Dying is the most humiliating form of out-sourcing. It's not easy to accept that our life can be lived better and cheaper by someone else.
Some people believe this mortifying termination comes with a generous severance package. On our last day, we'll empty our desk, box up our personal items, a pilfered stapler and a potted plant that's as close to death as we are. We'll step into the express elevator and ride up to the executive suite. When the door opens, a beautiful white light will flood the car. Those family and friends who have taken earlier elevators will be awaiting our arrival. Even our departed pets will be there. We will feel an overwhelming sense of security -- as if, at last, both our left and right shoe is tied equally tight.
It sounds like a paradise if your idea of bliss is a family Thanksgiving dinner that never ends. Imagine sitting at the table with Windy Uncle Bob, the Tic Twins, Cousin White Power and all the others, passing around dry turkey and marshmallow turnips in a continuous loop. And by the way, the dogs will still need to be walked and you'll still be allergic to the cats.
Might there be an alternate afterlife scenario?
Maybe when the elevator doors open, instead of our entourage, a stern-looking woman with steel rimmed glasses and a bun of grey hair will meet us. She is our life archivist. She's not happy about it but she's required to grant us access to those classified documents that were known in life as our permanent records.
I don't know about you, but the first record I'll open will be my grammar school dossier. Here's where I'll learn that my IQ is ten points lower than my mother told me it was. At least it will explain why I could never remember the Pythagorean theorem or the combination to my gym locker. I believe my third grade teacher made an entry expressing her concern that I drew black suns and houses without windows.
I'll locate my confidential medical files where the doctor made a note to "keep an eye" on that brown, bumpy thing on the back of my neck. I'll come across my first girlfriend's diary where she describes me as the "Kind of guy she'd like for a big brother."
Of central importance will be the record of a university admissions interview. Only one respectable university granted me one and I doubt if this record consists of anything more than my name.
I had chosen English as a major reckoning that its only prerequisite was the ability to read. Professor Fowler was the Dean Of Admissions and conducted my interview. The professor was bald, save two devil ears of grey hair that grew from the sides of his head.
The first thing he asked me was to "Discuss the symbolic aspects of the character Ralph in the Lord of the Flies." It stumped me. I had no recollection of a Hobbit named Ralph. I remember Bilbo and Frodo and Samwise but who the hell was Ralph? After about ten seconds of silence, Professor Fowler began rubbing his thumbs and forefingers together as if trying to start a fire. I needed to come up with an answer. "I believe Ralph symbolized the Hobbit's desire to bring peace and tranquility to Middle-earth." His forehead wrinkles shot upwards in a delta formation. He stopped taking notes. I entered a Jr. College in the fall.
The next records I'll want to examine are those of the human resources administrator who conducted my first job interview. I'll find out if the reason I got the kiss-off was my misspelling of 'self-starter' on my resume or my mismatched socks. Later, I'll take a look at the scribbling of my psychiatrist. If there was any mercy in that world, those notes will be illegible.
My final stop will be the office of the 3-bedroom Co-op apartment I had coveted so deeply. I'll look up the notes taken during that board interview. It will confirm my suspicion that the president rejected me because I didn't know the name of his Alma Mater's football team. He had graduated from the same respectable university that I claimed to have attended.
Neither of these exit options appeals to me. So until something more tempting comes along -- say a plan that offers free air travel or a TiVo feature, I intend to postpone my death for as long as possible. I'll take better care of myself, eat more fish and get more exercise. Starting tomorrow, I'm skipping the elevator and taking the stairs.
Originally appeared 2009-02-16