For last year’s words belong to last year’s language. And next year’s words await another voice. And to make an end is to make a beginning. - T. S. Eliot As another year draws to an end, and with it the approaching close of my eighth decade on this journey, I know I am among the most fortunate of my fellow-travellers. For sixty years of my passage, I’ve been accompanied by the wonderful young woman I first met when she was but sixteen. She is young no more, of course, but as W. B. Yeats wrote in When You Are Old (almost as if he had her in mind)--- How many loved your moments of glad grace, And loved your beauty with love false or true, But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you, And loved the sorrows of your changing face. I still do. Also with me for fifty-plus years of my journey have been the two magnificent daughters who have graced their mother and me with their love, their friendship---and increasingly now, their protection against the failings of age. When they were little, we made a pact to hug them close for as long as we could, then let them go when time dictated. As you might expect, the hugging was easy; the letting-go was hard. But it has been written that when we love someone, we should set them free, and if they come back, then their love is ours forever. That has certainly been the case for us, for which I’m eternally grateful. Our girls are women now, but as I’ve often told them, although they are no longer children, their mother and I will never stop being parents. In due time, those women brought two wonderful men into our lives, and with them produced five wonderful babies of their own---four granddaughters and a grandson for us. It was as if the cycle started up again, but with my wife and I one step removed this time---loving them, wishing the best for them, but somewhat distant from the immediacy of their lives. We strive to remain relevant, of course, and they, in return, take pains to make it so. Kahlil Gibran wrote of that in his meditation, On Children--- You may give them your love but not your thoughts, For they have their own thoughts. You may house their bodies but not their souls, For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, Which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams. You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you. For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday. And in that last line lies the very essence of the joy and sadness, both, that are implicit in our lifelong journey. Things begin. Things end. Things begin anew. Or so it has always been for me, and will be for some time to come, I fervently hope. But there will eventually come a moment, I know, when no next beginning will follow the final end. Despite my reluctance to face that day, I do not fear it. My approach to its inevitability is summed up in this final stanza from one of my own poems, I Haven’t the Time--- I haven’t the time for anger or rancor, or grumbling, self-pity, or frown. Life’s about living, getting and giving full measure before it winds down. When that day is nigh, as ‘twill be by and by, I hope it will be widely said, That as man and boy, I strove for the joy of living until I was dead. My closest companions along the way have certainly brought that hope closer to reality than it might otherwise have been. To paraphrase the late Queen Elizabeth II, my dear family have been my strength and stay the entire way. As we enter into 2023, I hope for all of you who read these posts that you will feel as blessed as I, and that the ending of this old year, no matter its triumphs or tragedies, will be a new and happy beginning for you. To make an end is to make a beginning. Happy New Year!
I have a friend who claims his goal in life is to live forever.
“How’s it going so far?” I ask him.
“So far, so good!” he replies with a grin.
As I approach my eightieth year—having been alive for all or parts of nine different decades, the first being the 1940s—I don’t share that lofty goal, to be an eternal Methuselah. I confess, though, my friend does have me wondering about my chances. So far, I have lived out more years than three grandparents, three uncles, two of five aunts, and all four of my younger siblings (one of whom has already passed).
I’m currently the eldest of my surviving birth-clan, which includes three sisters, two daughters, and five grandchildren. My wife, almost four years my junior (strictly speaking, not a birth-relative), is also with us.
If I am destined to live longer than anyone in my family so far, I’ll have to make it through another fifteen years, which will leave me just five shy of my centenary. One grandmother made it to ninety, three aunts lived into their early-nineties, mostly intact, as did both my parents, so my genetic coding bodes well.
One goal I do have, perhaps more realistic than my friend’s, is to spend more years in retirement than I spent during my professional career. I worked for thirty-two years and retired at fifty-five, leaving me eight years to go before attaining that goal when I reach eighty-eight. So far, so good!
