Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Last Day Alive!

This is the email I received at work (all italics, capitalization, underlines, bolds, exclamation points, and otherwise annoying punctuation theirs):

We will be having a Trivia Question at our [staff] meeting next week...!

“If you knew that you had one day left to live, how would you spend your last day??”

It could be enjoying a certain place or destination, or doing a specific activity, or eating a favorite meal at a special restaurant, or spending time with family or friends, or meeting a particular person??? You get the idea!!

Um, no. I'm sorry, I don't "get the idea!!"

First of all, this is not a "Trivia Question".  It's a hypothetical.  And not a very good one.  If I'm supposed to come up with a very personal answer of how I would spend my last remaining hours on Earth, I don't need you to make suggestions as if I'm ordering dinner at Olive Garden.  "So what do you recommend for my last day alive? Is the eggplant parm good?"

My first reaction was: this is not a question I can answer candidly in front of my co-workers.  Because on my last day in this body, I would surely want to get my freak on.

But after thinking about it, the question became even more absurd.  My last day to live? How morbid is that?  Did I just find out I was dying?  I'd probably spend the whole day weeping and processing my own mortality.

Which leads to a lot of logistical questions.  Am I the only one dying, or is the whole world going to end? Because it would change the answer if everyone else had to get up for work the next day.

Also, am I healthy? Is tennis an option? If I'm healthy, then why am I dying? How much time did I have to prepare? There are a lot of activities you can't really put together in one day. Have I already "got my affairs in order?" If not, I'd have to write out a To-Do list and spend most of the day running errands and tying up loose ends.  Just contacting all my loved ones to say goodbye would probably take most of the day.

Don't leave all those chores for your loved ones!

I could have responded with something smart-assy like my questions above, but instead I just ignored the email (and the 17 subsequent email reminders.)


So the meeting was yesterday, and we received a sheet with everyone's answer.  The "trivia" part of the game was to guess who said what, but the answers were so generic that hardly anyone guessed who said what (there were 22 submissions.)  Most people said they'd spend the day with their family (duh!) and enjoy some favorite hobbies, food, or vacation destination.

People mentioned visiting the Grand Canyon or Italy or Spain or someplace warm.  That's all fine and good, but that must mean that you spent your second-to-last day traveling, because you can't get to any of those places (and enjoy it) in a day.  Which gets back to my question of how much planning time we had, and if we're dying, HOW are we dying?  You have to be in pretty good shape to travel and enjoy a vacation spot. But I can't imagine many people who are out on the jet-ski on the day before their body closes down, unless the plan is to commit ritual seppuku.

People also mentioned all the people who would be there with them.  It's nice that everyone assumes all your family and friends would drop everything to go along with whatever plans you have on this special day.  But what if your family and friends live far away?  You know how long it takes to put together a wedding to get all of your family and friends in one place?  Some people mentioned meeting with celebrities.  Um, is this a fantasy last day live?  I didn't realize that death grants you a bunch of wishes on your last day.  In that case, I'd like to change my answer.  I'd like to start off the morning by winning Wimbledon, and then see where the day takes me from there. 

My favorite answer was the person who said, "My wish isn't rated PG, but I would spend the day with my family." There's really only one thing I can imagine someone doing with a family member that's not PG, and I really hope it's with a spouse.


One last annoying/interesting thing from this exercise.  When we received the sheet with all the answers printed out, EVERY SINGLE SENTENCE ended with an exclamation point.  Even entries with multiple sentences-- there were no periods whatsoever.  Every! Single! Sentence!  Why are people so excited to be dying?

I pointed this out to the lady sitting next to me, and she said she didn't put an exclamation point when she wrote hers.  So the organizers of this game inserted exclamations into every entry.  Are they that excited about the prospect of all their colleagues dying?


Anonymous said...

Oh you killjoy! ;-) Fun post.
Counterfactuals are always a mess eh.

Stepping back from the question, I think they meant "what is your favourite thing to do, like your totally favourite #1 thing that you would choose if you could really only just do one thing, like, ever!!". It's a 'forced ranking' exercise with, as you point out, a nightmarish philosophical context :-)

I imagine the HR lady who came up with it wanted people to find common ground, as in ***like OMG I love tennis toooo!***. Incidentally, HR managers lurve forced ranking.

Anonymous said...

This is still on my mind!
I now think it may be a very valuable exercise if the parameters are set right.

At 11:59:59 pm tomorrow, you will die of completely unpreventable causes; call it a brain aneurysm. You have no magical powers and no resources available to you except those at your disposal right now. So Wimbledon is out of the picture, I'm afraid.

What would you do? What habitual things wouldn't you do?

Tim said...

I appreciate your parameters, T, but the question still doesn't work for me. I think it's trying to play on the cheesy cliche to "live every day as if it's your last," which sounds nice on a bumper sticker, but is really stupid advice if you actually followed it. You would probably only live a few months with that strategy until your lack of planning caught up with you, and it became a self-fulfilling prophecy (i.e. you die.)

If I'm dying tomorrow, for example, I still can't shake the fact that the high today is -5 Fahrenheit, so enjoying any outdoor activities are out of the question. If I wanted to play tennis, I'd have to find someone with time in their schedule, at the last minute, and then find a free indoor court. Too many of the things I really enjoy require planning, and if I don't have that, then I'd probably be overwhelmed with all the things I would want to do, but couldn't, on my "last day."

The other issue I had with this work exercise is that this was question was way too personal to talk about with people at work.

Just to show you I'm not a complete killjoy, though, I would recommend you read The Book of Questions. It has all kinds of interesting hypothetical questions that get you to think about your values. I've read it on several occasions with friends and it leads to great discussions.