Thursday, August 19, 2010


H! why should the spirit of mortal be proud?
Like a swift-fleeting meteor, a fast-flying cloud,
A flash of the lightning, a break of the wave,
Man passeth from life to his rest in the grave.

'Tis the wink of an eye, 'tis the draught of a breath,
From the blossom of health to the paleness of death,
From the gilded saloon to the bier and the shroud,--
Oh! why should the spirit of mortal be proud?

The above verses are the first and last stanzas of Abraham Lincoln's favorite poem (by William Knox). Abe has always been my hero, so in high school when I learned that this was his favorite, I made haste to get a copy and read it. Well, believe me, if you want to enjoy an uplifting poem, this is not it. A more moribund, ghastly, depressing group of words you would be hard pressed to find. If you're curious about the rest of poem, go here and read it - just don't make it a day you're already feeling low and stay away from any knives. Lincoln was known for being "melancholic," and if this is an indication of how he felt on a daily basis, poor man.

Despite all these statements, the poem is a true one. You know what they say - Death and Taxes. Death, the great equalizer, always coming for us and those we love.

I had an interesting dream the other night. In the dream, I was driving at night, and the only thing lit up on the dashboard was the little red arrow that points to the miles per hour. The numbers themselves were invisible, and I could see only the arrow. I remember in the dream feeling as if I were driving fast, but I couldn't tell exactly how fast. I studied the speedometer in panic, trying in vain to picture where those invisible numbers were in relation to the arrow. Was I going 40? 60? 80? 100 mph? Couldn't tell. With my foot firmly on the gas pedal, I was speeding to some unknown destination at some unknown speed in total darkness, save for that one brightly lit arrow - which was, after all, pretty useless without the other indicators.

I'm dependably a morbid person. I've blogged about death before, read books on death, talked about death, and I guess as I go through this second part of my life, I will continue to haunt me (forgive the pun). I realized last week that next month, I will be 56 years old, now closer to 60 than to 50. Wow!

As in my dream, I do feel as if I'm speeding through life, or at least my life is speeding. Even though my average day is relatively routine, I get time to relax, do some crafts, social networking online, etc., there is an underlying current of time rushing by, and that urgency never quite leaves me. How fast am I really going? How much time do I really have left?

I heard another poem on The Writer's Almanac radio show Sunday, oddly about the same subject. It is "Last Meal" by Bill Holm. "On death row you celebrate your last night with your last dinner..." The poet goes on to ask if you were in prison, what would be your last meal request? Then, the gut-wrenching question, "And how do you know, my friend, that you are not
eating your last meal at this very table now?" That's the kicker - we don't.

So many plans, so many interests and hobbies and so many things I want to accomplish - with virtually no guarantees except this very minute. It's a sobering thought. My first reaction is, as in my dream, all-out panic, pushing harder on that gas pedal, stay busier, overstuff my schedule to the max. My second reaction, though, is maybe, just maybe, if I can't tell how fast I'm going, I should just release my foot - ever so slightly at a time - off that gas pedal and slow down a bit.

It's true that time rushes on, days and nights seem to come closer and closer, we get older, and we still feel far from accomplishing all we set out to do in life. The only guarantee I can muster is that I promise you there will never be a time I can sit back and say, "OK, I'm ready to go, I've spent enough time with my family, I've made enough quilts, I've seen enough beauty, taken enough photographs, sewn all my fabric, and I've made enough music to satisfy me." Ain't gonna happen, no matter how fast I'm driving or how much anxiety and panic controls the speed. There will always be things left undone, better ways I could have spent my time, and mountains of regret staring me in the face. Reality can be hard to accept. I think it helps, though, to - every once in a while - ease up a little bit on that accelerator - and hope for an occasional dash of moonlight to help you get your bearings.

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