Back when I was a young thirty-ish man involved in several athletic pursuits, I used to joke that, if I had to die anytime soon, the best exit would come while sliding into third base, the game-winning run scoring ahead of me, with the last words I hear being the umpire bawling, “He’s safe!”
Older now, and less-inclined to make light of matters mortal, I’m pleased to say that goal was never realized. I’m still alive, no longer playing ball, and so far, so good!
As an aside, one of my more ribald teammates claimed his goal—never one of mine—was to die in bed, shot to death by an irate husband. To my knowledge, absent a willing bed-mate, he also never attained his dream. But I digress.
Baseball is not the only pursuit I have forsaken as the years have mounted up. Badminton, curling, cycling, golf, ice-hockey, in-line skating, and tennis are also sports I have abandoned in recent years. The main reason, given that I wish I could still partake in all of them, is that I came to fear major physical damage if I should come a-cropper. The risks began to outweigh the rewards, and I became determined not to end my life as an invalid.
These sacrifices notwithstanding, I certainly had no wish to finish my time on earth as a couch-potato, either. So, I still visit the gym to engage in low-impact activities such as rowing, weightlifting (low weights/high reps), and stretching exercises. I walk the corridors and stairs of my high-rise condo, and I still swim, although not as many laps as once I could manage. My goal is to stay active and limber, and so far, so good!
Paying attention to my personal health is a much greater priority now, too. I still remember an occasion (again, in my feckless thirties), when I called my doctor’s office to make an appointment for a physical exam. The receptionist couldn’t find my records for the longest time, and when she came back on the line, she said, “Okay, we’re good. I found them in the dead file.”
“The dead file!” I exclaimed. “What made you think I’d died?”
With a chuckle, she explained the dead file was the repository for records of patients who had not made an appointment during the previous five years. Five years! I was shocked to be informed it had been that long.
These days, of course, having lived into my ninth decade, I see my doctor much more regularly. My goal is to stay ahead of ailments that might slow me down, or put a crimp in the comfortable lifestyle I now enjoy.
That current, comfortable existence includes singing in a men’s a cappella chorus, a most enjoyable experience, still part of a team. It includes spending hours each day writing essays and poems for a regular blog, tales for a number of published anthologies, and stories for a series of published crime-fiction novels. I’m having the time of my life right now, as a matter of fact, and hope I can go on doing these things for a long time to come. So far, so good!
My wife and I are fortunate to be able to split our time between a home in Ontario and another in Florida. Each autumn, and again each spring, as our time in one draws closer to its end, we begin to look forward to our return to the other. Aside from the normal concerns associated with home-ownership, we find it’s an idyllic way to live, and we eagerly anticipate each change of the season.
In the unlikely event it turns out my friend is able to realize his own goal to live forever, I know he’ll bid me a fond farewell when my time comes, as it surely will.
But you know what? So far, so good!
For most of our recorded history, we humans have been concerned with the prospect of dying. Some of us have welcomed it, many of us have feared it, but all of us have recognized its inevitability.
Today, however, there are at least three schools of thought on the matter. The first, the majority, accepts that, not until they are called, will they go—no matter how long it takes, no matter how incapacitated they become. The second, a growing number, wants to determine their own manner of death, at a time and by a method of their own choosing.
A third group has emerged recently, devoted to living beyond the demise of their mortal bodies by digitizing their brains in the cloud—enabling them to live on forever, as it were, as a stream of conscious thoughts interacting with those still alive.
Preposterous? Maybe not.
The first notion of death is pretty much established. As of this writing, no one in all our history has failed to die.
The second, though, is becoming more prevalent. Called by a variety of names (including assisted death, assisted suicide, merciful release, quietus), the concept is that any person, at a time of her/his choosing, may be allowed to die, assisted if necessary by others.
