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!
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.”