Questions about mortality leave our columnist queasy.
Like everyone else, I use my credit card for shopping online and have long gotten over the surprise that it actually works. But why do these wonderful establishments that sell books, lawnmowers, hats, music systems, mobile phones, airline tickets, holidays and more always ask that one unanswerable question when you use your card online?
The number is fine, I can handle that. My name is fine too, no problem there. And then comes the startling question: expiry date?
I am relatively young, relatively healthy, sleep well, haven’t been to a hospital in years, eat carefully, avoid fatty foods and have fairly decent genes likely to keep me ticking for another quarter century at least. Yet that question. Why do strangers want to know? In any case, none of us can make allowances for being run over by a taxi.
My instinctive reaction, therefore, is to say ‘I don’t know’, but there isn’t enough room. It’s all very businesslike. You can fit in a few digits, but not a philosophical discussion that the question calls for. Perhaps the digits can be made to represent something else, like a code for a treatise on death.
For example, the tenth day of August 2016, or 10082016 might suggest the tenth chapter of the eighth book from pages two to 16. But which one, written by whom? Shakespeare or Agatha Christie, the two bestselling fiction writers ever? Both deal in the subject of death in their different ways, and if you searched hard enough you would find the appropriate quote or essay or warning.
Death keeps no calendar, and even if it did and shared it with us, it is like a private telephone number. Why announce it in such a public way? The Earl of Chesterfield, for instance, is quoted in Boswell’s Life of Johnson as saying, ‘Tyrawley and I have been dead these two years, but we don’t choose to have it known.’ That seems like common sense.
There is a simple solution to the problem – syntax, from the Greek word for arrangement. Instead of asking the expiry question immediately after your name, why not ask it after the one about the card number? I always feel a bit queasy as I tap in 11/16 into the slot. I feel it gives me just over a year to complete all those things I set out to do: establish world peace, win the Nobel three times, have another hundred children, travel to the moon...
As Marquez said, a person does not die when he should, but when he can.
I feel QUEASY tapping in 11/16 into the slot. It gives me just over a YEAR to complete the things I set out to do: establish WORLD PEACE, win the Nobel THREE times, have a hundred children, travel to the MOON...
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