Several countries around the world have enacted laws to enable this in one form or another. But almost without fail, the legislation requires informed consent from the person at the time (s)he decides to go, and only if (s)he is judged mentally competent in the moment to make such a decision. Further, the person must be facing a grievous and irremediable medical condition.
In Canada, where it is called Medical Assistance in Dying (MAID), the procedure requires that the person:
- have a serious illness, disease or disability,
- be in an advanced state of decline that cannot be reversed,
- be experiencing unbearable physical or mental suffering from illness, disease, disability, or state of decline, none of which can be relieved under conditions considered acceptable, and
- be at a point where natural death has become reasonably foreseeable (but not requiring a specific prognosis as to how long there is left to live), and where all medical circumstances have been taken into account.
One does not need to have a fatal or terminal condition to be eligible for medical assistance in dying. However, one must be able to give informed consent both at the time of the initial request, and—most importantly—immediately before the medical assistance in dying is provided.
In that last condition lies the rub. Presumably, one might have put all the steps in place in advance; and then, on the very day when it is to take place, perhaps only moments before the actual act, one could lapse into unconsciousness and be unable to give that final consent.
In such a circumstance, and despite one’s own previously-granted, informed consent, one might linger for days or weeks, or even longer, unable to exert any control over the end of life.
I hope that condition will be changed.
The third concept, disrupting death, is only in its infancy. Artificial intelligence experts are increasingly working on brain-scanning techniques that will allow them to digitize the brain, and then upload it to the cloud. Already, specialists have developed digital replicas of brains, virtual avatars, that they hope will be able to communicate with those left behind after the death of their owners.
With software to mine the gigabytes of thoughts and emotions created every day by those brains, virtual models can be created in the ether. These will, the developers hope, be able to communicate with loved ones after their owners have passed away.
Just imagine being able to exchange ideas with the dearly-departed who, with the assistance of data inputted regularly into chatbots, will be able to stay abreast of current affairs and form opinions on events that happen after their death.
To be sure, there are many experts who scoff at the notion. Although it may well be possible to enable such robotic connections, they say, it will prove impossible to replicate human consciousness beyond death.
One such expert, Hiroshi Ishiguro, a Japanese roboticist—who has built an android version of himself and programmed it with all manner of knowledge—says, “If we have an android, we can live forever in society. But personal immortality is impossible because consciousness is not continuous.”
I confess, I have no idea of the viability of any of this. My brain, even while still alive, has not the capacity to imagine it.
It probably won’t matter, though. At my age, I’m more interested in the notion of assisted dying than the possibility of life eternal. I’d much rather wander the star-filled vastness of the universe than plod endlessly through what is becoming an earthbound wasteland.
Still, I’m suggesting to those near and dear to me that once I am gone, should they happen to hear my voice whispering in their ears, pay it heed.
Stranger things have happened.
Friends of ours lost their only child several years ago, the victim of a relentless disease. He left behind a grieving wife, two young children, and a sparkling future.
In the years since, our friends have doted on their grandchildren, taking great delight in watching them grow from infants to toddlers, and onward to adolescence. They’ve invested time with them, knowing they can never make up for the loss of a father, but determined to keep his memory alive.
A while after their son’s death, I wrote a piece to commemorate his life and the legacy he left behind. I post it here now, adapted somewhat, to mark the advent of another Fathers’ Day—
The little boy is eight-years-old, and loves to visit his grandparents at the family cottage. For him, every day is an adventure, a surprise, a delight, as he wanders the woods, swims in the lake, and fishes the waters in the old, wooden skiff.
For the older folks, these activities hearken to an earlier time with another fair-haired lad, and they treasure the memories, even as they create new ones.
A while back, the little boy was in the musty basement of the cottage with his grandpa, when he made a great discovery. “Grampy, what’s this?” he cried, pointing to a bright-yellow model boat.
Sitting astride its pedestal on top of an old workbench, the craft was almost three feet long—a racing boat, bred for speed, its tall sails still unfurled. Three small passengers huddled in the cockpit, as if awaiting the starting gun for an impending race.
