Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Peaceful Melancholy

My young athletic doctor was an All-State basketball player for the Boerne Greyhounds some thirty years ago. He gets up at 5:00 am three times a week to play basketball in our high school gymnasium. It is not a good thing to have a former all-state athlete for your physician. His parameters of possibility expand far beyond the normal boundaries of hope.

"Follow my advice and you will die a quick, easy death. Keep going as you are and your death will be slow and painful."

What he wants me to do is slow and painful: run, walk, ride a bicycle, grab the flirtatious hand of the vixen of health. As opposed to sinking into the fraternal order of sofa spuds ("couch potatos" to you not so hip) and enjoying another round of decadent goo and fizz.

So the option is (1) slow and relaxed interminables as a presage to slow and painful death. Or (2) a quick, easy death preceded by pain and deprivation.

It's just a major league quandry framed in a trick question. When I was five years old, my mother presented a minor league dilemma with its own deceiving choice: "Do you want to wear this red shirt, or the blue shirt?" The question offers no permanent choice at all, except to settle mother's anxiety (I might miss the school bus if she doesn't get a shirt on me.) So I chose the red shirt, but tomorrow the blue one was still there.

All through our lives we struggle with the red/blue issue, ignoring the suppressed desire to not wear a shirt at all.

Not to die at all.

We ignore death to the point that it always comes as an unexpected guest. It is the enemy, the darkness against which even the most valiant light dims. The poet laureate of our youth schooled us:

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

I think not. Rage just doesn't fit the end of the living of these days. Sometime in the next year, ten years, twenty or even thirty, I will die. The thought does not scare me. I have given up control many times in times when the force was undefeatable. ("Just close your eyes and count backwards from 100": "100, 99, 98, 97 . . .") Rage, no.

Give me gentle submission when I bow. Give me a completeful release of the last energy flow. Concern is small for whatever lies beyond that last revival attempt by the caregivers. Let me go gentle into that good night.

And, I sleep best with no night shirt.