On the way to the gym at my retirement center, there’s a table with a small basket resting on it. Sometimes the basket is empty. Sometimes it isn’t When it isn’t, it’s full of condolence cards addressed to the family of a resident who has died. As yet I know so few people in the establishment that when the basket is stuffed with cards, I don’t stop to read the name of the departed. I think it’s best to keep moving.
No one escapes dying, of course. The good news is that when Death stops for me, I won’t notice whether or not the basket is full or empty. Possibly, I will have outlived my friends and no one will be left to remember me – a sad thought and a wicked one. My one hope is that before I go, I will have lived each day in a way that makes death no more than a period at the end of a happy life sentence.
Fortunately, Good Housekeeping has aligned itself with my ambition and leaves no stone unturned on the road to a joyful life. Every issue contains advice on how to cheat death a while longer. It tells me that cheerful women have better bone density than those who don’t, for example. (“The ultimate feel-good bone booster,” Good Housekeeping, April 2015, pg. 108) Wine and chocolate are good for me, it says. And so is the humble orange – not because it contains vitamins, but because the scent locks on to the limbic system were emotions reside and calms anxiety. (Ibid pg. 114.) A smile, I’m told, can benefit me, even if I don’t feel like wearing one. Smile muscles stimulate the brain to make it think it’s happy.
Good House Keeping recommends yoga as a weapon to stave off death. My favorite is the corpse pose, where I lie down and gaze up at the ceiling. I’m accomplished at staring at ceilings. (Ibid pg. 8.) The magazine also recommends kneading bread for exercise. I like the idea because it gives me the added benefit of smothering the results of my effort with strawberry jam and butter. (Ibid pg 113.) There’s a thumbs up, too, for watching grumpy cats on YouTube. The cats may be unhappy but I’ve been given the assurance I’m bound to laugh.
Life is real, life is earnest and yes, the grave is its goal. But if we put our trust in Good Housekeeping, we might discover we’ve had a little fun along the way and maybe lived a little longer, too. As Father Latour remarked in Willa Cather’s Death Comes for the Archbishop: one dies as a consequence of having lived.
(First Published 4/13/15)