’s true but I hope so. As it is, I feel kind of depressed at times that my life might be half-over, or close to it. I don’t know how 70-year-olds, knowing they only have about 20 years left, manage to get through the day. Imagine what will go through your head when you’re 70 and you hear “Shoop” on the radio!

  • Lee

    Having just lost my Mom earlier this year and with my first child on the way next month, yeah mortality is something I think about – my wife and I just had our wills finalized on Tuesday of this week.

    I believe every man or woman wants to leave a legacy, something that they can be remembered for. For me, I don’t quite know what that is. Besides being pretty good at the job I do, I did some humanitarian relief work post-Hurricane Katrina down in Mississippi but as to what my enduring footprint will be, who knows? I am going to do everything I can to ensure my daughter grows up in a happy, loving, fun home.

    As for death itself, I sometimes think about it (especially as I did my will) but try not to let it consume me too much because it would distract me from the living I am supposed to be doing now. It’s hard because I can be a chronic worrier.

    Maybe there’s a tiny nugget of truth in: “And I don’t worry about nuthin,’ no, because worryin’s a waste of my time.”

  • Brian

    Ah, an uplifting start to the weekend. I occasionally think about death, and it drives me crazy. Simply crazy. But I deal with it by simply focusing on the day, the hour, I’m living in. And thinking about how can live each of those to the maximum. I know I have to face death at some point. But I’m too focused on life to worry about it now.

    PS – Who exactly was more important to the We Are the World project, John Oates or Jeffrey Osborne? Let us know who won the contest.

  • max

    Life is beautiful. Really, it is. Full of beauty and illusions. Life is great. Without it, you’d be dead.

  • Robert Eden

    I had cancer a few years ago, at age 35, yet I do not have these fear-of-death issues. You gotta relax, man.

    I would not care if I died tomorrow, except for being sad that I would miss important events in my kids lives and they would grow up without a father.

    How can a person consumed with death enjoy life? You can’t. You write frequently about your love for your wife and family, which is great. So why distract yourself from them with such concern about death?

  • Perry

    Jesus and such. Sorry about that. I’ve gone from the Christianity I was raised in without giving it much thought, through atheism, and back to a more thought-out (agonized and pondered over endlessly, really) Christianity. As Anne Lamott says, for Christians, death is just a really major change of address.

    Roger Ebert has been writing about his own thoughts on death on his personal blog (easily found with google), and between him and his many commenters, there’s a wealth of wonderful stuff there. As I recall, one of the things he said was, I was perfectly happy before I was born, and I expect I’ll be the same after I die — ergo, nothing to worry about.

  • Phil Connor

    Jeff,

    From the article I am going to calculate that you are 37 – I am 59.

    I also used to muse about death the same way but I found as I aged I tended less and less to dwell upon it – to the point where I now no longer think about it at all.

    It’s not that I am overly busy (I am retired), it’s not that I have found religion (I am a humanist), it’s not that I am successfully ‘escaping’ (moderate alcohol/drug use) … it’s just as you get older and continue to ‘learn’, dreams do tend to be fulfilled – and if not fulfilled then modified – you reach a point where you are at peace with yourself. And I think that is the key – it’s really about trying to get to know ourselves and to be able to relax in our own skin – the real fear is that we may die before that self knowledge takes place. Once you cross that self knowledge threshold then I think you relax about the inevitability.

    As Laura Nyro once said, ‘swear there ain’t no heaven
    and pray there ain’t no hell
    but I’ll never know by livin’
    only my dyin’ will tell …’

    Find yourself, live and the dyin’ will take care of the rest.

    Enjoy your writing …

  • Paul McKenzie

    Jeff,

    This December, I turn 39. Most people obsess of age 40, but to me 39 is a bigger deal. it is the numerical halfway mark between 18 and 60–18 being the age that i , and most of us, graduated high school.

    Think of high school. It doesn’t seem that long ago. Now think of sixty. It can be depressing for sure. We just half to embrace this life and truly remember that everyday above ground, to use and 80’s term, is awesome.

  • Josh

    Jeff,

    I’ve been worried about death since I was a kid. I remember feeling down that nobody would have my collective thoughts anymore or know what I had seen. (Think Rutger Hauer’s “Tears in the rain” speech at the end of “Bladerunner.”) Lately, I’ve been dwelling on how old I will be when my children are my age. That works on me a lot. Especially when I realize that I most likely won’t see them reach 50. Like you, I do the math problems as well. Mine mostly deal with the time since I graduated, 1989, and how old I will be in the same amount of time from now: 57.

    I should’ve read this in the morning and not at 12:30 AM. :)

  • Simon

    This past year I thought about it many times, I can recall several times when I’m suddenly awake at night with the thought that, “One day it will all be over”. I find myself trying to come to terms with that thought, and I think it’s something to do with getting older, I turned 25 in July and I think it has everything to do with being graduated for two years and feeling like I have yet to get anywhere in those two years. I worry about ‘growing up’ really I know I shouldn’t but I just cannot help myself thinking about growing old.

    I think it is symptomatic of feeling unfulfilled. Time will tell.

  • Marc

    Jeff,
    Look at it this way. The way I figure it, death is like sleeping. Besides the Big O, is there anything more pleasant than being sleepy and falling to sleep? And when it’s time to wake up, don’t you fight the light and consciousness, wanting to go back into the unconscious oblivion of sleep? Realizing that made me understand that death/sleep is the natural state, and that consciousness–for all its beauty and fun (and a lot of misery)–is actually the temporary, unnatural state we find ourselves in on and off for 75 or 80 years. As Castaneda’s brujo, Don Juan, advised many years ago, make death your friend because it accompanies you wherever you go.

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Once again, Jeff Pearlman has produced an exhaustively researched, elegantly written book that re-creates one of the most colorful and memorable teams of the modern era. No basketball fan's bookshelf will be complete without it.

— Seth Davis, author of Wooden: A Coach's Life