I am of the opinion that a dying wish, last will and testament, and the like should be honored unless there is a good reason why it should not be. A request to have one’s cat microwaved after one’s death can and should be rejected, but something ike choosing one’s epitaph should be respected as a basic right. Alas, this is not always the case. Ernest Hemingway’s “Pardon me for not getting up” and Dorothy Parker’s “Excuse my dust” were epitaph requests that were rejected post mortem by people whose sense of humor was as dead as the authors whose posterity they wished to protect.
As of this writing, what I would like on my headstone or urn (preferably the latter) is “What was I thinking?” I believe it fits my life very well and as Rebecca will almost certainly outlive me, I have someone in my corner whom I can trust to defend my wishes against tight-assed naysayers. It also helps that I have no real posterity to protect.
Not that I’ll be needing an epitaph anytime soon. According to an online actuarial calculator (where I answered lifestyle questions honestly unless self-incrimination came into play), I should live to the ripe old age of 86. This is older than I had earlier predicted. Since my paternal grandfather died at 58 and my father at 69, a continuation of the 11-year generational increment meant that I would keel over when I’m 80 years old. Either 86 or 80 is a long way off.
So back to my epitaph. As I said before, it makes sense to me. However, it may not hve the same meaning to someone who takes the words at face value. Don’t get me wrong. I’ve had many moments of cringeworthy stupidity and occasionally still do, but that’s not how the phrase resonates.
Imagine me when I was in college: younger, thinner, and better looking, but also dumber, angrier and crazier. As messed up and often miserable as I was back then, I did still have a vision of a better future. Being so young and clueless, I was wrong about almost all of it. I had figured that by the time I was 30, I’d me a successful writer (natch) and living in a nice suburban home with a wife and possibly children, none of whom would (much like my writing career) require any great effort on my part. From then on, my future would be a blur of martinis, steak, and rave reviews from The New York Times. I also predicted I would still have all my hair. At least I got that part right.
During my mid to late thirties, I actually was married and my prediction of the future was decidedly different. Within five years, my stock options would have made me a millionaire and I would have moved with my then wife to her native Netherlands. After that, it got a little murky. I pictured myself alone much of the time, wandering the streets of Amsterdam in the drizzling rain and ducking into a bar whenever the mood struck me. I wouldn’t have to do much else because I had earned my fuck-you money and therefore had already won at life. As it turned out, neither the dot-com bubble nor the marriage had the staying power to make this a reality.
Five years did pass though so by not predicting the end of the world, I was by omission partly correct. I found myself in a less than stellar segment of my life. I may write openly about this period at some point, but not today. Suffice it to say that because I am writing now in the flesh rather than from the grave, a common prediction of mine from that era proved to be (pardon the pun) dead wrong.
Life is different now. I am as content as is possible for the likes of me. I’ve been happily partnered for a couple of years and I am gainfully employed at a job I like well enough. Despite still having some crazy in me, though it doesn’t get star billing like it used to, I’m managing to settle comfortably into middle age.
I think I’ll be able to retire in ten years or so and have a pretty easy go of it while I run out the clock. Unlike my other predictions, I think this one has a reasonable chance of coming true. The only two things that might spoil the deal are my luck and myself. Alas, experience has shown me that neither can be trusted.