“Oh, that?” his grandpa replied. “That’s a boat your daddy built a long time ago. He used to race her on the lake with his remote control.” He lifted a dusty metal box down from an overhead shelf. Two toggle switches protruded from the top, and a long antenna jiggled slightly as he set it down. “This is how you make the boat go where you want it to.”
“Can I make it go, Grampy?”
“Mmm, I don’t think so, l’il guy. I don’t think she works anymore.” Together they lifted the cowling off the boat, behind the drivers, and peered at the mysteries of the small motor inside.
“It smells funny,” the little boy said.
“That’s oil you smell,” his grandpa replied. “Your daddy always made sure he kept her cleaned and oiled. He really liked this boat.”
“What’s her name?”
“Your daddy called her The Yellow Flash. Here’s her name on the back, just the way he painted it.”
“Can I make her go, Grampy?” the little boy asked again.
The old man shook his head. “The batteries are probably dead,” he said, “and look at these wires. They’re corroded at the junction plates. The sails are pretty ratty, too.”
“Well, can we fix her?” the little boy said.
His grandpa stared at him for a few moments, a faraway look in his eye. “Y’know,” he said finally, “maybe we can. Shall we give it a try?”
Over the next couple of weeks, the two of them dismantled the boat in order to clean every part, separating the batteries and wires that would need replacing. They opened the remote box and cleaned it out as best they could, removed the sails for a gentle cleaning. On his next trip to the city, the old man took the hull and box to a hobby-shop, where the owner walked him through the steps needed to restore the boat to operation.
On the little boy’s next visit to the cottage, they began the rebuilding process. As they soldered new wires in place, the little boy was fascinated. His grandpa let him set the new batteries in their proper slots, showing him how to ensure the contacts were touching. He watched as the little boy lovingly polished the hull, restoring it to its original gleaming glory.
Together, they replaced the sails, and tested the remote box, working the toggles to control the boat’s tiny propeller and rudder while it still sat on its dry-dock pedestal.
“She works, Grampy! She works!”
“I think she does, l’il guy. Shall we put her in the water?”
And so they did. Carrying her gingerly down the slope to the dock, they lowered her carefully into the lake. From a silent vantage point on the rocks, I watched them—a grandfather and his son’s son, with his son’s boat, launching their labour of love.
“Which one is the driver?” the little boy asked, pointing to the three small figures in the cockpit.
“Well, this one is you,” his grandpa said, indicating the figure in the middle. “You’re the skipper.”
“Okay,” said the little boy. “Then this one on the right will be you, and this can be my daddy over here.”
The old man had to look away for a moment to collect himself.
“What if the waves tip her over?” the little boy asked, suddenly apprehensive.
“Well, it’s pretty calm right now, l’il guy. I think she’ll be okay.”
“But what if she goes way out there and we can’t bring her back?”
“She’ll come back,” his grandpa said. “She’ll come back.”
As they perched on the dock, legs dangling over the water, the old man gave the boat a push away from shore. The little boy, the remote box between his knees, began to steer her—hesitantly at first, with fitful starts and stops, over-correcting erratically. But in moments he was sure, and the boat skimmed atop the surface, speeding and curving gracefully, immediately responsive to his commands.
I watched the boat for awhile, then turned my attention to the old man and the boy. Their faces were split with grins, happily alight, as they raced The Yellow Flash to and fro along the shoreline.
“Take a turn, Grampy,” the little boy yelled, handing the remote box to his grandpa. And he squealed with delight when the old man almost capsized her, righting her just in time.
“Grampy?” the little boy said after a while.
“Mmm?” his grandpa replied, seeming lost in reverie.
“I love my daddy’s boat!”
“I love her, too,” the old man said, leaning in close to his grandson. “And I love you, l’il guy, very much.”
