A couple of weeks ago I wrote about Rb. Nachman’s verse: “The whole world is like a narrow bridge but despite that, we must not be afraid.” Easier said than done. Fear and being afraid. I’m not a vet and can hardly imagine what it must be like in combat. Being afraid for sure. However I’m aware, as I grow older – I’m now 81, the fear of dying has been growing in my consciousness. I don’t think it’s all that different from the pressure of a violent and instantaneous death one is exposed to in any conflict – death is death and a fear is a fear.
When I was a kid, like most kids, dying of old age was far off in the distance. Yeh, my grandparents did die, but they were old and I was only a toddler then. And then after I moved away from home, the deaths of aunts and uncles were distant events. But now I can see friends getting older and some dying. Death has become very real. (And writing this, I’m wondering if this wasn’t kicked off by the need to make a will, make burial arrangements, etc. so that when the time comes our kids won’t be stuck wondering what to do. And this is something all should do along with Health Power of Attorney, and instructions about final care: do not resuscitate, etc.)
Heck, visiting our “green” unmarked burial spot was a fun outing – that first time! I even took a picture of it and put it on the back of a collection of my stories: Somewhere… Over. I thought it was funny. Gallows’ humor? Well, perhaps a bit.
Fear of Dying, a book by Erica Jong, a title and a concept that lodged in my mind until now when it broke out of its concept shell, full grown, into life (or death). So now that I’m keeping company with death, at least in my thoughts – what to do?
Talk about it? That’s tough. Sort of did that with my wife when we were working with a lawyer doing the will, and making funeral arrangements. But that was then, this is now. And really, I’m lucky – it’s not that bad. Before it was a theoretical presence somewhere far off in the distance. Now it’s here. Not knocking at the door but there nevertheless. Only occasionally does it keep me from sleep for a little while, I can bury (bad/good choice of words) a lot of things. Just now the hole has gotten deeper.
For me, writing about things helps – putting it out there in the light, working over the bumps, maybe walking over the bumps – life is like that bridge, seems as if I’ve been crossing it all along. I got this far AND so did you. So maybe my back brain was right to put the song out there. [Search: “The Whole World Is Like a Narrow Bridge.”] Sing it through and take its strength. No big deal. Being afraid is only human. Fear can give you strength. Critical is not to freeze. Keep moving. Not that fast that it becomes running away or just a left foot/right foot kind of thing. And talk it over with a spouse/friend or professional if it gets bad.
It may sound trivial but give yourself rewards. Look at the sky, a tree, a puppy – mysteries, joys. Never the same, ever-changing, and a wonder to behold and to grow with from day to day. No need to be afraid of them. Try to connect with them and keep breathing, continue to move. Realize that you’re not in this alone. We will all have to confront death someday.
I’m trying to find a gracious way of doing this. In the meantime I’ll try to get on in life: to smile, to be kind, and to reach out to others as best I can.
Ken was a Professor of Mathematics, a ceramicist, a welder, and an IBMer until downsized in 2000. He taught yoga until COVID-19 decided otherwise. He continues writing, living with his wife and beagle in Shorewood, Wisconsin. He enjoys chamber music and mysteries. He’s a homebrewer and runs whitewater rivers. Ken is a writer and his literary works can be found at https://www.kmkbooks.com/
He welcomes feedback on his articles and can be reached at email@example.com.
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