NO REGRETS

When a man, such as myself, reaches the seventh decade of life, his friends and relatives congratulate him warmly and ask about his state of health. They seem to really want to inquire how long do you think you may stick around.

When the eighth decade turns over on the speedometer, the efforts of friends and relatives become a little more pointed. They are concerned because the old timer may not eat as much as he did at age 30 or they may read road signs that they believe the older person can no longer see. And if in conversations with a slightly younger person, if the name of a politician or a physician does not roll off the tongue, the younger person may diagnose Alzheimers.

Wile the elderly person may appreciate the solicitude of his younger friends and relatives, there is an element of wonder about why you are still hanging in there. In my case, it seems to me that assuring the inquirer that every body part is working and that a change in subject might be appropriate. All done with a laugh, of course. The laughter may be forced but it is preferable to a discussion about the imminent demise of the decrepit elderly person, namely me.

When people close to me ask about how my fortunes are succeeding, it has an unintended effect on me. Tor all these years, the end of life has been a subject that has been rarely considered. Surely, Miss Chicka and I visited Paul Ippolito, one of Summit’s leading undertakers, to enter into a pre-paid arrangement to have our bodies promptly cremated. At heart, our visit to the Ippolito establishment was done primarily because of a proposed champagne party that we proposed to sponsor once Ippolito had done his work. First comes Ippolitto’s ministrations, then the reception, not the other way around.

But entering into a prepaid arrangement for disposition of our bodies does not constitute grounds for saying that we have a death wish. It is simply and purely a business arrangement made while our minds were unclouded by any other thoughts. Now the kicker is that the prepaid arrangement pays a 5% interest premium to us every year, so it is a prudent investment as well. Sorry, only one to a customer.

Many people think that my mother gave me her build and her sense of Irish humor. For that I am grateful. On the other hand, Lillie, my mother, was engrossed by the idea of death and the thought in her mind, that she would be rewarded unendingly in a place called Heaven. Her favorite hymn was “Amazing Grace.” Running a clear second was the hopeful hymn called, “How Beautiful Heaven Must Be.” She envisioned a place high up in the sky with no sin and no sickness and with angels with wings where their shoulder blades should be. She always said, “That is where I am going when my work on earth is finished.”

As life unfolded for me, none of Lillie Carr’s confidence in a heavenly after life ever made sense to me. My disbelief started at age six when my mother proposed to “save” me, among other thoughts, for a better life after death. And my disbelief has now lasted more than 75 years.

In 1943, German ground forces (The Wehrmacht) and German Air Forces (The Luftwaffe) managed to destroy two of the planes on which I was a member of the crew. In the first shoot-down, there was a lonely period of four days in the sands of the Libyan and Egyptian frontier before rescue came. In the second case, the Germans took me prisoner and it was necessary for the Italian Partisans to come to the rescue. From beginning to end, about seven weeks elapsed in this episode which started at the prison camp at Rimini, Italy.

Now the point in pointing to my unfortunate experiences in 1943, is that at no time did my thoughts ever wonder to being a casualty of war. Whereas my mother would have wrung her hands and would have gotten a preacher to help her pray, my thoughts were exclusively devoted to how am I going to get out of here. Obviously, the thought that soldiers were regularly shot occurred to me, but visions of heaven never came into my mind. My sole occupation was how do I get out of here. On no occasion did I ever ask to see a chaplain from either the United States or the German Army.

My mother would never have understood my mind set, so I can’t ever recall discussing the subject with her.

E. E. CARR
August 24, 2003

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This is not where this essay originally ended. From here he uses “Aside from the well meaning inquiries about my health and longevity, it appears to me with events in Iraq, Israel and Afghanistan taking the turn they are, that death is a popular subject in the Middle East” to segue into a discussion of martyrdom and virgins in paradise. The essay stops midway through one of these thoughts, so the entire section is omitted here because it’s been discussed at length in these essays. I think he just found this sort of claim to be a special kind of absurd, perhaps due to its unique combination of sexism and specificity.

People who tease old people (or anyone, really) about Alzheimers are assholes, full stop. Not much else to say there.

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