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Pete Steiner

Sunblinded, gazing out my window at 20-below zero in mid-February, I sipped my coffee. Still confined by cold and COVID, yet technology made it possible for me to survive comfortably, able to contemplate nature from inside a heated porch. Birds, rabbits and squirrels that forage at the feeders I have filled are made to survive these conditions. Still, I imagine I can ease their struggle just a little.

I read that only about 50% of birds survive beyond their first year. By comparison, that means I am doing extraordinarily well, having been gifted so many decades to behold the beauties of God’s green (and blue) earth.

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I get the mail, file through it, and there it is. A card like this arrives three or four times a year from the Neptune Society or the National Cremation Society. It touts “Today’s sensible choice of a growing number of Americans.” That choice, of course, is cremation as opposed to traditional burial.

The mailers say they are simply “updating our files and want to make sure we have your correct information.” Right. The name and address are correct; why would I choose to send them more?

As I’ve said here before, boomers, of which I am one, are notorious for denying they are aging. If I fill out the postage-paid return card, I will be acknowledging the fact of my mortality. But if I do not respond, might they assume that my “correct information” is that ol’ Pete has kicked?

No, but I wonder, for how many years will they keep contacting me? After all, my dear, deceased mother is still receiving various solicitations and catalogs nearly three years after her death. (A notification sent to one that “the recipient is Deceased,” brought a follow-up mailing to “Dear Deceased.”)

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Leaden-eyed actuaries unimpressed by my longevity are paid big bucks to go over their tables, information collected from credit card accounts or Facebook or — well, you know, our personal information is all over the place — and then to tell the Neptune Society: Hey, this guy is ready to exit stage left, better send him another mailer.

Practically speaking, they have a point: With about 4 billion devotees of burying religions in this world, where will they find room for them all? And I must say, I am a firm believer one should have things in order – funeral planned, readings selected, music picked. (Someone else could choose that insipid song you always disliked that is sung at so many funerals.) And have a will!

While certainly not in their category, I look at the messes created by Prince and Aretha for their loved ones when they died without a will. And it took Jimi Hendrix’s heirs 30 years to untangle his estate (he didn’t expect to die at 27, when few have written a will).

Picasso’s vastly under-valued estate — $250 million half a century ago, before individual works began going at auction for fully one-third of that total amount — left seven heirs to battle for six years over how to divide it, costing $30 million in lawyers’ fees. So it probably serves a motivational purpose when I get a mailed reminder about “the way of all flesh.”

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OK, let me go way out on a limb here. This speculation was prompted by the deluge of “extended warranty” offers bombarding us — point of purchase offers, robo-calls, two-minute ads on the cable news channels — they seem to be everywhere. In fact, it’s a $150 billion a year industry. Extended warranties for your car, your laptop, your new refrigerator, your vacuum cleaner.

So, how long until someone concocts a scam to offer an extended warranty for your body? Not talking here about health insurance for new knees or new hips or new kidneys. No, call me a nut, but consider the scenario: The futurist Ray Kurzweil claims the Singularity will occur by mid-century.

The Singularity theoretically means a human consciousness could be merged with a durable computer to create a kind of immortality, what devotees call “a post-biological world.” The most famous bet on this so far is baseball great Ted Williams, whose son had the slugger’s head and body cryogenically frozen two decades ago.

While highly controversial, the practice of cryogenics — freezing a brain and body — holds out the prospect that preserved remains, pending theoretical future advances in science, will someday make a sort of resurrection possible. It’s an expensive long shot, but plenty of never-say-die boomers have the cash for a roll of the dice. (It’s a whole new meaning for brain-freeze.)

But really, how long until promotional cards start arriving in the mail proclaiming, “You too could live forever! Call this 800-number now to learn more!”

I’d have to live to about 98 to become a candidate for Kurzweil’s singularity. The Cremation Society actuaries aren’t betting on that.

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