Thursday, July 31, 2014

Opinion — To Go Gently Or Not To Go Gently, Death And Dying

George Bernard Shaw Lived To 94

I was in a doctor’s office with my brother when an old man, a very old man was raging against the long wait and the bureaucratic red tape that caused it. My brother whispered,  “Do not go gentle into that good night.” Another old man sitting close to both of us old men told my brother that Dylan Thomas would be proud of him, for remembering the line, I assumed.

I think of death often. As many of us have by the time we are old, I’ve witnessed too many and lost too many.  I’ve spent a few decades focusing on murder through my crime fiction writing.  Death, at least in the abstract, is with me every day as I write.  I’ve also danced a few times on the edge of my own grave.  So I have thoughts on this “going gently” thing.

There used to be talk about our “Golden Years.” That term is rarely used without sarcasm these days. We must face it.  At some point our bodies and minds stop doing what they were designed to do. To walk becomes painful.  To hear is difficult. Words disappear mid-sentence We forget all sorts of things we used to know and remember things we haven’t thought of in decades, important things no doubt , but often irrelevant to the moment. I could go on. 

On the other hand, I really enjoy drifting off during the various bombings, famines and tornadoes I would normally see if I remained awake during the “PBS News Hour.” Also, though I may still swoon when I encounter beauty, I no longer want to own it.

Though time may be short, I don’t mind waiting. I really enjoy sitting on a bench in the park watching people and animals at work or play and the clouds move across the sky. I also have an active inner life.  Because I write books, I visit my characters and find out what they’re doing and saying while I wait, while I feel the sun and fresh breeze on my face. I appreciate that I’m no longer a slave to a daily deadline. The real deadline is pretty much out of my control, enabling me to relax.

While I have genuinely mellowed, I still hold strong opinions. And I truly enjoy sharing them. But that nagging, frustrating urge to gain agreement has diminished. One of the reasons to admire the angry elderly man in the doctor’s office is that as we age, we often become invisible to others. We become invisible and somewhat inconsequential except to phone scam artists and perhaps, muggers, who see us as easy prey. And many believe our complaints and or objections to maltreatment can be mollified by a pat on the hand and a “there, there,” in soothing baby talk tones.  In that sense, the old man’s anger has meaning and value.

Otherwise, if you adjust to certain inevitabilities, dropping things — pills especially — walking slower, and wandering off mentally mid-sentence, yours or someone else’s, then you may gain humor and perspective. Observing life can be enjoyable when you are not rushed.  Just simply being can be pleasant as regrets slip away and concern about the future becomes less necessary because there is less future.  Some understand this much earlier in life.  But for most of us, it takes the whole damn cycle.
Do Not Go Gentle?

If you are among the young, there is no need to rush to old age. It will come soon enough. But, to leave word, I would say that aside from those far too many moments when I’ve thoughtlessly harmed another, I have only one regret — that I didn’t travel more, spend more time with interesting people, that I didn’t add to that reservoir of experience that I draw from as I sit in the park or wait for sleep. The way we can enjoy these older years is the same way we enjoy our younger years.  Though it is naive to the point of stupidity to think we are always able to do so, we should try our best to savor the moment, whatever horrid or beautiful moment that might be.

With regard to “Do not go gentle,” the poem is not always framed in the way Thomas intended it. The voice we hear is that of the dying man’s son, not that of the dying man.  If I were granted my wish, I would go gently into that good night.  I would go easily and quietly, with help to make it so, if need be. Unfortunately, kindly assistance is against the law in most states.

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