Most of us, when we are young, give no heed to mortality. Our sights are focused forward into the future, but the possibility of cessation of being doesn’t enter our awareness. Instead, we strive to be older, more independent, more responsible. When we’re kids we can’t wait to go to school like our older siblings or acquaintances. After a certain point, we can’t wait to get out of school and on with our lives. We’re always looking ahead to the next step, the next goal.
This was epitomized for me in an instant one summer in the early 1970s. I was casually seeing one girl, and we went to a party together. While there, I met another girl and arranged to meet her at Ravenna Park in Seattle so we could get to know each other. It was a beautiful day with blue sky and brilliant green foliage all around. When she showed up the sunlight created a golden halo around the edges of her loosely curled hair. We didn’t hit it off together, she and I, but that’s not the point. When she showed up and we said hello to each other the moment of time surrounded by the greenery and the sunlight and so on created a snapshot of eternity. I suddenly saw my life stretching decades into the future, year after year of life to be lived with no discernible end in sight. It was a wonderful moment, a revelation of sorts. As I said, it had little to do with the outward circumstances. It was one of those infrequent instances when linear time ceases. But in the midst of it my thoughts did not progress all the way to my inevitable and impending death. Instead, it was a momentary glimpse of immortality.
The stark reality is, though, that no matter what we believe about life after death, this present life comes to an end. And as I age, I become more and more aware of that. I am not as strong as I used to be. I don’t have the endurance I once did. Parts of my body begin to deteriorate and break down. In the last year or two, my thoughts have turned more and more to my mortality. I don’t fear death, but I realize that as I progress through what remains of my life, however long or short it is, it will come to an end.
When confronted with such profound ruminations, I look naturally at priorities. My overwhelming priority for several decades now has been the well-being of my sons. However, they are growing up into strong, intelligent, confident young men. Only the youngest, who is still a minor, remains dependent. My other priority is my writing. Not the nonfiction articles I write to help pay the bills, but my real writing, that which I consider my calling: novels, short stories, memoirs. I wish I was financially independent enough to devote my fulltime endeavors to these works, but alas, not yet. In the meantime, I do what I can. As my mortality confronts me, though, I realize that these works too will eventually come to an end. I will write what I write, I will die, and other will read it or not. Time tempers even fame and glory. I wonder, in the presumed afterlife, if Shakespeare or other literary luminaries give a damn any more whether or not anyone reads the works they wrote while they were in their mortal shells.
These thoughts come into sharp focus at the end of 2015 and the beginning of 2016. The new year is historically an arbitrary designation, but it’s a useful one for assessing progress and setting goals. My primary talent and obsession is writing, and I will continue to do it as long as I can. I have said elsewhere I will keep writing as long as I live – that they’ll have to pry the keyboard out of my cold dead fingers – and I hope that this is true. A calling is a calling. Retirement from writing for me is inconceivable. Though mortality does not instill fear, it does instill a sense of urgency. This is what I am here to do now. In the rest of eternity that follows, who knows?