Last Living Will and Testament

Last Living Will and Testament

by Douglas Herman

'I perceive that we partially die ourselves through sympathy at the death of each of our friends.' ~ Henry David Thoreau After a lifetime of little joys and little sorrows interspersed with fleeting desires, sad or frustrating periods of loneliness, and oddly satisfying periods of solitude, each life ends. And so in the midst of life'I was quite alive and lively when I wrote this'I compose this document, this 'Living Will' concerning my death. First of all, I wonder how I died? And when? Was I troubled or at peace with the world? Funny how unlikely we are to know of any circumstances pertaining to our own demise. But then most of us blunder through life anyway, unaware of much besides our senses and their immediate gratification'excuse me a moment while I open a cold beer--so death is simply the last and Ultimate Unawareness. If suddenly we knew, if suddenly we had a clear premonition about the Exact moment of our death, how would our life be changed, for the better or worse? Possibly I've been struck down by a car or truck. If that was the case, then please know I was enjoying my trusty steed and stress alleviator, my bicycle. Curiously, if the CIA ever wished to eliminate me, they need only wait until I mount my bicycle and plow over me in a car. Presto, one dead Doug. Actually they would be doing me a great favor, if indeed they carried out the hit perfectly and my death was instantaneous. No pain and fleeting fame. And my death, unlike say, JFK, would not change a thing for better or worse regarding US foreign policy. Of course, it might have been an oldster who killed me, so don't be too hard on them. Okay? I suspect I may have taken my own life. A distinct possibility as I get older and less and less confident of my artistic abilities. Vincent van Gogh, an artist and man I much admire, went that way into the Great Unknown. Perhaps suicide is my own fate. I have given it some thought, I confess. In my mid-forties I actually believed I might someday accomplish something worthy as an artist or writer. Ten years later, it becomes harder and harder to rationalize, to convince myself that I may yet create something redeeming. This is not to indicate a surplus of self-pity but rather a sober stocktaking. All artists get maudlin sometimes, especially the mediocre ones. But who knows, maybe I died of a heart attack. My cholesterol'I never could spell or pronounce that damn word and now it has killed me'was pretty high, even though I tried to limit my intake of fatty foods and had switched to olive oil. Guess it wasn't enough, huh? I genuinely hope no one tried to save me as I flopped around on the floor, that no one tried to shipwreck me back into the land of the living again, to paraphrase Henry Thoreau when he spoke of those immigrants drowned within sight of land in his underrated book, "Cape Cod." Whichever way I went, I wonder if I was happy on the way out? Did I have a nice day, a wonderful afternoon, or an enjoyable evening, up until that moment? Had I spent some brief moments with a friend or lover, the sort of interaction trendy people call 'quality time,' or was my heart annoyed from some trivial argument or regrettable dispute? I hope the former but, knowing myself intimately, I suspect the latter. I'm such a fusser, one of my many bad habits. I wonder if I was extremely saddened to find myself pulled out of life into'What--eternity? Possibly a moment of bliss or quiet satisfaction met me halfway. I sure hope so! I won't know the answer to that question as I write this, and I won't be able to report back as my life is extinguished. Either way, God only knows. Maybe I'll try to get an answer back to you in some annoying, or obviously Doug sort of fashion. Maybe a half-eaten doughnut or a book left open, draped over an armchair. Is it only me, or do others get pissed when they hear people say they 'wouldn't change a single thing about their entire life'? I'd change quite a few things, take more chances, find some courage somewhere, get some guts and lose the fear and laziness. Life intimidated me too often. There, I said it. Wish it hadn't but it did. I wish I'd been more of my own personal hero, with an inner road map, compass and spare fuel tanks. Maybe the best thing about a "Living Will" is the opportunity it gives one to start living again! As soon as you finish writing about dying, you get to begin life all over again--a fresh start. I did try sometimes to live like Diogenes, Thoreau, Van Gogh, Don Quixote, Gully Jimson, Mary Magdalene and John the Baptist. I had their flaws but not enough of their flavor, I'm afraid. Like Diogenes, however, I fawned on those I loved, growled at those I hated, and tried to sink my teeth into scoundrels. I figure that most folks fall somewhere between being a big success and a big failure. But all those big successes might have pulled some strings to get there, and so they're afraid of death (Maybe, just maybe, there really is a final reckoning?). They're afraid of death much more than you or me. Also, I don't think the big failures are really failures at all. For example, that guy fishing aluminum cans out of a dumpster, an