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On Reaching the Third Layer of Life’s Layer Cake

Written by Gary North on November 14, 2015

I wrote the following on December 15, 2008. That was my mother’s 91st birthday. I posted it the next day.

On November 8, 2015, my mother died. She did not make it to 98.

Here, I reprint what I wrote in 2008.

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Reality Check (December 16, 2008)

My father died at the age of 91 on December 2. He was not a man to make profound observations. He was a facts man. He spent World War II in the military police and two decades in the FBI. The FBI mostly investigated. He liked Sergeant Joe Friday’s
line: “Just the facts, ma’am.” Jack Webb made that line famous on “Dragnet,” which started on the radio the year before my father joined the FBI in 1950, and on TV the year after he joined. He was a big “Dragnet” fan.

He did make one profound observation to me that has stuck. I am not sure if it was original with him. I have never heard it from anyone else. Here it is.

Life is like a three-layer cake. When you are young, there are two layers between you and death. Then your grandfather dies, and there is only one layer. Then
your father dies. You are on top.

He spent 48 years as the top layer. I do not think I will spend 48 years there.

His observation reinforced a prediction made by my maternal grandmother, who on my 25th birthday remarked: “You will be 30 before you know it.” I was 50 before I knew it.

We all know how slowly time moves for a child. It moves most slowly in the last week before Christmas. Christmas to Christmas seems like forever.

Ben Franklin remarked: “A child thinks that twenty dollars and twenty years can never be spent.” He actually said pounds, but dollars has a ring to it, despite the inflation. Money runs out sooner than we think. So does time.

A year to a four-year-old is most of what he can remember. A year to an old person is a small fraction of his life, and he cannot recall the recent details anyway.

We know these things about time intellectually no later than the death of a grandfather, and usually no later than the death of our first dog. But, emotionally, it takes longer to register.

In terms of time-budgeting, it takes some people decades to come to grips with this. I suppose there are a few people for whom it takes the physician’s words, “You should get your affairs in order.”

A classic line in this regard — maybe the classic line — was William Saroyan’s, which he allowed to be published posthumously. “Everybody has got to die, but I have always believed that an exception would be made in my case. Now what?”

(For the rest of my article, click the link.)

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