You’re walking down the street when you see a man with a sign on the corner sitting in a lawn chair. The sign at his feet reads “PREDICT YOUR DEATH – $1”. The man is half-asleep, a hat drawn down on his brow.
“Predict my death?” you sneer inwardly, “Who’s he kiddin’?” But still, it’s only a buck, and you have nothing better to do for the next hour. You pull a single from your wallet and say: “Fine. How do I die?”
The man snatches the single from you quickly and snorts. “How do you die isn’t important, kid,” he folds the bill into the pocket of his shirt. “I could tell you that you die in a car accident tomorrow and you’d spend the whole of tomorrow indoors – so you could avoid being in traffic. And you’d still get crushed under one that fell out of a cargo plane.”
“So, I die in a car accident?” you ask.
He stares at you levelly. “What you’re looking for is some kind of loophole in the system. Something that you can avoid doing or start doing so you’ll never have to worry about dying. If there were any goddamn loopholes in the cycle of life, our species would’ve bred itself to death millennia ago.”
Abashed, you shift nervously.
“It doesn’t matter if you die quickly or slowly. Painfully, or in your sleep. It could be sudden – like being shot; or lingering – like cancer.Will you be lucid and coherent during your demise? Or will you be a mental vegetable? Who cares? The how is just as irrelevant as when.”
“But if you tell me how I die, and it is something avoidable or treatable – like cancer – won’t I be able to prevent it from happening?”
“Would you care to tell me who you know that is currently living forever right now?” He straightens in his chair. “Back to our original analogy: when you die tomorrow, you know what your last thoughts are going to be? The chances you didn’t take, the things you didn’t say, the stuff you put off because you thought you had another year in you at least. Same as everyone else no matter when they die or how: there are people who’ll die decades from now still lamenting all those would’a-could’a-should’a moments in their life. You think you’re any different?”
“If I can prevent how I die for long enough, I’ll have enough time to do everything I’ve always wanted, right?”
“BZZZT! WRONG! There’s always going to be that one more thing you want to do, one more goal, one more desire. It doesn’t matter if it’s winning an Oscar or getting a doughnut at breakfast. There’s never enough time for everything.”
“Fine, then! When do I die?”
“Weren’t you listening to me earlier? When is as equally unimportant as how. You think that by knowing when you’ll die, you’re going to be able to fit everything that you’ve ever wanted to do into a nice neat package no matter what the deadline. But what if I tell you that you’re going die tomorrow? Are you really going to graduate from college, get a Nobel prize, and nail a catalog model in the next 24 hours?”
“Obviously, I’d have to prioritize-“
“Which is what you should be doing anyways. But there’s a difference between asking yourself whether you really want to travel to France and if you have enough time to do so.”
“So what’s the point? Why bother having goals, or passions, or even desires if you’re just going to die with regret?”
“My point is: the only people who don’t have any desires, dreams, goals, or passions are already dead. Some of them don’t even know it yet, either. Having unfinished business is proof you are still alive – it’s the constant reaching for that next thing that pulled us out of the primordial muck and transformed us into the selfish, egotistical, xenophobic plebes that you see every day. If you knew died tomorrow, you would have an acre of regret from all of the things you didn’t do – and if you knew you died ten years from now, the remainder of your life would be spent panicking that you don’t have enough time to do anything new.”
“But if I can’t finish what I want to do, what’s the point of starting it?”
“Which would you rather have people know about your death, that you died climbing a mountain – or were found in your apartment surrounded by 50 cats? It doesn’t matter what you died doing, but at least have it happen while doing something you love. So, anyway…”
“You listened to my little spiel. Now it’s on to giving you your prediction.”
“You already told it to me – you said I’m going to die in a car accident tomorrow.”
“No, I was using that as a metaphor to illustrate how stupid asking someone how or when you are going to die is. So, as I was saying-”
“I think I’ve changed my mind, I don’t really want to know when or how I die.”
“We have a problem then.”
“The kind of service I provide is, shall we say, ‘non-refundable’.”
“You can keep the dollar, it’s okay-“
“Well then, I’m going to have to offer you my next service.”
The man flips his sign around, on the back it says “I WON’T PREDICT YOUR DEATH – $10.”
“$10 insures that you no longer have to worry about if you have enough time left to finish learning Esperanto, or whether you die choking on the cheeseburger you’re eating. $10 gives you all the time in the world to look for that next thing, because the last thing you did failed to kill you. $10 buys you peace of mind so you don’t spend all of that time you have left wallowing in a pool of regret at all the things you were too scared to do.”
You flip the man $10 dollars and leave angrily.