The days of our years are threescore years and ten; and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years, yet is their strength labour and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away.
— Psalm 90:10
There is no safety in the threefold world; it is like a burning house, replete with a multitude of sufferings, truly to be feared, constantly beset with the griefs and pains of birth, old age, sickness and death, which are like fires raging fiercely and without cease.
— The Lotus Sutra
When I was nine years old, I borrowed a collection of Star Trek stories from my dad. It included this one, wherein William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy and DeForest Kelly all end up in the 23rd century owing to some sort of freak transporter accident.
That was a pretty exciting premise to me. Since I knew that I was living in the 20th century and that Star Trek was happening in the 23rd century, I could do the math to figure out how long I had to wait to see it all for myself.
23rd century – 20th century = 3 centuries, pretty much.
So if it was 1977, then I was looking at having to wait around until 2277. I grabbed dad’s Commodore calculator (it looked like this) to help with the next part:
2277 – 1968 = 309 years.
So, dad being in seminary at the time and our family being church-going anyhow, I had some idea that some people lasted a pretty long time. Methuselah had a pretty good run. Hadn’t Noah made it to 900? Needed to check with mom, though.
Yes, she explained, people in the Bible lived a long time, “but we get threescore and ten years now.”
I knew how much a score was because Abraham Lincoln was my hero.
1968 + (20 * 3) + 10 = 2038
and 2277 – 2038 = not even close, really.
Further away from now than last year’s bicentennial had been from the first Independence Day.
I just wasn’t going to make it.
My favorite grandfather is dying of a brain tumor. Mom goes down to Texas, hoping to make things right, but all she does is get in the way of the t.v.
I don’t think what I experienced was a “death trip,” exactly. I just remember that things got pretty morbid some time around dawn. I was in the tv room at the house in Indianapolis, looking out at the parking lot behind the back yard. Cody and Kevin and Bill were riding bikes in the morning fog, gliding in and out of view.
Hudson was so stupid and inept. They made him my buddy and told me if he didn’t make it out of basic, it’d be my fault.
The last week, we were out in the field under a tree. It was raining and Hudson had fucked something up and all he could do was cry. All I could do was put my arm around him and tell him it’d be fine.
Jump school seemed like a good idea. It never really occurred to me to feel frightened during the day, but every night I dreamed of falling and falling with no parachute. My subconscious mixed it up by letting me ride a mattress into the dirt one night.
The team’s up on the Richmond site outside of Taejon. It’s an old building behind a gate. We’ve put up the mast and we’re on the network. The team chief asks us what we’d do if the balloon went up. Oh … I know this one:
“We take our defensive positions and the one on radio watch burns the SOI and takes an axe to the COMSEC gear, then we all defend the site.”
The team chief says, “you do that. I’m gonna run my ass down the hill before it gets shot off. They won’t bother with soldiers anyhow. They’ll just dial us in and light us up.”
I arrive at Ft. Bragg the week a major in my brigade had a bad landing, broke his leg and the bone severed an artery. He bled out on the drop zone before anyone could find him and help him. I don’t know if he knew what was happening.
That last nine months I was on jump status, I was pretty sure each jump was going to kill me. If you could be on jump status, though, you were supposed to be on jump status. That’s how it was. The sergeant major would cut your wings off your chest in front of everybody otherwise.
They aspirated a lump in my throat on a Wednesday, the doctor fucked off on vacation before the labs came back on Thursday, and nobody would tell me anything until the next Tuesday.
It was fine.
Ben. He stirs some things up.
“I mean,” says my friend, “FORTY. Aren’t you freaking out?”
“I just don’t, I guess.”
It wasn’t a question for me though, was it? In retrospect, I regret the answer.
Here we are.
I still don’t.
Some days, I feel naive or clueless and I think to myself that I might be wrong, and that I might be giving the wrong answer on a cosmic test.
Some days I think, “you’ve taken advantage of a number of opportunities to consider it.”
Mostly I think we’re born in a house that’s on fire, and there’ll be a moment between flame and ash.
We’ll need to have been kind.