In times like these, when our mortality is being threatened by the coronavirus, we have two choices: We can bury our heads in the sand (as the ostrich is wrongly accused of doing) and deny that it has any impact on ourselves, or — if we have too much time on our hands — we can take stock of our lives as we wonder if we’re ready to acknowledge our own mortality.
First of all, as it stands today, the odds are almost unbelievably in our favor regarding mortality. As I type this early in the week after about a month or so of our country becoming aware of the virus, 467 fatalities have been recorded nationwide. That’s within a population of over 330 million people! That means that, statistically, the odds are awfully close to a million to one in our favor. An optimist would say those are pretty good odds. On the other hand, a pessimist would be aware that the odds grow shorter with each passing day.
On still another hand there’s always the question — particularly among those of us who have attained nonagenarian status — are we ready for it? Is there really anything more in our “bucket list” that we have a remote chance of fulfilling? And, going along with that same theme, are we content with it?
I can’t help but think of a bittersweet song recorded by Peggy Lee back in 1969, “Is That All There Is?,” inspired by a short story written over 100 years before the song by a novelist, social critic and 1929 Nobel Prize winner, Thomas Mann. In fact, much of the song’s content and context is taken directly from that source. You can easily read those words by going online. It’s paradoxical that a song with such poignancy and bitterness could be written by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller who also wrote many of Elvis Presley’s biggest hits, such as “Hound Dog” and “Jailhouse Rock.”
On the other side of that coin there’s a song with such poignancy and contentment that one can only feel a little warmer each time it’s heard: “It Was a Very Good Year” recorded by Frank Sinatra. The lyrics are definitely slanted to a male point of view, but I can go along with that.
Yes, I’m digressing. So, in the case of this scribbler of words, how do things stack up? Well, just like everything else in our lives, we win some and we lose some. I have loved more than once and have been loved more than once in return so I guess it all balances out. I accept the fact that I will die a bachelor. I have achieved what can only be described as modest success in much of my undertakings such as broadcasting, acting and politics and have been less than successful in such things as once starting a public relations firm and, after that failure, selling real estate with the same results.
I have to be truthful in admitting that being a spoiled brat in my early years has never been completely overcome, that my focus has, too often, turned inwardly instead of reaching out to help others. I’m enough of a pessimist to expect that things will likely never be otherwise.
In closing, I recently received an email from a long-time friend, Jennifer Williams, who has lived in England for many years and who in that time has sent me many photos of wonderful, positive things in that land. Her recent note said, “The whole earth has a problem — and Spring begins anyway.” And as I looked outside a little later I noticed the first dandelion of the season in bloom.
Bill Moeller is a former entertainer, mayor, bookstore owner, city council member, paratrooper and pilot living in Centralia. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.