I suppose that many people would say that when you reach the age of sixty it is natural to think about death sometimes. You are closer to the end of your journey; thoughts naturally turn to your destination and what awaits you there. I find myself contemplating death off and on – not every day, I would say, but often enough so that it is a semi-regular part of my thought processes. I would not say that it is an unhealthy thing to do so. I know that some shy away from such ruminations in dread, as if not thinking about it will cause it not to happen. Are they not aware that the mortality rate for humanity is one hundred percent? We all die; it is as much a part of life as being born. To fear such an inevitability as death is ludicrous, when you put it like that. It’s going to happen; there is no doubt about it. Your fear only spoils the ride.
I don’t fear death. I don’t fear oblivion; I don’t fear leaving behind whatever material trinkets I have accumulated; I don’t fear worms eating my rotten corpse and falling into dust and decay and all that. Those things are destined to be and there is nothing I can do about it. Death is part of the marvelous adventure we call life. Most of us agree that life, with all its ups and downs, tragedies and triumphs, pleasures of the flesh and of the spirit, is an amazing journey. Death is the culmination, an integral part of the equation. No, I do not fear death. When the time comes I’ll be ready to say: Bring it on. However, there are two things that I do fear, or at least that I am concerned about, that are associated with the inevitability of death.
One thing I fear, and this is by far the more urgent of the two, is an unfinished life. At this time my life has boiled down to the simplicity of two major endeavors: writing whatever I have in me to write, and taking care of my sons. I have heard and read from other writers that writing must take precedence above everything, even the needs of loved ones. I disagree with this; I will abandon my writing (temporarily at least) to see to a son in need. I will always get back to it, but I will not put it first. That said, writing is my calling, my talent, my vocation, the purpose for which I am here. When I was young and answerable to no one but myself, when I had no other responsibilities, I circled the world and threw myself into danger’s face for the sake of my writing. I gave it up once for reasons I will not go into here, but I will never do so again. I will leave the keyboard to help a loved one, but I will always return to it when I am free to do so. I have written over a dozen books, and I have plans for a dozen more. I want to write and publish all the books I have within me before I die. I don’t want to die with projects unfinished, with things unsaid.
In addition, I want to live to see readers discover my work. Right now my books sell sparsely. I want to live to see them flood out into the market, to reach readers who will be turned on to what I have to say. I know that they are good books, because they are the type of books I searched for as a reader but never found. Because these books did not exist I created them myself. If someone else had written my books and I discovered them as a young reader, I would have quickly devoured them all. I know that there are kindred spirits out there who will love my books; I hope they find them before I die.
And yes, I live to serve my sons. Some are grown and gone, successful in the careers they have chosen. But even these need help from time to time. The oldest recently had a serious accident and I flew across the country to stay with him while he recovered. I say this not because I crave congratulations or praise but because that’s what fathers do. I have two other sons who have not yet chosen their life paths, and one who is still a child. These are the three I live with at present. I want to see them all on their way to whatever destiny has for them. I want to help them however I can. I would not want to die before they are well on their way.
Apart from an unfinished life, the other thing I fear is pain, both physical and psychic. I’m not afraid to die, but I would not want to die a slow, lingering, painful death. It is not so much the pain itself; I have felt great pain in the past, but it was always temporary, and after it had gone I felt a greater appreciation for the pleasurable sensations I experience most of the time. One of the greatest physical pains I ever felt was when I stepped on a poisonous fish in shallow sea water on the east coast of Italy. My foot turned beet red and purple and swelled up to twice its normal size, and if even a fly landed on it the pain was excruciating. But even that passed. I fear the pain that does not pass, that lingers until death, that drives away all pleasant memories in its urgency. I may die suddenly or I may die slowly, but if I die slowly I want to reflect upon all the joys of my life, all the loves I have know, all the people who have been important to me.
Worse though by far than physical pain would be dying in psychic pain. By this I mean dying alone, in poverty, on the streets perhaps, unmourned, abandoned by all those I have known and loved, a failure in my own eyes. I don’t think this is to be my destiny, because I do have those who know and love me, and even if I were to expire in some far corner of the world, they would be with me in spirit.
As far as pain goes, there’s nothing I can do about it one way or the other. If it happens it happens, and therefore – why fear it? This is not something over which I have any control.
As for the writing, I do what I can day after day. I have a feeling that no matter how long I live I will always come up with new projects; there is always more to write about. For myself as a writer, retirement is not an option. As far as people reading my work, this is another thing over which I have no control. The hell with it. Why worry about it?
Therefore I have just logically knocked off the list the two things I thought I feared. Would that the world were ruled by logic. Alas, it is not. Emotion is a strong ingredient in the mix, and in fact that which gives it spice and flavor. So these things will continue to concern me, as I struggle onwards the best I can towards that inevitability at the end of the road.
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