She was very old and very sick, and she knew that she did not have long to live. This was a few years ago. She was the great aunt of a friend, and I ended up speaking with her for awhile, though we did not know each other.
“I'm not afraid of dying,” she said to me. “My only regret is that I don't get to see how everything turns out!” We discussed our religious beliefs and our hope that death doesn't preclude our finding “how everything turns out,” or maybe puts things into such perspective that we no longer care, our eyes now opened to other glories and wonders.
A few days later she was dead. My friend was distraught, but somehow I felt as if her great aunt Lucy would not want her to be, that things were just fine with Aunt Lucy.
I thought of Aunt Lucy last week, when the Boston mobster James “Whitey” Bulger got caught in California after having hidden from the FBI for most of two decades. Over the years I'd joined many others in wondering about Whitey's whereabouts and whether he'd ever get caught.
Based on the coverage last week, I'd guess that the nation as a whole was not as enthralled by the search for the mobster as people in New England were. There were national news reports of his capture, but given his last name and people's tendency to have the news on in the background, those half-hearing Bulger's name probably thought it was just another report about former Rep. Anthony Weiner.
Whitey, who ran the Irish mob in the southern suburbs of Boston — an area called “Southie” by locals — is a very bad man, and the search for him was a big deal. He was never far out of the news in Boston. The (very good) 2006 movie “The Departed” was based in large measure on the evil exploits of Whitey and his mob, with Jack Nicholson playing Whitey.
But I digress a little, because the important point here is that after 16 years of wondering, we now know how the search for Whitey Bulger turned out.
It's been a good year for that kind of thing. A few weeks ago we learned how the search for Osama bin Laden turned out.
The capture of Bulger was both satisfying and a little disappointing, because now we could wonder no more. Yet life is full of ongoing events, big and small, the results of which are uncertain. I think that to some extent, they animate us, keep us interested.
When I was a kid, I read a book of real-life mysteries and was captivated by the disappearance of New York State Supreme Court Justice Joseph Force Crater in August 1930. As it happened, many years later I learned from someone involved in the case what had happened to Crater — something still not publicly known. I spent a summer doing research and writing a book about the case, which included the solution. That mystery was solved; now the mystery is whether anyone will ever publish the book.
There are other enduring questions: The fate of former Teamsters Union president Jimmy Hoffa and that of Amelia Earhart are two that come to mind. We've all probably wondered a little about them.
We want to know how the whole Loch Ness monster business will turn out, also Bigfoot and that dog thing in Mexico. We're disappointed that there might not be intelligent life in outer space and afraid that there might be, but either way we want to be around to find out.
Ah, sweet mystery of life! Will it ever be dry long enough for me to mow the lawn? Will they bring back the McRib sandwich?
Who will win the elections? Will they do what they said they'd do?
The answers to these exciting questions are of importance, of course. But there's something more, something in the nature of their being questions. If man's reach should exceed his grasp — we're told that it should — then his curiosity should exceed his ability to find out. That motivates almost everything we do, doesn't it?
Sometimes we're like the dog that chases the car in the old joke: what would we do if we caught it? The question, not its answer, is the satisfying part — ask anyone who told Monty Hall that they wanted whatever was behind door number three.
So Osama bin Laden is dead and Whitey Bulger has been caught. We can put checkmarks next to their names on the list of mysteries. But don't worry, two more will come along to take their place; perhaps they won't involve characters who are quite as gruesome.
It all makes me think of Aunt Lucy's regret, and that brings a smile to my face. She was a clever old girl, yes, indeed. She knew something I've only just now realized.
There's no way to see how it all turns out.
Because it never “all turns out.”
And for that we can be grateful.
Dennis E. Powell is crackpot-at-large to Open for Business. Powell was an award-winning reporter in New York and elsewhere before moving to Ohio and becoming a full-time crackpot. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.