Not for the pusillanimous!

Since it is incontrovertibly and contemporaneously a dreadful and a delicate subject, deciding what to do in the face of imminent death is not for the pusillanimous.  There is a further caution. The event is indiscriminate; by which I mean, it could happen to you!  Just to be clear, death is thoughtless, random, confused, uncritical, aimless, chaotic, casual and haphazard. One might even say desultory. Or capricious.

I find myself dwelling upon this harrowing subject not because I have today received anything but good news. Indeed I am, as the saying goes, lately on a roll, smugly enjoying what quite frankly has hitherto been unparalleled complacency and contentment.  Nonetheless this morning while stationing my tricycle against the garage wall I spoke with a gentleman whose future is perhaps less fortuitous than my own. I had just completed a fortifying cycle of 5.59 Km about the neighbourhood on a magnificently sunny day adjacent the river which gushed with the remnant of the spring freshet. It was a small but palpable triumph.

I begin this introspection by recognizing that I unwittingly noted the gentleman’s future (he suffers kidney failure) is “perhaps” less fortuitous than my own.  This seemingly trite ambivalence and philosophic accommodation is illustrative of the paradox of my meaning; namely, that out of the worse may evolve something far better than originally contemplated. As an example, it may afford great pleasure and dignity to a man to gleefully acknowledge the depth, flavour and texture of his life in the face of its end.  As I have so often repeated, the axioms of Masonic ritual include the enigmatic statement that, “Nature teaches us how to die”.  One should not therefore be presumptuous about death. Certainly though it is an eventuality accompanied by fearful omens as in Ecclesiastes 12 King James Version. The poetry references burgeoning displeasure, dimness of sight, perpetual gloom, weakening limbs, decaying teeth, fear and at last separation.

12 Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth, while the evil days come not, nor the years draw nigh, when thou shalt say, I have no pleasure in them;

While the sun, or the light, or the moon, or the stars, be not darkened, nor the clouds return after the rain:

In the day when the keepers of the house shall tremble, and the strong men shall bow themselves, and the grinders cease because they are few, and those that look out of the windows be darkened,

And the doors shall be shut in the streets, when the sound of the grinding is low, and he shall rise up at the voice of the bird, and all the daughters of musick shall be brought low;

Also when they shall be afraid of that which is high, and fears shall be in the way, and the almond tree shall flourish, and the grasshopper shall be a burden, and desire shall fail: because man goeth to his long home, and the mourners go about the streets:

Or ever the silver cord be loosed, or the golden bowl be broken, or the pitcher be broken at the fountain, or the wheel broken at the cistern.

Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was: and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it.

Interestingly the gentleman to whom I spoke this morning initiated his own communication to me by stating he had in effect enjoyed two unequivocally successful lifetimes, one until about age thirty while he was single living in Montréal, the other after his marriage.  He is now at least 80 years old. He and his wife, like we, have “downsized” to an apartment in this building. Meanwhile I understand the management of their erstwhile horse farm on nearby Golden Line has been undertaken by a daughter.

The succinct observation by the gentleman (generously in reply to my colourless question “What’s the news?”) manifestly gripped me.  Since months ago when I first encountered the chap – he was pushing his rollator about the basement garage as I similarly pedalled by tricycle – I was convinced of his profundity and candid magnanimity.  Our correspondence today has only heightened my commendation of him. We were both quick to share the unbridled conviction that neither of us presently has any intention of meaninglessly prolonging our time. It is true that in the face of the reality we may be less inclined in our confrontation.  But frankly I rather doubt it. My estimate is that, as readily as we both acknowledge the serendipity of life, we both also confess its less than provident constraints.

1754: coined by Horace Walpole, suggested by The Three Princes of Serendip, the title of a fairy tale in which the heroes ‘were always making discoveries, by accidents and sagacity, of things they were not in quest of’.

I suspect too that neither of us intend by any measure the attribution of bravery in our summary proposal of the final decision which either of us undertakes. WIthout a word of a lie, in the past I have known people who have chosen to snap their finger at the peril of death (and continue unrestrained until it triumphed); another who blew his brains out with a shot gun on his apartment balcony (so as not to make a mess); another who engaged in assisted suicide (through prescribed medication); another who chose to take enough morphine to put her over the edge with a smile on her face; another who stepped in front of traffic on Hwy#401 (but had the courtesy to leave a note exonerating the driver from liability).

The alternative to let Nature take its toll is by my calculation and comparison far more propitious.

And one further note, I have yet to be provoked to attribute any religious mysticism to the process.  Nature is in my opinion sufficiently marvellous.  If it helps mollify the apostolic theme to characterize it as pantheistic, I willingly accept the assertion – though only because it is in my opinion a distinction without a difference.

apostasy (n.)
late 14c., apostasie, “renunciation, abandonment or neglect of established religion,” from Late Latin apostasia, from later Greek apostasia for earlier apostasis “revolt, defection,” literally “a standing off,” from apostanai “to stand away” (see apostate (n.)). The general (non-religious) sense of “abandonment of what one has professed” is attested from 1570s and late 14c.