I left them on the dock, locked in silent communion. And it may only have been my imagination, but when I stole a glance back, I could swear I saw a third person there—ephemeral but real, lovingly watching them both.
At once apart from, yet a part of, the old man and the boy.
And I marveled at the reach of a father’s love.
A friend of mine from our teenage years died recently, after a long, slow decline, taken from us before his time. For more than fifty years, Paulie and I celebrated our friendship in the company of our wives, themselves close friends since high school, and our children.
We journeyed through many stages of life together—boyhood teammates and opponents in the sports we loved to play; young men starting out, full of hope and sure of success; new fathers, surprised at how quickly we got to that point; fellow-travellers far and wide, our growing families in tow; and eventually grandfathers, proud all over again of a new generation. Through it all, we played our games and remained steadfast friends.
Our boyhoods were spent in the suburbs, where every community had its own park, and we spent hours there after school and on weekends. We were from different neighbourhoods, but connected on those playing fields during the endless summers and wondrous winters, eager warriors on the ball-diamonds and hockey-rinks. Especially the hockey-rinks.
In every park there was an outdoor ice pad or two, where neighbourhood fathers (and a few intrepid mothers) would stand every night, alone in the dark, flooding water on the rinks to provide fresh ice for the following day. I’m not sure we thanked them enough back then, but we sure benefited from their dedication.
By the time we’d arrive at the rink, skates dangling from the hockey sticks propped on our shoulders, fresh snow had often fallen. So the first kid to get there would take one of the shovels propped in the surrounding snowbanks, and start clearing the ice. As more of us arrived, we’d take turns until the ice was cleaned off. And then we’d lace up and the game would begin.
Paulie and I were habitués of those parks.
As adults, our careers took us in different directions, and to different cities. But we talked frequently by phone—mostly about business, our families, and, of course, sports. Especially hockey. We never talked about dying and the hereafter, and what it might hold, not even near the end. We weren’t afraid of it, I don’t think; it was just too abstract to be contemplated.
But now it’s happened. My friend has gone.
But where? Where is he now, I wonder? Or, more precisely, where is the essence of who he was? His soul, some might call it. In my sorrow, I’ve concocted a scenario that consoles me, regardless that it may sound far-fetched to others. Paulie would understand.
There’s a celestial park somewhere, complete with a neighbourhood ice pad. It’s covered with the whitest snow any of us has ever seen, and my friend is the first one there. He’s grabbed a shovel, and he’s busy scraping the ice.
Sooner or later, I like to imagine, I’ll be joining him. He knows that, so he’s not troubled. And when that day arrives, when he sees me coming, he’ll stop for a minute, lean on his shovel, and shout in my direction.
“’Bout time ya got here! Where ya been?”
I’ll shrug and wave a greeting, my wide smile letting him know how happy I am to see him again.
“Grab a shovel,” he’ll yell, as I stuff cold feet into my skates. “This is hard work!”
But it won’t be, not really. It will be joyous work—legs pumping, hearts pounding, breath forming around our heads, skate-blades cutting their cold, choppy sound in the ice. Just like always…just like always.
In no time at all, the snow will be cleared, the ice will be ready. And when it is, I choose to believe, we’ll toss a puck out on the ice, take up our sticks yet one more time, and play our game together, the game we always loved. The way we loved each other.
Teammates again, friends forever.
Paul Joseph Boyer
26 July 1942 – 16 March 2017
One long-ago February, when winter’s white enveloped the north, one of our daughters came with her family to visit us in Florida. The favourite activity for our grandson and granddaughter (the third of the clan being still an infant, unable to express her opinion) was going to the ocean, to the beach.
Our usual routines were fairly standard. We’d park and unpack the car, each of us carrying the beach necessities according to our age and abilities. We’d trudge the access path, through the dunes adorned with sea oats, pass through the rickety snow fence, and pick a spot that suited us all.
