Since my age starts with “seventy”, I’m in what I call my “Middle Youth”. I figure that “Late Youth” starts at seventy-five, so I’ve got a few years until then. And as befits a man in his middle youth, I’ve been giving some thought to the idea and the reality of death. Both my parents are dead, and if the ugly rumors are true, someday I will join them.
My thoughts on this matter have been occasioned in part by the recent death of the mother of a long-time friend of mine. She was a charming, warm, and loving woman, a mainstay of her family, who died far too soon
But then, when was that ever not the case? In “Macbeth”, he says of his wife the Queen, “She should have died hereafter” … and this is true of just about everyone. I know I would say that about my own mother and father, they should indeed have died hereafter.
While I know that words are fairly useless in the face of death, words are all we have to offer. All I can say to my friend that he is now a member of an exclusive club that no one wants to join, but most of us will join sooner or later—the club of people with a dead parent.
And although I know that words are weak tea in this circumstance, in alleviation of the deep and most understandable sorrow of my friend and his father and their family, I can only offer the following story.
In ancient China, a middle-aged man went to an elderly sage. He gave the old man some money, and asked him if he would write out a good-luck charm to protect his family.
The sage agreed. He did the required hours of meditation, as was the custom in those days before undertaking such a momentous task. Then he took out his inkstone and his inkstick and began his preparations.
When his ink was at the exact ebon shade that the sage wanted, he took his calligraphy brush and a sheet of fresh rice paper. With firm, strong strokes he wrote three lines of characters on the paper, and gave it to the man.
When the man read it the good-luck charm, his eyes got wide. He shouted at the sage, “Why have you done this? What do you mean by this?” He was furious because the sage’s calligraphy on the rice-paper said:
The man screamed, “Did someone pay you to curse my family? How can you call this a good-luck charm?”
“Ah, my young friend, it is indeed a good-luck charm,” the old man said, “because if it happens in any other order, that is very bad luck!”
I myself had the sad fortune of being in the room with my stepmother as she watched her only daughter die … so I can say from personal experience that if it happens in any other order, you do not want to be there to see it.
Other than my story, I can only offer my love and support to my friend, to his father and family, and to everyone who has lost someone that they loved. There is no easy path through it. People say “Time heals all wounds”, and in my experience, that is very true.
But ah, dear friends … the scars, they endure …
I fear that I have nothing more to add to that, other than to note that our lives are far too short. So let me take this opportunity to thank my friend, and his father, and all of my friends and family, for their enduring friendship and fellowship, and to say, enjoy the day to the limit, for the dark night is assuredly coming …
My very best regards to everyone—I wish for you the sun breaking through the clouds, the wide sweep of the sea streaked with wind-blown spume, the dark, silent forest full of secrets untold, a sunrise with a gentle dawn breeze, fresh new snow blanketing the ground to surprise you when you wake in the morning, laughter with your friends and family, and all of the manifold joys of this marvelous world.
WHEN I consider Life and its few years—
A wisp of fog betwixt us and the sun;
A call to battle, and the battle done
Ere the last echo dies within our ears;
A rose choked in the grass; an hour of fears;
The gusts that past a darkening shore do beat;
The burst of music down an unlistening street,—
I wonder at the idleness of tears.
Ye old, old dead, and ye of yesternight,
Chieftains, and bards, and keepers of the sheep,
By every cup of sorrow that you had,
Loose me from tears, and make me see aright
How each hath back what once he stayed to weep:
Homer his sight, David his little lad!
Lizette Woodworth Reese. 1856–1935