CROSSROADS TO SOMEWHERE: Is it Immoral to Talk About Death?

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By W.T. Wimpy Hiroto
(First published in
The Rafu Shimpo on September 22, 2010.)

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The doorbell rang early Sunday morning. An unusual occurrence. When knocks on the iron screen door followed in quick succession, I had a measured decision to make: Do I (a) simply ignore, (b) achingly get out of bed or (c) call 911?  I chose to rise. Reasoning: The house could’ve been on fire and then I could take (c) action. (It wasn’t.)
I caught two young Latinos by surprise on the front porch when I appeared from the opposite kitchen side with an unexpected “Hola.”  They were young adults, clean cut, wearing starched white dress shirts sans ties. If otherwise I probably would have asked a pointed “Que paso?” or a simple “Japones, no hablo Español,”  which I have used on occasion.

The lead lad didn’t waste time apologizing for the early visitation hour but did impress by handing over the bulky newspaper before beginning his spiel. I listened politely for a minute or so before the timely ring of the telephone interrupted. I quickly took the opportunity to thank him for the visit while pointing toward the ringing. As he handed me a religious tract his final words were:“What would you do if you knew you were going to die tomorrow?”

What chutzpah was my reaction. Did he really think I would have an answer? Upon re-entering the kitchen I allowed the phone to make one last ring before it too died without an answer.

As I turned the knob to heat up water for a cup of coffee, the stove clock read 8:08. (My love for anything Chinese does not start and stop with take-out or the color red; I have also adopted 8 as my lucky number.)

What a unique parting thrust, I thought, to conclude a conversion. The kid had huevos asking such a personal question and if its sole purpose was to roil the metaphysical juices it worked. Damn (not darn, geez or wowzus), I thought, the inquiry had to be a part of a rehearsed pitch created by a high powered psychological think tank.

Our Issei treated the subject of death with reserved humor, or better put, with resignation. It always seemed to pop up at pre-war gatherings among both men and women. Too often we forget they were then in their 40s and 50s, unselfishly devoted to bettering the lives of their offspring: education and betterment of their children’s future their one and only goal. Personal gain was never a factor. I think it’s safe to say they dedicated their lives without regard of self and personal gain. Death was merely an adjunct.

With the Nisei? Hard to say. [A handy excuse.) We were destined to confront obstacles, sometimes more difficult to surmount than our parents’. Theirs were basic. Ours a bit more intangible and sophisticated to meet head on. In both cases though, the underlying strengths were resolve and perseverance. Attributes not easy to come by or to maintain. Bottom line, we were and are a very special group. [CR2S is often discombobulated. And its readers can’t be blamed if they are sometimes forced to look for a message GPS – or yellow cane.]

So the original question still wafts in the air like a philosophical piñata:  What would you do if you knew you were to die tomorrow? Want to take a crack at it? Whack at it with abandon and I’m pretty sure nothing but more questions will fall. What to do if only hours of life remain?

Family immediately comes to mind. Almost simultaneously an argument arises: What is to be gained by notifying (and bringing sadness) to loved ones? Friends? I guess. But which ones? Likewise a modern approach of e-mail. A one-size-fits-all generic message would appear insensitive, not to mention callous. Time would be too precious to spend at a keyboard tapping out personalized messages, making cell phone calls or texting. Gassho and amen? You’d still have a whole lot of time left.

The innocuous Sabbath morn visit continues to disrupt. The parting shot lingers like a shroud during three football games and hours of sentimental music. Monday arrives with no gift of respite. I’ve run out of milk. Dry cereal. Ugh.
The query is so ingrained by now I’m wondering what his definition of “tomorrow” was. Twenty-four hours has already passed. Oops. Time’s up.

What would you do if you knew you would join the ranks of the deceased tomorrow? I’m in a generous mood. I’ll give you until midnight.
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W.T. Wimpy Hiroto can be reached by e-mail. Opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.

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