This was the daily mantra many office-workers heard at the pub Down Under in the distant days of 6 o’clock closing. Off work at 5:30 p.m., they had just thirty minutes to down as many schooners as they could. (laborers started and got off work earlier, so they had more time to guzzle). The pace and the quantity of Tooth’s or Toohey’s consumed ensured the accomplishment of their mission, which was to get sloshed, or at least feeling no pain, before they took the train home for “tea” – which is what we called, in the British tradition, the evening meal. There was no problem with alcohol-tests, which didn’t exist, and even if they did the vast majority, if ever they had a car, never drove to the office or its often daily complement, the pub.
For us kids, “Time, gentlemen, please !” came out as “Pens down !” at the end of a test at school. For the punch-drunk in the ring it was the gong marking the end of the round, or the number “ten” if they were K.O. on the mat. For the planet it will be the Final Explosion, the end of it all, matching the Big Bang which was its beginning. But before that, it will be for each of us that frightful death-rattle I hope my grandchildren never hear.
Not a terribly entertaining or comforting thought, all this. But it needn’t be depressing. Right now I’m feeling fine. I know it can’t last, but that, my dear Finian and other friends, is what finitude is all about. Those who are suffering as they read this (the frequent effect on readers of much that I write, even on people in good health) know that their pain, like their joys, will one day come to a definitive end. Meager consolation for those, the unlucky ones, whose pain cannot be assuaged by medication. Life itself has its limits, our days are numbered, the end is, if not near, at least getting nearer for all of us. “Finis coronat opus” – “The end crowns the work”.
I have found this realization a liberation. I love living and at 77 am making the most of it, but I once thought and taught that death was a mile-stone, a fork in the road, a transition to an imagined eternal life, not a dead-end to existence. To be able to live and enjoy life without this illusion is no doubt the most precious gift of atheism. I won’t mind hearing, or imagining I hear, “Frank, it’s time !”