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Jack Zaleski, Published June 29 2013

Zaleski: Considering Grim Reaper’s timetable

Elsewhere on this page, read Steve Stark’s compelling first-person account of his flirtation with death – a flirtation Steve did not initiate or encourage. As you read, you’ll realize his spirit and wit were not damaged when his heart shut down. He’s even drawing editorial cartoons again.

We’ve been friends for a long time, so his frightening heart bump was personal because I was worried about him, and because, frankly, I was worried about me – about aging, illness and, yes, mortality.

Steve’s heart-stop was followed last week by a couple of conversations I had with friends from my high school class of 1964. Steve’s situation and my classmates’ calls stirred up routinely avoided questions about death. I was distracted all week.

Not that anyone talked directly about it. Rather, my classmates merely – merely? – ticked off the members of our class who are dead. There are more than I knew.

In one call, we had our yearbooks out as we talked. I could hear pages turning in Pennsylvania as both of us checked off the departed. She knew of a few dead I didn’t; I knew of several she hadn’t heard about. Among them were kids we remembered as indestructible athletes, brilliant scholars, talented musicians and artists, and laugh-out-loud class clowns. All dead.

We’re just about Social Security age, but many yearbook classmates died young: some in accidents; a few in war; at least one suicide; two of AIDS; others of chronic, early-in-life maladies; one just disappeared and is assumed dead.

We decided our connected and remarkably healthy group should get together without delay, or our numbers – a tad depleted already – might not fill a walk-in closet if we wait. Plans are underway.

I don’t mean to be morbid or maudlin. After all, aging gracefully (whatever the hell that means) and staying healthy is easier today than it was for our parents’ generation. For many of them, any years beyond the 70th were sweet frosting on a collapsing cake. For us boomers, 70 years old is touted as the new 50. I can buy that, most days.

But last week, what with Steve’s way-too-close-up visit with the Grim Reaper, and then crossing off too many dead classmates in my yellowing yearbook, it was, well, a little unsettling.

All of you good readers out there of a certain age know what I’m talking about, right? Sure you do. Hug your grandchildren. Hug all your loved ones.

Contact Editorial Page Editor Jack Zaleski at (701) 241-5521.