Michael Solomon - Faust
A light rain is falling. Traffic along the narrow, newly paved road is slow and heavy. A python of automobiles snakes behind the black hearse limousine at the front of the procession. Inside the trailing vehicles, several fetchingly dressed, tormented women fight back tears, each of them asking themselves the same question: “ Why did I make such poor choices in my life? Why didn’t I seize happiness when it was within my grasp? What would I give just to have another moment with him, my true love, the only man I’ve ever really loved?” Seated next to these lovely women are several individuals involved in movie financing. Their riches have been thoroughly squandered. Their careers have been destroyed by silly movies that no one ever came to see. They are here today only to pay tribute to what could have been. To the dreams they once held for themselves. To the talent they saw yet failed to embrace. Their sorrow is overwhelming and painful. Physically and emotionally painful.
Welcome to my funeral.
It is a virtual Who’s Who of people who have acted badly toward me. Women who left me for other men, actors who refused to read my screenplays, even my junior year college professor who gave me a C plus on my thesis paper about Jim Morrison and The Doors because I’d handwritten it instead of typing it. I wasn’t expecting him to show up today, but it turns out his teaching career since I graduated has been idiotic and meaningless. I hear he’s considering suicide once the funeral is over.
I usually go to my funeral when I’m in the shower, though I once attended it only seconds after a particularly unsatisfying lovemaking session. I’m sorry. My mind drifts a lot and I can’t always control when it will take me away from whatever it is that I should be thinking about, though what exactly a person should be thinking about after an encounter like that is a bit of a mystery to me anyway. Celibacy? At least I wasn’t thinking about the funeral of another woman.
I’m a bit twisted. I admit it. But the older I get, the more I feel like I’m not alone in my twisted state. I think people get more twisted as they age, and even though that would never actually allow for other formerly untwisted people to fully catch up with me, it would at least explain why I feel I’ve got company now. We’ve all crossed the same threshold, just at different times. I recognize this disparity from high school. Back in high school, you wouldn’t think of dating someone in junior high (okay, maybe….I don’t know about you, but I was pretty desperate). But by the time you reach thirty, the entire stigma about dating someone four years younger has vanished. This sort of process continues until at around fifty you might actually find yourself considering dating someone still in high school. Apply this form of attrition to twistedness, and you’ll see that the fairly normal kids I knew when I was younger are now kind of screwed up too. Just like me.
I knew a guy in college, Matt, who wanted to get over his fear of death. I went to college at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and I can’t say for sure if it was all the dope we smoked or just our youthfulness, but none of us thought it strange that a person would wake up one day, like Matt did, and decide that his fear of death was a pressing matter that required immediate and direct action.
Matt went out and got a job at a funeral home. He had the two qualifications necessary for the job; he was strong and he had a valid driver’s license. Whenever the funeral home got a call about a new client, they sent Matt out in their hearse to pick up the body. Usually the bodies were still warm, and the mourners were still gathered around the bedside crying.
Matt lasted a week. Not because he couldn’t handle the morbidity. Not because he couldn’t handle the sadness. He quit because he was becoming even more afraid of death than before. Being close to death didn’t bring any spiritual understanding, because it wasn’t his death, it was always somebody else’s. And there was no way to ask them for any insight. This inability to communicate made him feel even further from the truths he sought to learn.
Let’s face it, life is absurdly short. Science says that evolution prefers us to live long enough to raise our children to the point of independence, after which we become expendable. We begin to deteriorate. Eventually we die. Evolution doesn’t care about us having a productive retirement, or writing the novel we always wanted to write, or going back to school to get our master’s degree.
Our fear of death is a fear of the loneliness of going wherever we go by ourselves. There are no loved ones to come with us and provide security. I know some people are afraid they’ll go to Hell and burn, but these folks….I mean, come on….no one has ever in history returned from Hell to prove that it exists, which means it is as likely to be an inferno run by the Devil as it is to be a rubber factory, with a blackboard, where everyone spends eternity writing the word “Oberammergau” in purple chalk.
Evolution has programmed us to survive by avoiding death. After a while, it becomes a hard habit to break. We deny that death is really in the cards for us. I think what we truly fear is regret. The more I live, the more I feel that shame and regret, or more accurately the avoidance of shame and regret are the engines driving most human beings.
There’s an old joke about a Jewish kid who goes to his father and asks: “Dad, can I borrow five dollars?” and his father says: “Four dollars? What do you need three dollars for?” To me this paradigm is emblematic of our struggle for longevity. We want to live forever, but the world is bent on getting rid of us.
Available on Amazon. Your purchase benefits Cancer Schmancer.
- - - - -
Michael Solomon is the author of “NOW IT’S FUNNY: How I Survived Cancer, Divorce and Other Looming Disasters,” which was named a Critic’s Pick by Kirkus Reviews (April 15, 2012), as well as several feature-length screenplays, essays, and short stories. One of Michael’s most acclaimed movies as a filmmaker is Constantine’s Sword, a documentary feature film he produced about the history of anti-semitism in the church and the roots of religious violence, based on the book by National Book Award winning author James Carroll (www.constantinessword.com). Constantine’s Sword was a New York Times Critic’s Pick and was released theatrically in over 70 US cities including New York and Los Angeles. Michael also produced and photographed How to Eat Your Watermelon in White Company (and Enjoy It), an award-winning feature documentary about Melvin Van Peebles, which debuted theatrically at New York’s prestigious Film Forum, and later played on the Independent Film Channel (www.mvpmovie.com).