One Horse Shay. Image Source: Wiki.
We all have to die one day. Since the '60s in the west, death has no longer been considered a part of the social contract, so people don't talk about death and dying the way they used to. Instead, they talk about not dying, about cheating the Reaper - as though anti-ageing and potentially not dying at all somehow is the next stage after your retirement package. They do this rather than face mortality with dignity.
This blog sometimes explores anti-ageing from the perspective of the most high profile Baby Boomers who are interested in the topic. They are ever in search of the Fountain of Youth. For a different point of view, I asked my dad and his friend, both tough old septuagenarian Silent Generation fellows, about death. They liked Dennis Hopper's ad for retirement planning, pulled after his death from cancer in 2010, where Hopper sits at a crossroads and says, "Ya gotta have a plan."
The Ameriprise financial planning ad, aimed at Boomers, runs:
You can see it here on Youtube. You can see other Ameriprise ads aimed at Boomers, here and below."So here you are, a little confused. Did you think the road to retirement was an expressway? Come on, this isn't some random road trip. Your dreams are out there somewhere. You can't start this journey without knowin' where you're goin'. You my friend, you need a plan."
Boomer-oriented advertisement on retirement. Video Source: Youtube.
Given that Hopper died while these ads were running, this made my father and his friend guffaw with laughter. "That was a good plan, haw haw haw." They take a dim view of retirement ads aimed at Boomers, including the weird drug industry which takes normal symptoms of ageing and treats those symptoms like diseases which need to be cured.
"Low T? What the Hell is that? When I go," my dad added, "I want to go like the One Horse Shay, a carriage so perfectly constructed" he explained, "that it runs perfectly until one day when it finally breaks down, you're left with nothing but dust." Wiki:
Because One Horse Shays failed with zero scrap value, they are apparently not easy to find as antiques or in restored versions. There is an antique store in Middleboro, Massachusetts which is named for the One Horse Shay, presumably for this reason.Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. memorialized the shay in his light poem "The Deacon's Masterpiece or The Wonderful One-Hoss Shay". The fictional deacon built this wonderful one horse shay so it wouldn't break down. He built it from the very best of materials so that each part was as strong as every other part. In Holmes' humorous, yet "logical", twist, the shay endures for a hundred years to the day (actually to the moment of the 100th year of the Lisbon Earthquake — to the precise hour of the earthquake shock) then it "went to pieces all at once, and nothing first, — just as bubbles do when they burst." It was built in such a "logical way" that it ran a hundred years to a day.
Theodor Leschetizky (1911). Image Source: From the Maude Puddy Collection. Series 312 Elder Conservatorium Photographs. University of Adelaide Research and Scholarship.
Before people placed their faith in the wonders of biotech engineering, they met their maker with faith, despair, or with panache. Mark Twain told a story about how his daughter's famous piano teacher, Theodore Leschetizky (1830-1915), died. Leschetizky was a man of the 19th century through and through, and you can hear the echoes of that earlier age in this possibly apocryphal account:
[Leschetizky] was in Dresden on November 14, 1915, to visit his gravely ailing son and staying at a hotel with his Czech housekeeper, Pepi. Feeling suddenly ill himself, he announced, "Heute Nacht werde ich sterben" (Tonight I'm going to die) and asked the frightened girl to fetch him a bottle of Sekt (German champagne) from the concierge. When she did, he commanded, "Nun betet!" (Now pray!). While Pepi was on her knees, he downed the bubbly and expired. His remains were carried home to Vienna for interment in an Ehrengrab (grave of honor) near his mentor, Czerny, in a section of the Zentral Friedhof reserved by the city for its most famous burghers.
(Carl Dolmetsch, Our Famous Guest: Mark Twain in Vienna (Athens, Georgia: University of Georgia Press,1992), 94.)