One day I saw life as a roller coaster ride at the amusement park. It was frightening, exhilarating, breathtaking, and just as I was learning how to lean into the banks and descents, it would be over all too soon.Although some may consider it morbid or depressing, I now think about death often. At 67 I think it is an appropriate subject; if a journey is inevitable isn’t it wise to prepare? Isn’t it more realistic to talk about the elephant in the room rather than ignore it? Doesn’t it give a significance and poignancy to life?
Not a day goes by without the Friend visiting my mind. I call it Friend perhaps to put a kindly face on the image of the grim reaper whose visage dominates our culture’s view of death, and thus avert some of the fear attending her arrival – for I agree with the beliefs of Hinduism that it is Kali, the Great Mother, who is the giver and the taker of life.
This body is becoming increasingly burdensome and heavy. Each year it requires more care and attention and I am often bored or exasperated by its demands. Various parts are rusting out or breaking down altogether. I expect that one day I will welcome the comfort of a longer sleep.
I look back over my life and try to weigh the disappointments and pain against the times of contentment and joy. In which direction does the scale tip? Am I remembering the truth of my life, or just the truth of my memory? While I realize I could have done better on this or that occasion, if given the chance now to relive it, a reluctant lassitude slides over me. Regret takes energy I would rather use elsewhere.
There are still things I would like to do but accept the fact that the limitations of health, money or time now make them unlikely. While each day may flow by in measured steps, the weeks and months have grown wings and blur with acceleration. This morning I acknowledge with amusement that my appearance is no longer important. I am now dressing in the manner of a child; my madras pants and blue t-shirt and orange sweater are a collision of colors and patterns. I am reminded of the grade school pictures of my sons with their striped t-shirts and plaid pants and kitchen bowl haircuts when the goal was to get outside to play as quickly as possible.
Meanwhile I wonder what will happen at the very end, when the body is so tired, when the heart is unsprung, when the breath is breathless? I sometimes fear a great blackness, a sterile emptiness, a bone deep solitude that may be infinite. What if I wake up and find that I am God and God is all there is – and that is not enough? Is the painful solitude I feel at times in my heart the reflection of a singular God who has no equal, no beginning or end, and is thus condemned to being alone for all eternity?
My intuition tells me that this is a fractal universe, and God the fractal equation of a creativity that goes on and on in infinite varieties and multitudes. In a book I see pictures of fractals, mathematical permutations that create themselves over and over again in an infinite scalability. I sense that I am riding out this life on one of those paisley-like flowers on an arm of an arm of an arm, exploding outward with this galaxy, in a great tsunami of one of Brahma’s outward breaths – to be later swept up in his deep inhalation into a backward infinity. In and out, in and out, forever, each breath stretching over eons and eons, black hole to white hole to black again, one consciousness seeking entertainment in the material.
Each day I ponder for a moment or two what the last earth moment will be. Like doing pushups to strengthen the body, I do pushups of my soul so that it will not panic at the last moment and leave this world gasping for one more breath and thus lose what little dignity might be remaining. What is it to die with dignity other than to die without resisting the inevitable? Like a soldier going into battle who knows he will not return, I yearn to have the courage to walk into the sunset of life without looking back, without holding on. Is it too much, perhaps, to ask to die without fear? Is that the province only of saints and messiahs? What confidence is needed, what certainty must be embraced to enjoy this grace?
My hope is that the stories told by those having Near Death Experiences are true. I want to see again my loved ones. I wanted to be greeted by those who have gone ahead and are waiting for my arrival. I want to hold the little cats and dogs who gave me so much comfort, the aunts and uncles who watched over me, the mother and father and son whom I loved. I can’t bear to think that after feeling so often alone in this life that I will also be alone in the next.
In our middle age we all say that we want the mercy of a quick death but we do not often get to select the time or manner of our passing. It has been chosen for us and waits like a new winter coat in the closet for the weather to change. I no longer zealously monitor my diet and take dozens of vitamin pills to forestall heart disease, for a quick ending is to be preferred to the wheelchairs and nursing homes attendant on rheumatoid arthritis.
So as I get older I believe the great virtue is to endure without judgment and thereby open the heart to the possibility of joy; to have the courage of acceptance, like the old dog who does not complain of his joints when winter comes, or the cat whose teeth are gone and can now only drink milk.
I still feel the pull for connection and want to touch the earth and those who live here. I hunger for the mind to mind and heart to heart resonance of kindred spirits who may be separated in time and space. That is why I continue to write; the reason for the art. I believe aging is the time when we must turn our eyes to other horizons and open our hearts to welcome new directions. We must see in our sunset an opportunity like the blaze of Autumn to offer a final instant of glory in the world.