12/08/2012 07:46 am ET Updated Feb 07, 2013

The Obituary Page

If you could read only two pages of The New York Times, which would you choose? I would choose the front page and the obituary page. In fact, when I come home from a trip, I dash through the papers that have piled up and scan those two pages. I have to know who, among my friends and acquaintances, kicked the bucket.

Or who I didn't know but who was a celebrity of choice. Like Katherine Hepburn or Ben Hogan or Jonas Salk. Golden oldies. They do come up but mostly the articles with photo are well known (but not to me) guitarists or judges or the world's leading expert on bees in Brazil.

Like today.

Farish Jenkins, Expert on Evolving Fossils, Dies at 72.

That is an exact quote. If fossils can evolve, maybe death isn't so terminal after all.

Now I am 86 so I am interested in the ages of the just departed. Here's a lady 69. I leave her in the dust. Here's a guy 96. I aspire to that. Oh, damn, he had Alzheimer's. But here's a lady 98. Clear as a bell until it stopped ringing. What, madam, was your secret?

More and more I recognize the names of people in my past, occasionally in my present. Mostly people whose lives intersected with mine at another time in another country. My memory is jogged. They were young in those days and so was I. Now they have aged out of existence. I haven't done that quite yet but I am on my way.

I have to admit (I don't have to but I am going to) that I enjoy seeing those names. "I know someone who just died," I say to my wife at breakfast. "Who?" she asks. We are a second marriage. I met my wife when I was 54 so I have a long past from which to cull names not known to her.

Should old acquaintances be forgot and never brought to mind? Well, they are until l I see the obit. And I get a little tinge of pleasure from bringing them to mind. I am not sorry that they died. We all die. Their deaths, like mine, are only meaningful to family and close friends.

Yes, there are people who have died who have left holes in my life. Family -- I am the last of four siblings. A few close friends. I think of them often. When their lives ended, something went out of mine.

And my close friends now. Please don't go, guys. We're still having fun.

As Kurt Vonnegut would say, "and so it goes."