By Tom Welch
Something interesting happened.
For the first time in my life I had an intimation today—briefly—of change in life status. I felt the first inkling that I will be handing off this world to all the other people yet remaining, still living, active and involved in life’s choices and goal striving.
I felt a moment of separation, of goodbye, of loss of friendship, comradeship and togetherness with the life of this world. It was a strange glimpse of my future departure. A glimpse, I now wonder, that may be coming ever more frequently as time continues to pass, as the clock of my body and brain winds down. No fear, just sadness at the long goodbye.
There is a rightness to it.
I have said the final goodbye to others in my life—my grandparents, my father. I have seen my mother left alone of all the friends of her vital years by her advancing age. Our individual losses to date have the effect of a slow dripping away of those important to us, a gradual reduction in human connections.
But now I have seen that my death will not be like that. It will be the ripping away from me of all reality, of everything I know and ever have known, of all those people I have loved. It will be all others as well; friends, acquaintances, passers by, and fellow shoppers. It will be the end of everything as I have ever known it.
And this is, I think, why so many of us fear death as we get closer to it; the collision with the absolute unknown and the estrangement from all that has ever been real to us for so many years.
Reality will cease. Nothing will remain in my personal sphere of existence. Life, and all its accomplishments, it’s failures, just a dream, unremembered.
The Day Will Come.
The day will come when I will take my leave of caring passionately of what happens to this world, and its people, its animals and trees, and even the universe itself. I will be unhinged slowly from the cares of this world. What is now real will slowly transmute into the less real, what I know and am comfortable with, what I care about, will no longer have hold on, or importance to me.
At that time the struggles I’ve had through life, successes, painful lessons—all become moot. My character will no longer matter. My personal integrity, or the lack of it, will be no longer have any weight. All of my existence, all the millions of my thoughts and uncounted feelings, will just float off, as into space.
What Will Remain to Me.
What will be left in the last days, I think, will be the regrets, the sorrows of missteps, of hurt and harm caused, of failure to act, of untapped compassion. I will feel a final sadness as I think how far short I have so often fallen, how much I’ve missed the mark I’d hoped to hit, how many opportunities to show unexpected kindness I’ve failed to seize.
It will no longer matter to me (or to anyone else), not even opinions of me or of my actions in this life. I will be dust, part of history only for the briefest short moment that others who have known me, remember me. Then, just a name in a genealogy, a life summarized into dates of birth and death, the name of a marriage partner, children’s names and dates of birth.
Even this data will soon enough be lost to the glimpse of anyone or any living thing, perhaps just archived on paper and filed electronically until paper fades and falls apart, and data sets are lost in one catastrophe or another.
A Surprising Relief.
As I approach the end, though even now somewhat distant from it, this is a surprising relief. There is really no urgency. There never has been. And while my integrity, kindness, generosity and humor will not matter for long to anyone remaining on this busy planet, I can take them with me, hold them to me, as I pass beyond.
I’ll take with me, too, the knowledge that in all my life I never intentionally hurt anyone, that I really did do my best at every turn. And that will be enough.
It will have to be.
Tom Welch has worked as a clerk, a high school math teacher, a radio intercept operator in the army, in finance at a large company, and as a leader/teacher for groups of adjudicated teens as well as for parents and children in a community education program that explores the effects of addiction on the family. His blog contains the items published on The Tattooed Buddha as well as a number of other writings.
Editor: Dana Gornall