Nobody enjoys standing in a queue. I have been lucky enough to have had little experience in this domain. Like everyone else, I’ve had to join a queue to be one of the first to see a long-awaited recent release from Hollywood, or to buy tickets for an international rugby match, or to make sure I managed to purchase the latest electronic gadget (this is a lie, but I imagine many do). I have even joined queues in the street to get into a tiny Parisian boulangerie-pâtisserie for its pain complet and prize-winning quiches-lorraines and religieuses. The worst I’ve experienced is the interminable waiting to fill up the gas tank during a French strike.
But I have never been forced to queue up for U.N. food parcels, or to fill a bucket with drinking water, nor join the line outside a bank during a financial crisis. I am, however, resigned to waiting in line whenever I need an official document like a passport or a driver’s licence.
It has occurred to me that I have been in the world’s longest queue for the past 81 years. Ever since I was born, I have been waiting in a long, long line of Earth’s inhabitants (presently seven billion), queued up on a conveyor belt, as we move closer and closer to death. There are still quite a few old fogies ahead of me in the queue, but billions more behind me. When I look back, I can see my three children, approaching their fifties, and their children, who have been way back in the queue for from five to eighteen years. Ahead of me there is only one of my six siblings (as well as another sister just behind me), and fewer and fewer of my friends either way. At my level in the queue, there used to be, some seventy years ago, a lovely girl called Mary O’Meara. She was my cousin. Her parents were Uncle Tom (really !) and Auntie Hilda – who, I remember, won £6000 in the N.S.W. State Lottery. We didn’t see each other often, Mary and I, though we liked each other and she lived only half a mile away. She wanted to be a wool-classer, an odd vocation for a girl, even an Australian one. She died of polio in her early teens.
A macabre reflection, this ? I don’t think so. It’s just the way I have come to see the inevitability of death. The promises of Artificial Intelligence have had little effect on me, and I’m not exactly counting on a-mortality. How odd of God, or numbing of Nature, to put us all in a queue on a conveyor belt which ends with a cliff we fall over, or a pool of quicksand we have no choice but to plunge into, or a hospital bed in a ward for the terminally ill. The queue is a sort of anti-assembly line, where we end up as a literally finished product, ready for a cemetery or a crematorium.
I guess this is the ultimate question for all of us. What sense does it make ? We had no choice in joining the queue but may, if life becomes unbearable and we have the courage to end it, opt to leave it before our time is up. At one point or another we will, in fact, leave it – definitively. And there is no coming back. Once you recognize the inevitability of it all, it makes little sense to ask what meaning, if any, you give to it. The only rational choice is to make the most of whatever time we may have ahead of us – and simply accept our EXIT as definitive. So far I’ve enjoyed my relatively long ride in the queue on the conveyor belt.