The gerontocratic elephant in the graveyard.
I went back to my home town last month and while I was there, I invited a large group of old friends, many of whom I’d known since childhood, for an evening on the patio of a pub.
It was so good to see them all again and to relive our old days, and catch up on all the things that had happened in the years since we’d last seen one another — a decade or more, in some cases.
Then, as is inevitable for a group of old friends in their fifties and sixties, we started talking about who was dead.
We’ve got a lot of dead, which is only to be expected. Barring war or plague or violent natural disaster, the presence of death in a life follows a predictable procession. I lost a great-grandmother at four. A playmate was struck by a car and killed when I was six. A friend committed suicide when I was fifteen. Another when I was sixteen. At eighteen, I lost an aunt to cancer. At twenty, a grandfather died of a heart attack, and then a cousin was killed by a car.
After twenty, things picked up a little. An overdose. Another. Cancer took a grandparent, dementia took another. My mentors — the ones old enough to be my parents or grandparents — died from “natural causes.” A few more contemporaries lost to cancer. A few more to suicide.
By my thirties, all of the mentors old enough to be my grandparents were dead. Many of the ones old enough to be my parents were dead, too. A few of the ones old enough to be an older sibling died, too. One of my dearest friends lay down to sleep and never awoke, felled by a freak brain-bleed.
In my forties, I lost all my grandparents, most of the great uncles and aunts, several cousins, more friends. Some of my friends lost their kids, too: cancer, OD, suicide. Cars, of course.
Now, in my fifties, my friends and I count our dead, name them, mourn them, remember them.
Last month, as we named our dead, a dear old pal said, “It used to be that when I heard about a friend dying, I thought, ‘I wish he’d asked for help,’ or ‘What a freak accident.’ Now I just think, ‘at least it was quick.’” Because they used to die by suicide or misadventure.
Now, they just die.
This week, the GOP supermajority on the Supreme Court made a series of increasingly bizarre and unhinged rulings, including a ruling on a wholly imaginary situation (the ruling’s consequences will not be imaginary).
The outcomes of these elections are incredibly consequential. Many races are determined by the thinnest of margins, and both chambers of Congress sit on razor-thin margins. A single lawmaker’s absence can derail whole swathes of policymaking. A single intransigent lawmaker can plunge millions into poverty, or hold the majority hostage.
Continue reading "Designated Survivors"