It is strange, I have concluded, that while you are on your journey to the west you do not recognize it for the wonderful and exciting adventure it is. And it is perhaps the greatest adventure of all, leading, of course, to the inevitable end. Along the way you experience true challenges and perils that may not be as romantic or dramatic as those of Indiana Jones or James Bond, but are equally and potentially as dangerous. I was forced to think about this by the most recent loss of another of my oldest and closest friends. I made a list of ten of the people who were the closest to me during my lifetime. I do not want to mention names but here is the account in chronological order of what has happened to them within the past roughly ten years:
One still alive but suffering from MS
There is an eleventh still alive and healthy as far as I know
There have been many others as well, but not as close to me as these ten, but very few of them are still alive and well. Of course these are merely the ways they concluded their personal journeys to the west, along the way they endured all sorts of other perils: childhood diseases, mastoids, appendicitis, broken bones, gall bladders, kidney stones, ruptures, cancers, heart problems, stents, bypasses, drinking problems, and drugs, to say nothing of marriages, divorces, children, the loss of loved ones, including parents, siblings, children, and wives and husbands. We do not, of course, think of these experiences as adventures, merely as “life.” To be sure there have also undoubtedly been moments of pleasure and happiness, made all the more blissful and memorable by the temporary absence of the abovementioned problems. Upon reflection I believe a person’s life is the greatest adventure he or she will ever experience whether it is recognized as such or not. I guess it can only be seen as a glorious adventure in retrospect when you begin to experience the twilight of your own journey to the west.
Reflection also raises, for me at least, a serious but unanswerable question, why me? Why is it I have been fortunate enough to outlast most, virtually all of my peers, my best friends? I can see no reason whatsoever why this should be so, it just is. I did nothing to bring it on, I surely cannot claim to deserve it, I have experienced many of the abovementioned ailments, problems, and experiences, in fact probably more than my fair share. But here I still am and they are not. As an atheist I cannot claim divine intervention. I’m sure that in the eyes of many I have sinned and I cannot claim to have been particularly virtuous. I do claim to have consistently followed the golden rule and never deliberately harmed anyone, I abhor violence and fervently wish (foolishly, I fear) for peace on earth (a goal I now believe unobtainable for our particular species). In any case, I know my own journey to the west is coming to a close although exactly when I have no idea. I find I do not fear death itself and, paradoxically, even look forward to it, but I confess to anxiety about the means. All in all, I guess it just is, as the saying goes, “the luck of the draw.”
when the Great Mystery calls,
to leave in autumn.