July 24, 2024

As a good friend wrote to me, quoting Woody Allen: “I’m not afraid of dying. I simply don’t wish to be there when it occurs.”

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A niece texts from Ontario. She is a stunning girl, associate to a beautiful man, and mom to a blended brood of 5 adoring youngsters. She wants a coronary heart transplant, she writes — this after surviving bone most cancers.

“Unhealthy genes,” she says in a while the telephone, chuckling, with a braveness I might solely surprise at.

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And this:

An in depth good friend dies in mattress, out of the blue, inexplicably. She had texted me the day earlier than about what she had been writing — a textual content I erased after studying it, not understanding it was to be her final phrase on our lifetime of shared endeavour. Her dying appeared as vaporous as that vanished textual content: For weeks afterward, I’d get up within the morning and suppose, “I ought to telephone her.” She was gone, however not.

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And this:

One other shut good friend suffers a coronary heart assault, after which one other, and one other and one other and one other — in all, a half-dozen episodes inside 24 hours. Improbably, he survives. He arises from the working desk a brand new man, his coronary heart reassembled with eight stents and a pacemaker.

And, nicely … there are extra. The information of them comes often now, not on the entrance door, however within the obituary pages. The celebrations of life mount with dispiriting regularity. The place as soon as speak at dinner events revolved round youngsters or holidays, dialog has turned to the challenges of arthritis and hypertension, or the sudden shadow that appeared on the x-ray, or the stroke that struck as randomly as lightning.

For anybody fortunate sufficient to dwell to outdated age, this gradual disassembling of life is the norm.

But it nonetheless comes as a shock. One is aware of early on that none of us will dwell without end, however understanding that one goes to die and accepting that one goes to die are two completely various things. Rage, rage in opposition to the dying of the sunshine and all that. As a good friend wrote to me, quoting Woody Allen: “I’m not afraid of dying. I simply don’t wish to be there when it occurs.”

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However, dying concentrates one’s consideration. The clock ticks louder. The books unread, the journeys but to be taken, the like to be expressed — they press upon you extra insistently. A number of months in the past, my spouse, for the primary time I might bear in mind, stated we solely had a lot time left collectively, and he or she needed to fill these years remaining to us with journey and pleasure and household. There was no extra time, she stated, for squabbling and worrying about paying the payments.

It was a intestine punch. I checked out her dismayed, by no means having considered not having sufficient time along with her, or of residing with out her.

And there, too, is that this: Just lately, I’ve been having episodes of what I can solely describe as ecstatic readability. There isn’t a sample to them, or any explicit purpose inspiring their arrival. It could possibly be the shivering of daylight and shadows on the pavement in entrance of my home, or my spouse’s buzzing within the kitchen as she makes dinner, or the sensation of my grandson’s skinny bony physique in opposition to mine after I hug him. When these episodes come, it’s as if time stops and crystallizes with a tough, gem-like high quality. If these moments might communicate, they might say: Right here, that is dying’s reward. Life. Love this whilst you can.

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These days, like my niece, I’ve had a few diagnoses of my very own, though they’re nowhere close to to being in her league. However I do know now I’m going to die. I gained’t say what these diagnoses are, or in the event that they’ll result in my finish tomorrow or — fingers crossed — 30 years from now, however I’m hoping for the latter.

And when that point arrives?

I don’t imagine in God, or a god in any of the variations humanity invented as a salve to mortality’s ache.

However I do imagine in rot. I imagine in compost. I imagine in being manufactured from the identical stuff as oaks and salmon and kestrels, and the destiny I share with them. That destiny is my one hope for immortality of a kind, that of beginning in dying, of the scattering and repurposing of matter that has been happening because the Large Bang, and of a rebirth not in an imagined heaven however within the fertile earth.

And it’s my hope — the one fanciful, childlike hope that bears me ahead — that on this future intermingling of atoms, my very own atoms will acknowledge and be drawn valence-like to these of my spouse and kids and oldsters and household and associates, as a result of it’s the one factor I don’t wish to hand over on this world whereas I dwell, and the one factor that makes my life bearable earlier than I die: love.

Pete McMartin is a former Vancouver Solar columnist.

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