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How to Handle Mortality, From a Gay Senior Staring It Down

How to Handle Mortality, From a Gay Senior Staring It Down

How to Handle Mortality, From a Gay Senior Staring it Down

What's the afterlife like? Writer Kurt Niece imagines a trendy waiting room with champagne and crab legs.

Mortality sucks. It really does. You spend your life learning from mistakes, accumulating wisdom and ability and finesse. Finally you can solder a copper pipe, soft-bake a creme brulee, mix a genuinely authentic pink squirrel, grasp the wisdom of thought before hitting the send button or leaving the house. The phases of the moon and eclipses don't faze you, and you've learned to leave your keys and wallet in the same place when you come home. You learn these things through trial and error, trial by fire, the school of hard knocks and street smarts learned from your street-smart friends. You learn because of a simple truth.

That which does not kill you only makes you stronger ... until it kills you, because eventually it will.

And life is a little like a late-night infomercial.

"Wait, there's more! What do you get as an absolutely free gift before crossing the River Styx?"

Before you die you'll start to forget all those wonderful things you know or knew, like where the hell you left the mini torch. How can you caramelize the sugar on a decent creme brulee when you left the culinary torch by the water heater two weeks earlier to fix that leak, because you couldn't find the regular propane torch, because you'd left it in the kitchen pantry?

You get the picture. It's just not pretty.

So there, it's been said -- you are going to die. It's black and white. There are no gray options here, at least options that we know about.

Death is one of the most dishonest internal discussions. I mean honestly, we know it's going to happen eventually, but we stroll through life, whistling, hands in pocket and ignoring the grim reaper like some sort of homeless person we just don't want to deal with. And I guess that's as it should be, except for the homeless person part. Don't ignore them.

Then there are premature alternative deaths, like those of James Dean, Marilyn Monroe, or Kurt Corbain, as in dying young and fast and beautifully immortal. But that's not so great either. I think living fast and hard looks good on paper, but Kurt and James and Marilyn probably weren't all that happy about the outcome.

The great mystery seems scary because we know nothing about it. There's no travelogue or death documentary to research, just a lot of imagination. There's a rumor about clouds, angels, and harps forever, and that's only if things go right. If you blow it one too many times on earth, there's another rumor, like creepy paintings of hell from the Middle Ages and the promise of eternal pain by fire and an endless loop of relentlessly cheerful yet angst-ridden boy-band music looping forever, over and over and over again on hell's sound system.

Brrr. No wonder we don't want to think about death. We'd rather stay alive and pay taxes.

But eventually everyone comes up with some kind of scenario before they die. I like mine. I think that when you die you end up in a beautiful reception room. I picture something very Zen, with lots of glass and light wood, kind of a Scandinavia/Asia decor. There's a banquet table with king crab legs and stuffed mushroom caps and a champagne fountain that actually has really good champagne. The room is jammed with all your old dead friends and your mom and fad (only if they're dead, though) and all of your dead pets. And everyone shouts, "Hurray!" when you come through the door. You notice how tanned and rested and young everyone looks, like they've been on a long Caribbean cruise. And then a very special someone comes up and says:

"Welcome, it's so good to see you, and just wait till you see what's next! Oh, and you really should have turned off the gas before soldering the feed line to the water tank. Next time call a plumber, Cheapskate."

kurt nieceKURT NIECE is an artist, jeweler, and author of The Breath of Rapture and Mercury Fields. He and his partner, Gary, live with their beloved feline in the crystal valleys of Hot Springs Village, Ark.

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