I recently read an interview with a writer who is, like me, in her mid-eighties. I was surprised by how vehemently she insisted that she never allowed herself to think about death. For even before my brush with death five years ago, at the age of eighty-one, thinking about my ultimate end had been an ordinary aspect of my life. Nothing seems so elementary, and nothing seems more natural.
As we grow old, we all must bend toward the sense of an ending. Imagination tunes itself to how we will face mortality when it is no longer merely a word, but the moment at which being becomes nonbeing. Imagining my own ending has had the effect of making its inevitability more acceptable. Don’t get me wrong. I am not, like Keats, “half in love with easeful Death.” Nothing gives me greater pleasure than the naked physicality of the life I see around me, even if I am more a spectator than a participant. However physically drawn down, I am still thrilled by the sight of a beautiful woman. And I kvell (only the Yiddish conveys what I mean) when I hear my nine-year-old grandson’s joyous laughter as he discovers that his poor old Pop-Pop is incapable of distinguishing between DC Comics superheroes and Marvel superheroes. Apart from pain and ailments, I find my life surprisingly pleasant. At times, it strikes me as absolutely delicious. But that does not mean I can or should avoid thinking about what I know is coming—perhaps tomorrow, perhaps the day after tomorrow, perhaps in a year, perhaps in two or three years, but coming, as we used to say in the Bronx, as sure as God made apples.