In short order, the umbrellas would be unfurled, the chairs unfolded, the blankets spread, and the toys strewn across the sand. Peace would reign for Nana and Grandpa, watching the sleeping baby while her parents and older siblings hit the water.
On one such occasion, a small incident occurred which didn’t have much significance at the time. In retrospect, however, it has become quite meaningful for me.
My daughter, my wife, and I embarked on a walk along the beach after the kids had finished splashing in the ocean. Their dad stayed with them, helping build grand castles in the sand.
We decided to hike through the dunes on the way out, and come back along the shoreline. I led off, sinking ankle-deep into the soft sand, feet clad in sandals to protect from the heat and the sandspurs. After a few minutes, we came upon tracks in the sand, apparently made by some small creature, perhaps a mole.
What made the discovery unusual was that they suddenly stopped in a small depression in the sand, as if the mole had simply vanished. The tracks ended without a trace.
My daughter suggested what might have happened. The mole, she reckoned, had been taken by a predator, likely one of the falcons that frequent the area. Indeed, on closer inspection, we could detect brush-marks in the sand, caused by the beating of a bird’s powerful wings.
We wended our way slowly, backtracking along the poor victim’s trail. It occurred to me that, a scant few yards before the depression in the sand, the mole would have had no inkling it was about to die. It was alive until it wasn’t.
Apparently, though, it knew it was under attack, for we found another, earlier depression in the sand where the bird had struck unsuccessfully. The mole had jumped sideways, scurried under the protection of some sea-oats, then emerged again to flee along the sand.
Our backtracking ended when the trail curled away from the beach, into dense, long grasses, whence the mole had come. We soon forgot about it as we continued our stroll, eventually heading back along the water’s edge to our grandchildren.
A few days later, I chanced to hear someone on the radio airily proclaiming that, if we all discovered the world was to end tomorrow, telephone lines everywhere would be jammed by people calling home to say all those things they had forgotten to say while there was still time. Social media sites on the internet would crash from the traffic. It made me think again of the mole whose tracks we had seen in the sand.
When it left its burrow for that final time, did it have its life in order? Had it said all those things that matter to those who matter? Or were there things it had left undone that should have been looked to sooner?
And I thought of myself. Does my journey through life leave tracks in the sand for some other eye to see? Am I subject to a mortal strike from some hidden foe? And if, or when, it happens, am I prepared and at peace with those who care about me?
When I got right down to it, I didn’t see much difference between that mole and me. Except one. I’m still making tracks in the sand. I still have time to ready myself for whatever is to come, and to be at peace with all who matter.
Such are the thoughts that arose as a result of a stroll along a sunny beach in Florida.
Another Mothers’ Day has passed, the sixth since my own mother passed away. The living mothers in my family number nineteen in all: my wife, two daughters, three sisters, two sisters-in-law, ten nieces, and one grand-niece. All were recognized and honoured by their children, many on social media, and it was lovely to witness.
But I still miss being able to pay homage to my own mother each year—to hear her voice, see her smile, smell her perfume; and mostly, to feel her arms around me. We knew each other for sixty-seven years, with nary a breach in the trust and love we shared, and my world is emptier without her.
On her ninetieth birthday, four years before she died, I wrote this poem to convey what she had meant to me for so long. I likened her to a tree that sheltered me until I dared to strike out on my own, and even thereafter.
At the time, I thought I had written it for her; but now, I suspect, I wrote it for me.
For ninety years and more, my tree has spread her boughs across my yard,
Festooned with leaves providing shade, standing tall and proud, on guard.
When I was young, and climbed up high into my tree, carefree and fleet,
Her branches hugged me safe and close, held fast my hands, secured my feet.
As I grew braver, I would stray beyond the fence that kept me in.
But at day’s end, I’d rush back home to settle ‘neath my tree again.
Her boughs would gently bend and blow about my head, and whisper soft,
And tell me of the wide world they had seen from high aloft.
