I met a friend for coffee at a neighborhood shop last week. We hadn’t gotten together for some time and I’d missed our chats. The minute she walked through the door I could see the malaise that hung about her. Outwardly, she looked well. Her hair was recently trimmed and she was smartly dressed. But the dullness in her eyes couldn’t be mistaken.
We sat down over drinks to catch up with each other’s lives, filling the space with trivia while I raised my courage to ask if something was wrong. She assured me all was well when I finally raised my concern, but I felt the truth was otherwise.
We continued our conversation and I listened to her words intently, as if they were bread crumbs leading me through a dark forest. Eventually, I came to understand what was behind those somber eyes. She’d turned 74 and she could see nothing but oblivion at the end of the tunnel.
We all want to understand the meaning of life and as we age, we grow impatient, perhaps out of fear. I admit, I have no idea how I resolved my dread of the burnt-out candle. A few years earlier, there were times when I’d awake from my dreams in a cold sweat, sensing death drawing near. At times, I was afraid to sleep.
Today, death and I have made a temporary truce. I’m obliged to recognize the end is drawing near but in exchange, I am free to attempt anything, however absurd, impossible or foolish. What does failure mean at 77, after all? Not much. So I indulge my dreams which make each day a sweet compensation for what is to follow.
When I was young and erroneously diagnosed with a fatal disease, I looked on the prospect of dying with angry eyes, jealous of those who would survive me. But at 77, each day is a gift. I have no fear of unwanted consequences. Today, for example, I rejected a book agent’s offer to read my new novel. At 40 I’d have leapt with joy. At 77, I’ve decided I want a larger agency. I don’t have to compromise. If death catches me unaware, then having an agent or not will be of no great concern.
I wish I could help my friend make a truce with death as I have done. But each of us is required to negotiate our terms. Too many forget that obligation. They are so busy living. In Thornton Wilder’s play, Our Town, a dead child, Emily, rises from her grave for a single day and looking about asks, “Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it?”
Yes, Emily, they do… if they live long enough, and if they learn to look lovingly upon the world they must loose.
(Henry Fuseli’s Nighmare courtesy of wikipedia.com)