Seeing the End: What Would You Say?
After a night on the futon to distance my contagion from the wife, I’ve admitted at the end of four days of symptom creep that I probably have a cold–nothing more than that, most likely. It has been a couple of years since the last one, so I should not whine too much.
I was miserable in the wee hours as my chest ached and the in-the-dark impromptu bed clothes failed to keep my bare feet covered. In my unsleeping misery I wondered if this might be “the big one.” Actuarially speaking, the odds go up each year in this time of life that even simple formerly-trivial health challenges will overwhelm age-weakened immunity and resilience.
But what if you KNEW with cold certainty that your end was near? And if you wrote about it–to better grapple with your own mortality or to leave a message in a bottle to a child, spouse, friend or the world–what would you say?
First Oliver Sachs a few weeks ago, and now Paul Kalanithi, a young neurosurgeon, have recently shared publicly their thoughts about impending death. The latter passed away last week, leaving behind his infant daughter born as he was released from his first chemo treatment.
And I guess what I would say in light of these intimate epistles of impending death is that–not always but not infrequently–I’ve seen this inconsequential backwater blog page serving as my letter in a bottle to the future. I have a habit of wanting to see the ground I’m standing on and so I often write from the perspective of an outsider looking in on my own life–and that of the ailing and imperiled planet I’ve beenÂ privileged to know so briefly and so superficially. What shape has my time and now my words taken, and why that particular shape, and so what?
If my life were coming to a close in a week, a month, a year–what would I say, and to whom, and so what? Would I blog it? Would time, as Kalanithi describes, become merely a measureless medium through which I simply persist or could the end bring a kind of clarity and energy and sweetness that the deluded “eternally-living” cannot appreciate and employ?
And so, dear diary, I leave myself these two terminal epistles this early Sunday morning (on which I will not take my germs to church) that I will come back to some day. Maybe a few random Fragments visitors will read over my shoulder.