Sometimes she’d bend, tossed by storms that raged around us, blowing fierce,
Yet, ne’er a storm could match her strength, nor through her loving shelter pierce.
Then, all too quickly, I was gone to seek a new yard, far away.
Yet always I’d return to hug my tree, and feel her gentle sway.
Too big by then to climb once more her branches, high o’erhead,
I still found comfort there, among the fallen leaves my tree had shed.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Past ninety years, yet still she stands, her canopy now drooping low,
Creaking, bending, in the winds that shake her branches, to and fro.
As spring and summer fast have fled, and fall has turned her leaves to gold,
My tree displays a majesty that can be neither bought, nor sold.
And I’ll remember all my days her love, like ripples in a pond,
Because I’m sheltered now by younger trees—the seeds she spawned.
For ninety years and more, my tree has spread her loving boughs each day
Above my head, to nurture me, and gently send me on my way.
Just what is it that makes life worth living, anyway? Is there a universal, one-size-fits-all answer, or is the answer situational, dependent upon the circumstances in which we each find ourselves?
And what might that answer be? Is it happiness? Good health? Sex? Wealth? Perhaps the ultimate aphrodisiac, power? Or some combination of these?
The existentialists among us might claim the answer is personal fulfilment, harmony with the world around us, inner peace. Alone though we are, they might say, we are nevertheless connected to others, but on our own terms.
The religious among us might declare life’s significance arises from a meaningful relationship with one’s creator, in whatever form that creator might be rendered. At this point in time, however, they seem unable to reconcile their competing visions with everyone else’s.
The afflicted and dispossessed peoples of the world might proclaim that life, being an endless procession of hunger, thirst, and terror, is not worth living at all. And who is any of us, never having experienced their realities, to disagree?
But let us suppose, cheerfully, that everyone we know has found ample reason to live, to carry on, to survive. In the face, sometimes, of personal tragedy, severe illness, serious setbacks of whatever ilk, they have persevered, even prospered, and gladly proclaim life to be the greatest gift of all. They are, from all appearances, joyful, optimistic, and strong.
I recognize myself among this happy crew. Wanting for none of the necessities of life, surrounded by family who love me, blessed with friends who are supportive and caring, I rise each day with a positive outlook, sure this blissful state will continue for years to come. To state the obvious, life is to be lived.
So what do I make of the current debate swirling around us about a person’s right to an assisted death when the time comes? How do I square my belief in the meaning of life with a possible wish to end that life at some point? Are these two concepts even compatible?
For me, it comes down to a fundamental, primal instinct that life exists beyond this earthly planet we inhabit. The vast universe in which we float is, itself, alive—a pulsating burst of energy, ever-expanding, interminably large. And an infinitely small fragment of that energy, in whatever form it manifests itself, is what powers life in me. It is my life-source. Some, more religious than I, might call it a soul.
So when my time is up, as surely it will be someday, I take it as an article of faith that my spark of life will rejoin the universe from which it sprang—still alive, still burning, but in a vastly different form.
Comforted by this belief, I do not fear death’s inevitability. I do, however, harbour apprehensions about the manner in which that death might transpire. Having been blessed, so far, to live a life worth living, I have no wish to spend whatever number of months or years in a diminished state, waiting helplessly for my life-source to reattach itself to that whence it came.
Perhaps I shall die suddenly one fine day. Here one moment, gone in the next instant, no assistance required. Still alive in the universe, to be sure, but departed from this realm. I’d be happy about that—but not too soon, of course.
Lingering on, however, past the stage where my mortal coil can function properly, holds no attraction. So I have come to the conclusion that I should be allowed and empowered to facilitate the escape of my spark of life from my failing body, and set it once again on its eternal journey in the universe.
The true meaning of life for me, it turns out, is the power, not to end it, but to release it from a failing, earthly body—freeing it to roam, as the poet, W. B. Yeats, once wrote, “…among a cloud of stars.”