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There’s an old story. About how, after The Creator had made the world, it was time to fix the life span of each living creature. It was the mammals’ turn. The ass asked The Creator, “How long shall I live?” and The Creator said “You shall live thirty years.” And the ass said “Oh lord, thirty? That’s a long time. Don’t you know the life I lead? I have to carry other people’s burdens all day long and I’m given only blows and kicks. Take pity on me.” So the ass was relieved of twenty years.
Then the dog appeared. And The Creator said “Thirty years for you.” And the dog said, “Oh lordy, thirty years! Do you know how I have to run around? Thirty years! By then I’ll be able to do nothing but slink from corner to corner. Please: less time.” So the dog was released from eighteen years of life.
Next came the monkey. “Monkey,” said The Creator, “You’ll definitely want thirty years. You don’t have to work, or run around, and you’re always so funny.” “Oh heavens,” said the monkey. “You too? You really believe that my life is a bed of roses? You know what it’s like to have to entertain people all the time?” The Creator took seven years off the monkey.
Then the human being appeared and demanded his life span. “Thirty years,” said The Creator. “Oh my God! Impossible!” said the human, “I’ll finally have a job I like. Just when the trees I’ve planted are bearing fruit and I’m beginning to really enjoy my children? Give me more time!” “All right,” said The Creator. “You can have twenty years from the ass.” “Thank you – but I really need more.” “All right. You get eighteen years from the dog.” “More, more, I beg you.” “Very well. You may have seven years more, from the monkey. But that’s it. No more time.”
The human pleaded and tried to bargain for additional years, but did not get them. So it went forth and multiplied. And now, human beings live about 75 years. The first 30 are the human years and they are happy and healthy and filled with pleasurable work. Next come the 20 years of the ass, and one burden after another is laid on, and the rewards seem few. Then come the 18 years of the dog, when humans lie in the corner and growl. And life ends with the monkey’s seven years. Then the human becomes soft-headed and foolish, forgetful and silly, and perhaps, even wise.
Age creeps up on you. Lately, I’ve found myself thinking about maybe moving from Baltimore back to Cincinnati, where I had grown up. Mark Twain, you know, once said: “When things might be coming to an end, I want to be in Cincinnati, because things in Cincinnati always happen ten years later than anywhere else.”
There is serious talk among physicists and cosmologists that our apparently three-dimensional world may be a kind of hologram cast by a two-dimensional object or energy state – meaning that everything is, and we are, phantoms. In my life since my prostate was removed, I have been thinking about, talking at, dialoguing with, a phantom, the “Ghost of Prostate Past.” Even my real prostate was a kind of phantom organ (like an appendix, or a tonsil) before I ever really noticed it, or knew what it did. And now I can begin to accept that a permanent phantom state is where I am headed.
I remember when “old people” used to be the age I am now. To me, “old” has always meant at least twenty years older than I am. But these days twenty years older than me can often mean “dead”. I’m getting ready. “I ain’t gonna live forever, I ain’t gonna learn how to fly.” I’ve decided not to move back to Cincinnati – I don’t believe Mark Twain. But it’s sometimes difficult not to seek comfort in the advice of that Miss Alabama who was once asked the question: “If you could live forever, would you and why?” Her answer: “No, I would not live forever, because we should not live forever, because if we were supposed to live forever, then we would live forever, but we cannot live forever, and that is why I would not live forever.”