by Mike Todd

“Some men pursue greatness, and some men have greatness thrust upon them while they’re in the bathroom.” This quote, from an old episode of the The Wonder Years (1988 to 1993, ABC-TV), in which Kevin Arnold inadvertently starts a walk-out at his junior high school when he gets up to go to the bathroom, has stuck with me for over 25 years, largely because it always seemed like my best hope for achieving greatness. Each time I’ve emerged from the bathroom since that episode, I’ve looked left, then right, then gave a little shrug. Greatness was thrusting elsewhere.

That is, until last week. While on vacation with my wife’s family in Florida, I went to the bathroom during the end-of-the-night living room chit-chat and returned to find greatness had indeed been thrust upon me. Everyone decided, in my absence, that I would be the one to keep my wife’s sister, Sarah, alive.

“Whoa, hey, that’s a big responsibility. I’m not sure I’m the right person for that,” I said, doing my best to deflect greatness’ thrusts.

“It won’t be that hard to keep me alive once I’m a magnolia tree. We nominated you because you’ve kept your bonsai tree alive for so many years,” Sarah said.

At this point, a little context might be in order.

Earlier in the conversation, Sarah had said, “Did you know that when you die, you can pay this company to bring you back as a tree? They mix your ashes with a seed, so that the tree uses you to grow. Then people can come see the tree and feel better, because it’s you. Kind of.”

Nobody in the family is currently, to our knowledge, in mortal peril, but we were still interested in the idea of immortality through botany.

“I’d choose to come back as a banyan tree. They have those beautiful woven roots,” my mother-in-law said.

“I’d be an apple tree. They’re useful, and everybody loves apples,” my brother-in-law Kris said.

I didn’t say it then, but I’d definitely choose to come back as some sort of evergreen. That way, at least in death, I wouldn’t go bald.

By Googling “come back as a tree,” you can verify that Sarah wasn’t making it up. For $145, a company called Bios will put you and a seed of your choice into a biodegradable urn that looks like a Starbucks cup. It’s actually not a bad deal, considering it’s about the same price as a venti cappuccino.

“Or maybe I’d come back as something less obvious, like a shrub,” Kris said.

“There’s Kris, providing privacy from the neighbors,” his wife, Jill, replied.

Sarah looked at her mom and said, “Got it, mom. Banyan tree.”

“Wait a minute. I didn’t say to actually do it. We’re clear on that; right?” my mother-in-law said.

While it’s an interesting idea, I can understand having reservations. For one thing, you’re not genetically mixing with the tree. You’re just its food. It’s basically the same as having your remains fed to a tiger, then telling everyone, “Think of me when you’re at the zoo, tapping on the glass, trying to get that tiger to do something. Because it will really be me in that enclosure, ignoring you. Or more accurately, it will be me in the bottom of the giant litter box. Be sure to wave at me!”

Anyway, after being nominated to care for the hypothetical magnolia tree that may one day devour Sarah, I had to confess.

“Dude, that bonsai tree died last fall. I left it out on the deck during a freeze. It never recovered,” I said.

“Oh, OK. We can find somebody else, then,” Sarah replied.

Some men have greatness thrust upon them while they’re in the bathroom. And some men have it taken away before they get back to the couch.

Ed. Note: Last month Mike Todd won a Keystone Press Award second place for “Best Column” among all of the hundreds of newspapers in the state under 10,000 circulation. Jim Harris, also of the Local, won first place.

  • Karen Salazar

    What a great piece! Biodegradable urns–certainly an interesting postmortem celebration that can go a number of different ways! The Wonder Years quote is a clever play off of the “immortal” words of Sheakespeare: “Be not afraid of greatness. Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and others have greatness thrust upon them.” (Twelfth Night)