Tuesday, February 26, 2019

'It Will Do Him No Good to Whine'

I’ve just learned that an old friend, Mike Matthews, died several years ago and is buried in Arlington National Cemetery. I met Mike in 1979 in Bryan, Ohio. He had just moved to town and was manager of a new drug store, and I was editor of the weekly newspaper in nearby Montpelier. Like me, Mike was a serious guy who had difficulty taking anything seriously. The Germans, naturally, have a word for such personalities: Witzelsucht (literally, “joking addiction”). That’s not quite accurate. We could be serious about ultimate things but the absurdity of daily life was fair game. It was Mike who taught me some choice examples of Navy slang. Thanks to him, cold cuts are forever “horse cock” and catsup is “sorority sauce,” though I’m rarely able to use such colorful language.

I learned about Mike’s death thanks to the internet and a friend in Ohio. In my experience, that’s how it’s done today. I have lived in five states, held a lot of jobs and known a lot of people, many of whom I remember with fondness. I expect to hear of more deaths, some that will evoke a twinge of regret, others that will leave me cold. News of my own death will fall mostly into the latter category. Most of us are just not that important. Beware of people who claim to grieve for every death. They likely grieve for none, or one. As Boswell recounted of Johnson:
“To my question, as to whether we might fortify our minds for the approach of death, he answered in a passion, ‘No, Sir, let it alone. It matters not how a man dies, but how he lives. The act of dying is not of importance, it lasts so short a time.’ He added, with an earnest look, ‘A man knows it must be so, and submits. It will do him no good to whine.’”

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