A friend told me about an old woman who was the most joyful person she knew, though the woman had suffered grievous losses in her life. I couldn’t fathom how the woman could be so joyful, and yet now I can. . . . almost. Perhaps the woman knows that everything comes to an end. Perhaps she knows that the little things are important. Perhaps she has found herself in all of the losses.
Or, like me, perhaps she has an awareness of death, of knowing, deep down, that her life will end, maybe even badly. Since I’ve become steeped in the grief culture, I’ve heard stories of terrible deaths, either doctors keeping people alive past any usefulness or alertness, or the person’s own will keeping them alive long after they wanted to be done with it. I’ve heard stories of so much pain and suffering that it’s amazing any of us ever manage to smile let alone be joyful in such a world.
We all know we are going to die, but after the death of someone we are profoundly connected with, we KNOW deep within our psyches. People tell me not to dwell on death, and I don’t. It’s more that the knowledge of death now is a part of the very fabric of my being and can never again be unknowable. This knowledge makes life on Earth seem both more and less significant, which adds a strange flavor to my days. I don’t know how this knowledge will affect me long term, but there is freedom in knowing that things will end.
I heard a song today by Mose Allison. “I don’t worry about a thing because I know nothing is going to be all right.” It sounds cynical, but it isn’t necessarily negative unless you give up and stop trying to do whatever you can. Does it matter what success you had here on earth when you are dead? Does it matter how many toys you had when you died? Of course not. It only matters that you lived.
It’s like writing — all stories are the stories of someone’s life, and as such, end in death. What we as writers do is end the book at an upbeat point for a happy ending and an ironic place for a more tragic ending, but still, life continues on past those significant moments.
I know how my life is going to end — the same way all of our lives are going to end. It will end in death. I’ve always been a bit of a worrier, but with death on the horizon (the far horizon, considering my longevity genetics) worry seems a bit foolish. All that counts is today — not future successes or failures, not future acquisitions or losses. Just today.
There is peace in that, maybe even joy.