The doctor points to the cubes next to the hourglass

As we collectively and individually hunker down in COVID-19 self-quarantine, where everyone’s lives are on hold and a single hospitalized life hangs in the balance, it got me Web surfing and deep diving once again about my own mortality. Here’s what I discovered:

In 21 years, I should be dead. How do I know? The U.S. Government said so.

So, if I do the math based on that song from Rent, all that remains is 11,037,600 minutes. 11,037,600: Probably the number of people who know that song from Rent.

You may say—well, that’s the average. What if you beat the average? Most people successfully navigate pandemics, misplaced toys on the floor or parking-lot accidents. And I agree, that could be a real possibility. But I am a middle-aged, middle child, middle-management guy who got mostly Bs and B+s in school. I think I better be prepared.

21 years to go. I find it kind of ironic, though. When you are young, you aspire to milestone dates. When I was 13, manhood was mine (or so my rabbi told me). At 16, I could get my driver’s license. At 18, I could vote, or be drafted. But 21 was the big kahuna. It meant you were legal to do whatever you pleased … drinking, gambling, all the stuff a responsible adult aspired to do.

So, with the second hand counting down, how will I approach these next 11 million minutes? Will I construct another life, another existence to perfume the incomprehensible, or like the corporate man I am, use Excel to actuate, formulate and calculate the inevitable?

“I have measured out my life with coffee spoons.”

In the Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, T.S. Eliot says, “I have measured out my life with coffee spoons.” Yes, coffee spoons but also morning alarms and daily showers. A year’s worth of commuting to and from work. Glasses half full, and half empty. Time clocked in, and life clocked out.

Again, how will this man, this middle-aged, graying me whose been measured by miles and mortgages, make these remaining 11,037,600 minutes matter?

I will work … a lot. I still have a kid in college and retirement funds are scarce. No trendy gold Apple watch for me. I will work until some millennial takes my job, which may be in a couple of weeks from now.

I will have “Big Chill” moments with my friends. Weekends of barbecues and boisterous banter. Disco, Doobie Brothers and Devo. Both Elvis’s – Presley and Costello. Dance all night and do nothing all day. Just be with the people who know me inside and out, and still like what they see before time runs out. And I will chip away at those diminished minutes, even hours, to recover… my joints require it.

“Nobody’s permanent, everything’s on loan here.”

I will construct no Facebook-fueled bucket list built for mass consumption. Instead, on a beautiful day in the hopefully not-too-distant future, my wife and I will fill our grandchildren’s buckets with sand as we erect towering castles and briny moats. I am confident the sands of time may trickle down a little bit slower in those moments of connection.

Instead of Tahiti and Tibetan treks halfway around the world, I want to transverse every note of the American Songbook. I want to read once again John Updike’s Rabbit series or even more Faulkner and Bellow, all from a veranda overlooking the ocean. I want glorious words, not whirlwind adventures. I am fine with Kerouac and Tom Wolfe serving as the tour guides of my mind.

And instead of a sports car where my thinning hair takes off with the wind, life’s remaining miles should be about traveling back in time and light years ahead. Eliot said it best: “Time present and time past are both perhaps present in time future…”

Let there be no more baggage filled with regret and recriminations. Let me embrace big change as the strands of my life grow shorter. And let me keep up the good fight for what’s right with the remaining time I have left.

Two days before COVID-19 defined life as we live it, I buried a friend. He was 57. A year younger than I am now. He did not get his chance at even 21 more seconds or days, let alone years. There will be no Fountain of Youth for him, for me, for any of us. There’s only the truth. And sometimes that truth hurts, like when you lose someone way too soon or when you realize “nobody’s permanent, everything’s on loan here.”

So, if the numbers add up, and I only have these 21 years left, the 11 million minutes that cascade down as I write, let me play with the table stakes time has probably given me. If that means Solitaire or Two-card Monte now, let me be fine with the hand I have been dealt. Many, like my friend, are gone; but, I’m still in the game. Yes, we are all so lucky to be still in the game.


2 thoughts on “21. Done. Kaput.

  1. Jeff Wollman says:

    Brian. Good read this morning. Be well! And as Spock said, 🖖 Live Long and Prosper.


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