Death and Thanksgiving
Thoughts of death are stronger this year. Three of our neighbors died this year, the most recently just last week. I had worked with her husband for years before his retirement and would visit with them intermittently during Karen’s final illness. Karen seemed to be angry about dying. To me it seemed that she felt she had much more to do and see and feel. She was an English professor and did not “go gentle into that good night.” Dylan Thomas would have been pleased, but it made me reflect on the some of the very weighty Friends I have known who have lived their whole lives among conservative Friends who do indeed go gentle into that good night. I have seen a sense of peace, acceptance and indeed of thanksgiving among elderly Friends who know that their time has come upon them. Though they don’t talk about death—as a rule it seems Quakers don’t speak of death--I could sense that they felt close to the Spirit and felt themselves passing imperceptibly into another world. It wasn’t that they firmly believed in some doctrine of the resurrection, but rather that they felt they had lived their life partly in this world and partly in the other one and were now disappearing into the kingdom of heaven. There was no need to cite Bible verses or to make any loud show of their faith. The reality of the spiritual world was as commonplace to them as this world is to most of us.
Despite my preoccupation with death lately I think I will be able to enjoy Thanksgiving again this year. I'm thinking of death but I’m not ready to die. In fact I would say that now in my midfifties I appreciate life more than I ever have in the past. The feeling of being driven to “accomplish something” has largely vanished from my psychology. Mediocrity no longer feels like failure. Doing the little that I can do, and that is indeed very little, finally feels like enough. So I find myself wishing that God would just grant me fifty more years of life just as it is right now. But I know that that cannot be. The last of my children will move out and make a life of their own. Old age will not leave my body or my mind intact. But for now I am alive and very well. So I do feel thankful. I am thankful to be alive and that feeling is enhanced by the knowledge that it cannot last. What is to become of me while I remain is unclear and still less is it clear what will become of me when I too have to leave. But, Dylan Thomas to the contrary, I hope that I pass gently into that sweet night.