Coming to the end of a long journey often brings a melancholy feeling. You've been traveling for days, but finally you can see it up ahead, the destination. A long drive; an interstellar adventure; a walk through the woods to grandma's house. You've done the hard work, but now you can see it, the object of the exercise. How do you feel?
You set off full of resolve. You found the rhythm of the road, and you rode it. Maybe you saw remarkable things. Maybe you overcame setbacks or surmounted obstacles. Now, you can see it. You are almost there. How do you feel?
Life is like a strange, stupid game. You must be lucky to avoid all of the snares and traps that life sets in your path. The unfortunate truth is that you cannot be lucky enough to beat the game of life.
The lucky ones among us cruise through the early phase of life, through grammar school and high school, with friends, even girlfriends, perhaps we discover talents within us. Maybe get married, maybe have a couple of healthy children, maybe make some money, maybe even achieve some happy equilibrium within the constraints of life's many rules and surprises. Keep the ball in the air, as it were, because we all know, to an absolute certainty, that when the ball comes to rest, it will spell doom for our sad little bet. The house always wins in the end.
It is, to me anyway, a melancholy thing to approach the end of life. It gradually comes into focus, beginning around the age of forty, but it starts out easily. As my father told me when he was about eighty-something, “fifty is nothing, you don't even notice it; sixty is the same; but seventy will kick your ass.” I can now officially add my two cents: whatever kind of life you have led, seventy falls on you and it hits you like a house. It hits you like a train. That's your three score and ten, brothers and sisters. Was that in the Bible? I believe it was. It accelerates the process of disintegration that has already begun to spread through every subsystem of your body. And life, before long, will bury you as sure as you were born.
As our seventies flip by, rather quickly, we must concern ourselves not only with suffering the ministrations of an increasing number of medical professionals, but also with coming to terms with death. Or not, I suppose, some people prefer to dance right into death with a drink in one hand and a cigarette in the other. That's probably a good plan, now that I think of it. No worries. You barely have time to change the expression on your face. Then you are in the clear, back in the undifferentiated void of potentialities from which we all spring.
Most of us will wonder about things in the meantime. In five years, will I still be able to walk? Will my hands start to shake soon? When must I give up my drivers' license? Why am I getting shorter? Is my memory degrading? Have I always been so cranky?
You may already have reached my stage of life. The test is: when you lay yourself down to sleep at night, do you give a passing thought to whether you will ever wake up again?
I hope that many of you are at an earlier stage of life. Ideally, at a much earlier stage. This message is really directed to you. You will never regret taking some care with your physical selves, although you must never forget to have a lot of fun while you are being a bit careful. Small acts of kindness, of which only you are aware, will contribute to your self esteem. Be generous and kindhearted with your family, your friends, your wives, your children, and even with strangers. Be a good boss; be a good employee.
Love your parents without reservation, even if they have proven their lack of regard for you. They are just regular people to me, but they are mom and dad to you. I may criticize their parenting skills, but you must accept them as the only parents that you have.
Regarding mankind in general, I have found no simpler expression of the life well led than is found in the three rules of Buddhism: do good things; don't do bad things; try day by day to become a better person.
May the road come up to meet you, dear reader, and for the religious among you, may you be in heaven half an hour before the devil knows you're dead.