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What happens when mortality smacks you?

The View from Here

I was smacked in the head by my own mortality last week. It wasn’t too bad of an experience.

My wife and I just bought a house — an event that has forced me to feel, and at times, act, like a mature, responsible adult. Before this experience, I tended to think of myself as a lightheartedly cynical twenty-something. Obviously, I was delusional.

I was warned that buying a house was an ordeal. Inspections. Negotiations. Loans. The closing. All of it, friends told me, was very bad. Our experience, however, wasn’t. Besides the knotted stomach and shortness of breath, I thought it went well.

What I’ve found most distressing in this life-altering development is buying life insurance. It’s always been floating around in the back of my mind, “Hey man, you really need to check into a life insurance policy.” It was there; I ignored it. Can’t ignore it now.

Like the house-buying process, the insurance investment is also seemingly fraught with terror, largely as a result of my ignorance when it comes down to what I need, how I’ll pay for it and if it’s really going to be enough should the inevitable happen a bit too soon. However, sitting in our agent’s office and listening to a couple of proposals was alright.

It was the ease with which Insurance Guy handled the big death question that I found unsettling. The dude was smooth.

When I die, I don’t want a “funeral director.” Find the nearest insurance agent, and I’ll be ready to go six feet under. They know how to handle death.

Instead of appreciating the professional and thorough way our agent discussed what would be taken care of when I died, I found myself drifting away to memories of the good ol’ days when I just knew that I’d live forever.


Remember how you drove in high school? I do. I’m reminded of it almost every day. Essentially, teen-agers are the same as they’ve always been. The music is much worse, but the driving, seems very familiar.

My first car was a 1971 MGB. British racing green. I bought it for 200 bucks. While adjusting its idle screws one Saturday evening, a friend and I managed to start it while leaning around the hood, hear it roar to life, watch it go shooting out my parent’s garage and slam into my dad’s parked truck.

Apparently, MG’s will start no matter what gear they’re in. This one happened to be in first, and we’d turned the idle screws the wrong way. Serious RPMs. Very bad scene.

How did my mom describe it to the insurance company: Two car crash. In a driveway. No drivers.

At the time, I felt bad about what had happened. Hated to smash the side in on my dad’s truck. But in a dark, perverse way, it was funny, too. Standing there in the driveway. Chuckling. Of course I never thought about the “What if’s?”

What if the MG had run over us? What if the MG missed the truck and hit the neighbor’s kid? What if, what if, what if.

But I never thought about those questions. You live forever, right?


Hot day in Texas. It was spring break a few years ago, and my friends and I had survived Fat Chuck’s Demise, a steep section of bike trail strewn with rocks and a wicked gully.

We were on a great road trip to the Rocky Hill Mountain Bike Ranch between Houston and Austin. Perfect way to waste a week.

The ride was going well until I lost it on a drop into a ditch. Flipped. Hit hard and tore my left shin across a tree stump. Oh well, lots of blood. I kept riding.

I caught up with my riding partners a few minutes later. They caught sight of my leg — still pulsing blood — and were horrified.

“Just a scrape,” I said.

“Time to head back, man,” they said, almost in unison.

Must be serious. But, I kept riding. Still a perfect day with miles to go. And anyway, blood crusts over — eventually.

Now, if that happened today, I’d head back. Clean the leg. Get stitches. And if anything like that happened to my daughter, I’d stop the world and rush to the nearest emergency room.

Those “what if’s?” seem much more pertinent.

Hmmmm…wife, kid, house and life insurance. Older and wiser — I’m working on them. But when I buy the Buick and Sans-A-Belt slacks, shoot me.

Jim Laird is editor of the Mississippi Business Journal. His e-mail address is jlaird@msbusiness.com.


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