We battled a bad cold across the Atlantic. The sea air seemed to do it good. By the time we got to São Paulo, the ailment was in fine fettle.
Finally, on Tuesday, we raised the white flag. We called in a member of the medical profession, who promptly prescribed antibiotics.
‘Without them, you would have a hard time recovering,’ he said. But by then we were a wreck of sweats, chills, and shakes.
And there we lay — in a hotel room in a foreign country, far from kith and kin — alternately passing through the fog of fever and moments of such sky-blue clarity that we wondered if we hadn’t pierced the veil separating one world from the next.
For 48 hours we floated in a lugubrious near-coma. We could be aroused on occasion to answer a question. Otherwise, we were out of it.
The housekeepers, concierge, and doctor came. All discussed our situation among themselves, wondering whether to pack us off to the hospital or the morgue.
But we ignored them. We didn’t want to go anywhere or talk to anyone…We just wanted to sink into our own hallucinations and invite the ghosts.
We saw a memorial service…and realised that it was for us.
There were family and friends gathered in church. There were business associates, too. And even a few Dear Readers. How we delighted in their tears.
What wonderful remembrances. What delicious lies, all cleaving carefully to the storyline: that your editor was not a bad sort, after all. It was such a pitifully sweet spectacle, we could hardly wait to die.
A man should always contemplate his death before it happens. When the sod is on his face, it is too late. But as long as the blood still runs in his veins, like Ebenezer, he still may be able to set things right.
We spent our entire career making money for ourselves and hoping to help others make money for themselves.
We were one of the first and few to notice that the money system is corrupt.
Our formula for real economic progress (Total Satisfaction = the real value of win-win deals minus win-lose deals) is one of our many insights economists chose to ignore.
And our ‘sell stocks, buy gold’ advice from January 2000 is probably some kind of record. Over the next few years, gold was the top-performing asset class. And now, 20 years after we made the recommendation, gold has still beaten stocks 2 to 1.
Of course, we also gave some bum advice. But mourners at our imagined wake were too polite to mention it.
And as the fog of fever evaporated, we wondered, what should we do? How do we get more tears on the faces of mourners? How do we add a column inch or so to our achievements in The Baltimore Sun obituary? How do we fill those empty seats in Saint Paul’s Church?
Some people believe there are things they should do before they die. Magazines offer lazy copy about how it is essential to visit the Taj Mahal or the Pyramids.
But what kind of life can be given real meaning by the travel industry? Who really cares whether you’ve been to the top of the Eiffel Tower? Nobody. Not even you.
And who wants to travel, anyway? It is tiring. And you end up in the company of other tourists, all hoping to snatch a peek at staged authenticity without ever really finding out what it is all about. (Unless you are traveling off the beaten path like our colleague Tom Dyson, who writes to you below.)
Or how about big public events? Should you go to the Olympics? The Venice Film Festival? The Rolling Stones’ last concert? Why not? But we doubt it is something you’ll recall on your deathbed.
A few years ago, a well-intentioned friend invited us to Rio de Janeiro for Carnival.
Try to picture it, a million people, half-dressed, sweating profusely and staying up all night, dancing in crowded, litter-strewn streets to the pounding sound of samba bands.
There is nothing in Dante’s Inferno to match it; we doubt that the Devil himself could do a better job of torture.
What, then? When life adjourns, what will you remember with a smile?
How about writing a best-selling novel…or a hit song? Or, like the Collison brothers, maybe you could start a new business and sell it to a venture capital firm for millions?
Lots of people climb Kilimanjaro, but how about hopping up on one foot? That would be an achievement…like stretching out your mouth so you could get five pool balls in at one time.
These thoughts took our delusions to a deeper level. They are things you are unlikely to be able to do. And even if somehow you pulled it off…what would be the point? Do best-selling authors and rich people die happier than the rest of us?
We thought about it…but were unable to make much headway. In the final hour, neither bucket lists nor padded-out résumés…neither party affiliations, nor honours, nor success of any sort seemed to make much difference…
So we stopped thinking and returned to the ghosts. There, in more than threescore and ten dead years, they found a precious few acts of unpremeditated kindness…glimmers of truth…rare hints of courage and grace…a smile…and a kiss.