Now in my sixties, when I consider my mortality, it's not the fear of death that saddens me. After the sadness of leaving Jessica and my kids to go on without me, the one thing I regret most about leaving this mortal coil is missing out on the live show of history. I am forever fascinated by news and current events, and the idea of not know about a future presidential election or the next great invention used to make me melancholy.
I remember in 1991, when talking with a friend about a mutual pal we both thought might be suicidal, I said without a whiff of irony, "How can he think about killing himself? Doesn't he want to know if Dan Quayle ever becomes president?!" I wasn't joking. That has been my thinking for the last 30 years. While others seek out the meaning of life, I see it as one big E-ticket ride, and world events are just the harrowing turns that keep our adrenaline pumping. The losers, I always felt, were the people who died just before 9/11 or the outbreak of Covid, or those who never learned of the glorious election of the first black president or the ignominious defeat of the first psychotic one. I've often thought, "Wow, Kobe died in January of 2000, so he never knew about Covid." That's how my mind works.
But more recently, my thinking on the spectacle of history has evolved. I am coming to realize that "news" isn't really new anymore. It's the same story repackaged over and over with glitzy wrapping and bows. The Johnny Depp/Whats-Her-Name trial is really the Richard Burton/Elizabeth Taylor marriages dressed up for the internet age. Prince's death was no different than the "shocking" deaths of Elvis Presley, Michael Jackson, Bob Saget, Anton Scalia, Ruth Bader Ginsberg, and Princess Diana. Indeed, the news is peppered with "sudden" celebrity deaths that always seem to shock us, as if celebrities shouldn't die. (With "sudden" even coming at 100).
9/11 was Pearl Harbor. Afghanistan was the Vietnam of the 2000s (which was the Korea of the 1960s). Iraq was the Persian Gulf War passed from father to son. Al Qaeda was the PLO and ISIS is just Muslim Nazis. And the current Russian incursion into Ukraine is the Soviet's Afghanistan incursion of our age.
Uvaldi was Sandy Hook. Parkland was Virginia Tech, which was Columbine. Las Vegas was Orlando, which was the Texas Tower. Laguna Woods was Tree of Life was Sutherland Springs was Mother Emanuel was Oak Creek and too many other church/synagogue/mosque shootings to list. The El Paso Walmart was the Killeen Luby's was the San Ysidro McDonald's. The Challenger was Apollo 1 which was The Hindenburg. Covid was AIDS was Polio was the Spanish Flu was Small Pox. Global warming is the Ozone layer, which was air pollution in the 1970s, which was overpopulation a decade prior.
Hillary Clinton was John Kerry. John Kerry was Al Gore, who was Michael Dukakis, who was Walter Mondale, who was George McGovern, who was Hubert Humphrey, who was Adlai Stevenson. And they all were Samuel Tilden.
Putin is Stalin. John Kennedy was Lincoln. Lincoln was Caesar. Lincoln Center is the Colosseum.
And Betty White was the Mother Teresa of entertainment.
Like the movie "Groundhog Day," our world has become an endless hamster wheel of interchangible headlines. We repackage and regift news stories to ourselves for momentary diversion as we stream and binge-watch life in 24-hour news cycles. History only repeats itself because we keep calling for an encore.
Some day, I now realize, there will be another Hiroshima. Another world war. Another worldwide pandemic or flood or drought. Another Jobs, Gates, Bezos, or Musk. Another Facebook and another iPhone.
Breaking News will continue to break. I won't. But I realize now that I won't really miss anything new or important. The world will just miss me commenting on it.