Must we live with one foot in the grave?

“Shower the people you love with love/ Show them the way that you feel.” – James Taylor

With all due respect to the five-time Grammy Award winner, I’ve seen fire and I’ve seen rain and I’ve seen sunny days when I wished people would put their advice where the sun DON’T shine.

I think most homo sapiens do a serviceable job of unbottling our emotions when a special person is terminally ill or going into a battle zone. But some well-intentioned buttinsky is always trying to guilt us into opening up around seemingly healthy acquaintances because – you never know – we may never see them alive again.

You’ve memorized the platitudes. It’s urgent that you thank your old coach, because he might get hit by a bus tomorrow. It’s urgent that you thank your childhood neighbor for buying your awful lemonade, because he might get hit by a bus tomorrow. It’s urgent… y’know, instead of chitchatting about long-ago favors, we ought to be rounding up all our mentors and benefactors, arming them with pitchforks and torches and getting that drunk bus driver off the streets!

Don’t get the wrong idea. I’m not heartless. My Sunday school class knows I think of them as family. I recently thanked the lady who introduced me to my wife 35 years ago. Out of the blue, I thanked a former classmate for defending me against teasing in fifth grade P.E. class. But do-gooders are feverishly brainstorming more and more professionals, friends, and acquaintances that we should be thanking, hugging, saluting, etc.

There’s no earthly way to do justice to EVERYONE. Not everybody gets a “Did you ever know that you’re my hero?” ribbon. You must PRIORITIZE and lug around actuarial charts to survive. (“Here comes Pete. Maybe it’s time to quit being superficial and finally open up about that time he covered for me and got fired. But wait…office job, good diet, no dangerous sports, no smoking, uses sunscreen…maybe next time. Hey, Pete – workin’ hard or hardly workin’, pal?”)

Focusing on the fragility of life can lead to some seemingly endless conversations. (“Nice chatting with you, Herb. Hope you have fun on your vacation. Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do. *Chuckle* But, seriously, here’s a list of things I wouldn’t do: lean against a rickety guardrail, drive on a bald tire, make a pass at a mobster’s girlfriend, eat foods processed on machinery also used for processing peanuts…”)

I know you can attain a natural high by getting in the habit of thinking about other people’s mortality and doling out the compliments, congratulations and apologies accordingly. But there’s a flip side to those emotions. (“Wait a minute…Wally is sizing me up and pitying ME because he thinks I’M the one who’s going to die first. Son of a gun. Hey, Wally, I’ll bet your wid… er, your WIFE… would look really smokin’ in black.”)

Be kind. Avoid regrets. But pace yourself. Unfortunately, blood kin merits extra deference.

“Uncle Aloysius, I can’t thank you enough for that riveting account of the time you – or your twin brother, you really can’t remember for sure – almost got chosen as an alternate for the Watching Paint Dry Competition in the state capital. I’m so inspired, I’m going to name my first son after you. Oh, wait – I went all the way through menopause during the story. Darn.”

Danny welcomes email responses at tyreetyrades@aol.com and visits to his Facebook fan page “Tyree’s Tyrades.” Danny’s weekly column is distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons Inc. newspaper syndicate.

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