We are so high on life and living an active life here at BoomerCafé, we are not too introspective about death. But Hawthorne, New Jersey writer and editor Alan Paul has found a way to deal with what’s coming, in this look at “Death and Other Funny Stuff.”
One of the heroes of my youth, after the athletes Jim Brown and Bob Hayes, was the comedian Woody Allen.
Woody couldn’t carry a football worth a damn, and I’m pretty sure he would finish near the bottom in the 100-yard dash event at the Stand-Up Comedians’ Olympics. But boy, Woody could make me laugh. Now understand that I’m talking about the Woody of “Take the Money and Run,” “Bananas,” and “Sleeper,” not necessarily the Woody of “Annie Hall,” “Manhattan,” and “Zelig.” Though I liked many of his later films, they always seemed to be less about his brilliant, off-beat, zany comedic genius and more about his brilliant, off-beat, zany neuroses.
Woody: “I am not afraid of death. I just don’t want to be there when it happens.”
Among Woody Allen’s many psychological issues, which were graphically portrayed in his films over the years, was his apparent preoccupation with — and fear of — death. I’ve never been particularly frightened by the thought of my own death (though I am terrified by the thought of the deaths of people whom I love), but I do think about it occasionally, and when I think about it, it is not really in a morose or morbid way. Instead, I simply wonder, sometimes at length and in great detail, just what this thing called death might be. My inquisitive, scientific, logical side says that death is what death is: the absence of life. But then there is my long-lapsed-Catholic side, which necessarily sees it another way.
Woody: “Death is one of the few things that can be done as easily lying down.”
What happens when we die? I wish I knew, as I’m sure everyone else riding this big blue marble-of-a-planet wishes too. Religion can give us the confidence to imagine a dignified, comfortable, beatific, and fulfilling life-after-death. While I am not intimately familiar with the beliefs of every religion, I think that most of them, outside of Judaism and perhaps a few others, point to an afterlife as the ultimate reward for a life properly lived, according to each particular faith’s specific operating system. If, to use an example too often in the news, you are a devout male Muslim who believes in the infallibility of the Qur’an, and your death comes via martyrdom for your religious convictions, your ultimate heavenly reward will be 72 virgins.
Woody: “I don’t want to achieve immortality through my work; I want to achieve immortality through not dying.”
Death isn’t funny, especially when it hits close to home. I get that. But the thing is, I’ve always figured that if you could learn to laugh at anything, that person, place, or thing you were laughing at couldn’t possibly frighten you ever again. They say laughter is the best medicine, and the longer I live, the more firmly am I convinced of the irrefutable truth of that statement. And if, during the process of learning how to laugh at our fears, we can also manage to laugh at ourselves from time to time, the healing that laughter brings will be much more complete.
I guess Woody Allen taught me that.