Death and taxes

Typically, Americans are all thinking about the Tax Man today (or Uncle Sam, if you prefer a friendlier face), but COVID-19 has granted us a stay of three months, extending the IRS filing deadline to July 15.

“Death and taxes,” goes the phrase, often attributed to Ben Franklin in this aphoristic construction: “In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” Though it may not have been Franklin’s phrasing, the couplet “death and taxes” provides us with a whimsical, if morbid reminder that a few stark realities are always with us. There are limits to our freedom and strictures to our ambitions.

In fact, we have numerous reminders from history–on this very day, April 15–that our greatest achievements and noblest persons are still bound by temporal limits. 

  • Last year on this day, Notre Dame Cathedral caught fire, destroying most of the roof, the 19th century spire, and a good bit of the vaulting.
  • In 1989, 96 were killed at Hillsborough Stadium in Sheffield, England, crushed by a crowd of soccer fans.
  • In 1912, the “Unsinkable” RMS Titanic sank on its maiden voyage from Southampton, England to New York City.
  • In 1865, Abraham Lincoln died from his mortal wound, having been shot by the Shakespearean actor John Wilkes Booth.

It’s a sombre list that should remind us to “look on [our] Works, ye Mighty” …at least once a year, to displace hubris with humility.


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