abysmal failure to most folks, may measure way higher in the cosmic scheme of things than most movie stars, Senators and CEOs. So as a small failure, a guy who tried to wiggle up to passable mediocrity status, I'm trying to see the Big Picture. And that is, we all owe life one death and no shirking out. Whether you succeed or fail miserably, the attempt is everything. We all end up as cosmic dust, reduced at last to the exact same level upon the earth's surface, whether King Midas, Donald Trump or the homeless guy with the shopping cart. My worldly possessions don't amount to much. As of this moment, I own an unregistered 1969 Volkswagen van that is rusting away before my eyes. Might be worth $500 to someone. My bicycle is a well-worn ride. Some paintings that, in retrospect, don't seem all that inspiring, although the JFK portrait seems pretty good. Sell my Honda motorcycle that never ran very well (even though it was nearly new), unless of course the damn thing killed me. Give away that furniture that I bought used or found on the street, and the clothes. Rembrandt reportedly died in poverty, possessing only a few paint brushes and bits of old clothes. Give away the books, most of which I've read'well, some of which I've read, and even a few that I'd recommend. There is a sailboard and two sails, and a story behind them I had intended to write one day. Several years ago I thought of taking a windsurfing safari around North America with that van, before 9-11, and since then I've been landlocked, completely grounded, beached, becalmed, and dead-in-the-water. None too happy, I might add. Possibly I drowned. I hope I was happy moments before I went. I was always far happier alone on a lake anyway, the sky like God's ever-changing, profound gaze overhead, and so-called civilization on the distant shore. I was always happier near a freshwater paradise, enjoying the sound of water, the smell, the way the light changed on its surface. So if perchance I drowned or had a heart attack doing something I liked on a lake, maybe it wasn't so bad. I hope that a good executive of my meager estate can retrieve some value from the above items. Funny, when we list our possessions, the power they have over us doesn't seem so strong. Ironically, that power is even weaker if you travel a long way off, maybe even into the next dimension. People who lose everything'in a fire or landslide'are pretty devastated at the shock. Suddenly their previous, comfortable, reassuring life is wrenched from their hands. Death also does that, but the shock of losing one's earthly possessions passes, I assure you. Okay, now in the event that I'm incapacitated, breathing heavily on a respirator, wasting away, paralyzed, brain dead, or become a knee-jerk, Republican conservative in a leisure suit, please off me. I'd prefer you used a powerful lethal injection of some dreamy substance that vets use for dying dogs. Of course, we might have to travel to Oregon, but I've always liked the Oregon Ducks and Beavers; I've always been an underdog fan! If I'm in a coma'bike, motorcycle wreck, etc.'wait awhile. Give me a week or two to recover and then hold a wake. Drink and party and tell embarrassing stories about me. Laugh! Cry! Play "All Along The Watchtower" real loud! Play a sad song or two of Vaughn Williams. Sing along happily to all the verses of My Back Pages--because, as the song says, once you grow older and wiser, you are "younger than that now." Have a good time at my wake but don't drink and drive (I might have died that way). Make Love, Flirt, Rage, Get drunk, Stay stone-cold-sober and maybe even stay Silent too. And certainly Curse, curse the conspirators of 9-11, and toast all those who oppose them, and wish them well, my comrades. Fight the good fight; never admit defeat even when surrounded; smirk in the face of overwhelming odds, and be true to your friends and allies, even if we've never met most of them. Because we will. If I have any money left after all that'and God-only-knows-I may be coming into some money'send it around to charities that assist those who may never have had the chance to be either a success or failure. Spread that money around like manure and hope something grows. Maybe CARE or Doctors Without Borders or Oxfam, and a small donation to STR. I'm sure my brilliant empowered attorney can disperse whatever money that might come in a suitable manner. Thank you. See you some day, when the odds are all on OUR side. Peace.
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Douglas Herman's picture
Columns on STR: 136

Award winning artist, photographer and freelance journalist, Douglas Herman enjoys exploring the occasional ghost town or spooky conspiracy and can be found wandering the back roads of America. Recently Doug finished writing, directing and producing an independent feature film, naturally a "road movie," and credits STR for giving him the impetus to write well, both provocatively and entertainingly. A longtime gypsy, Doug completed a 10,000 mile circumnavigation of North America, by bicycle, at the age of 35, and still wanders between Bullhead City, Arizona and Kodiak, Alaska with forays frequently into the so-called civilized world of Greater LA.