I imagine myself at the threshold between life and death (I warned you that this book would not be easy!) Behind me, everything I have known and loved in the course of a thus far reasonably long life; a step ahead, the vast unknown. Even my father, an Anglican priest who ostensibly believed in a life after death, found that step daunting: he clung to life for a good two weeks after I was summoned from California to his imminent deathbed in Wales. He surrendered only after my departure--and before I could say a last goodbye. As for me, who have never managed to muster belief in afterlife or rebirth, the prospect of the end of everything is still more forbidding.
And yet… I imagine I must now take that step, as one day I surely will. I no longer have the choice to cling to all those things to which have been attached for so many years. I practice saying goodbye. I say goodbye to all those images from the past that persist in memory. I say goodbye to my office, my computer, to all my notes and files, to all my unfinished work. To every item on the "to-do" lists on my desk, since none of them will now be done. To the books I have written, and those I would have wanted to write. To the books that line my shelves, the ones I have read and those that remain unread. To my "collections"--the art on the walls, the treasured pottery I sought out so assiduously many years ago at swap meets and garage sales. To the food I like to eat and the wines that I enjoy…
I say goodbye to my Prius, parked in the garage. To the house itself, and the much-loved cottage in Laguna Beach. To their lovely gardens. To flowers and trees. To the distant mountains and the great Pacific Ocean. To all those places I have visited on my travels, and those I would have wished to visit, had I had the time and money. And speaking of money, I say goodbye to my bank accounts, my credit cards, my portfolio of savings. I trust they will find others to enjoy their proceeds, for better or for worse.
I say goodbye to all the stories whose end I'll never know. Will my grandchildren go to college? Will they find happiness? Will a Democrat be elected President in the next round of elections? Will Democrats take the House, as I most heartily wish? When will the Big One hit Los Angeles? Will we clever human beings get to Mars, and beyond? So many different stories that are underway, whose end I'll never know!
I pause for long enough to contemplate the hardest part, as I say goodbye to all those I have known as friends; to my sons and daughter and their children; to my wife, with whom I have shared now more than forty years of love; to my dog, George, for heaven's sake! Once I take that step, I'll not see them again. Not in this life, and I have no faith, as some do, that I might see them in the next. So I stand there, at the final threshold, envisioning the enormity of having to take that step; and imagining that if I can hold it in attention it with sufficient calm and clarity, I will not only be better prepared for that moment when it comes; I will be that much more free to make the most of the moments that I have yet to live.
Because that's what this exercise about, as I see it. It's not about dying. It's about living. "Give up you life," Ken writes. "Give it all up. Do not base your life on whatever can be taken away from you. […] Instead, do what life calls for in each moment, and do so without any gaining idea, any thought that you will ever see or enjoy the results of your actions. Do it because life calls for it, nothing more. Ironically, it is hard to imagine a more fulfilling way to live." And, as always, it's easier said than done.
(I attended Ken McLeod's book signing yesterday, at Diane Rosenstein Fine Art, and was gratified to see a large crowd assembled there to celebrate the book's launch.)