02 Pitt IMG 8588Watching the news with its escalating daily death count from the ravages of the Rona got me to thinking about mortality.

Dionne Warwick sang: “What’s it all about Alfie/ Is it just for the moment we live/ What’s it all about/ When you sort it out, Alfie.” Since Alfie is not available, I will explain one of the mysteries of life, the little matter of death.

Class, open your laptop. This will be on the final exam. If you are reading this blot on world literature, by definition you are alive. However, at some point you will slip off this mortal coil and break on through to the Other Side. As the late Jim Morrison once said: “No one gets out of here alive.” It is unclear if Jim is aware he remains popular.

Our version of human beings is called Homo Sapiens. Mr. Google reports that Homo Sapiens appeared about 50,000 years ago. The Population Reference Bureau estimates since the appearance of Homo Sapiens about 107 billion people have lived.

Currently, the world population is estimated to be about 7.6 billion people. That means that roughly 100 billion people have already died giving us a ratio of 15 dead people for every living person today. So, death is pretty common. As Elaine once said to Jerry Seinfeld in another context, death has been done to death. We should not be surprised when it happens.

Poets, philosophers and song writers have all grappled with the concept of death. Let’s take a look at some of the colorful ways four famous people have gotten into Charon’s boat and crossed the river Styx into the land of the dead. Why did Casper the Friendly Boy have to die to become Casper the Friendly Ghost? Some questions do not have answers.

Our old friend and Greek playwright Aeschylus departed in a colorful manner. Aeschylus was a famous dude in his time. He was born around 525 BC. He is generally credited as being the father of Greek tragedy. He wrote about 80 plays with only seven of his plays surviving. An oracle told Aeschylus he was going to be killed by something falling out of the sky. Being a cautious sort, Aeschylus social distanced from the sky by mainly staying indoors. Fate will not be cheated. When your time is up, it’s up. One day in 456 B.C., Aeschylus broke his rule against being outside and went on a walkabout. Bad idea. Aeschylus was bald (another reason I like him, he is the godfather of all bald men). While he was out walking, an eagle flying overhead mistook his bald head for a rock. Ordinarily an eagle with presbyopia is not a danger to humanity. But this particular eagle was carrying a tortoise in his claws. Eagles have figured out how to get to the good stuff inside the tortoise shell by picking up the critter and dropping it on a rock below. The tortoise shell cracks open and voila! It’s tortoise tartar for the hungry eagle. The eagle dropped the tortoise on Aeschylus’ bald head. Lights out for the father of Greek tragedy.

Billy the Kid was shot and killed by Sheriff Pat Garrett in 1881 in Lincoln County, New Mexico. Various legends have grown up about Billy and the number of people he killed. His burial site has been vandalized so many times by souvenir hunters that a metal cage had to be built around it to keep the fans from destroying his tomb stone.

Singer Dave Stamey sympathetically channels Billy’s ghost and sings an excellent song about Billy’s death called “The Skies of Lincoln County”. The chorus goes: “And the skies of Lincoln County were as blue as blue could be/ And the sun that shines on you, well it used to shine on me/ And I knew the smell of wood smoke and I liked the taste of beer/ The only difference now, is I’m not here/ I’m in New Mexico and it’s 1881.” I commend this song for your listening pleasure. We will all join Billy one day and miss the smell of wood smoke.

The late great song writer Warren Zevon wrote a cheery little ditty called “Life’ll Kill You” in which he ponders the mystery of death. I saw Warren perform in Chapel Hill at the Cat’s Cradle when he was not well. He suggested to the audience that avoiding the doctor was not a good plan. His song included the lyrics: “From the President of the United States/ To the lowliest rock and roll star/ The doctor is in and he’ll see you now/ He don’t care who you are/ Some get the awful, awful diseases/ Some get the knife, some get the gun/ Some get to die in their sleep at the age of a hundred and one.”

So what have we learned today? Life is fleeting. Enjoy it. Do you know what happens the day after you die? Everything. Politicians promise. Traffic jams. Lunch is eaten. Birds fly. People get married. Socks get lost. The only difference is you’re not there.

Pictured: Aeschylus' time was up when an eagle flying overhead mistook his bald head for a rock.

Latest Articles

  • Kyle Harding photographs Beautiful Strangeness
  • Vagabond Café opens downtown
  • Fort Bragg 10-Miler is back
  • Fayetteville mask mandate ends
  • Crisis center pens new name
  • Veterans Day Parade returns downtown
Up & Coming Weekly Calendar
  

Advertise Your Event:

 

Login/Subscribe