You never know when the summons will come. When you’re young, you think it’s a long way away; as you grow older, you realize it might be any minute. Not just because you’re old and your infirmities multiply, but also because you become aware, over time, as young people usually aren’t, of all the contingencies: the fall, the bit of gristle lodged in the throat, beyond the reach of Dr Heimlich and his manoeuvres; the lurking blood clot, the heedless jerk in the SUV. You’ve seen it too often; one is taken and another is spared, and who knows why. You may have had a close call or two yourself, and realized how narrow was your escape.
You don’t want to become afraid and huddle, so you continue to take some risks – to go out alone in the sailboat, to scramble up the exposed rock face. But you’re not as blithe as you used to be. You know disaster hovers just over your shoulder, and any day now, disaster, having toyed with you for seven decades, will tire of waiting and decide to seize his long-deferred – and really, his rightful – prey. For you too have toyed with him.
You won’t see it coming, probably. You might have a few seconds. Enough time for a perfect Act Of Contrition? Probably not; rather, you will be hurled into the beyond screaming Oh fuck fuck fuck. One can only throw oneself on the mercy of the court, sodden and seaweedy or tumbled, bloodied, broken and shapeless, and apologize, stammeringly, for one’s ill-chosen language. I for one am not worried about that part. That Court, I suspect, is too august to be vindictive. But I’m worried about those bad few seconds.
And come they will. So before it happens one would like to make a few gestures; to tell the kids what a joy they always were – mostly; to acknowledge the saintly forbearance of lovers and spouses, and apologize sincerely for all one’s assholery. To thank whoever arranged it for one’s having seen the stars and breathed the air; to have watched the Moon come up over the open sea during a night passage through the Gulf of Maine. For that whale who came to visit the next morning, and eyed me with his big wise eye. For J S Bach and G F Handel. So much; it all crowds to mind. To put on record, in short, how amazingly lucky one has been, even with all the discontents and sorrows and regrets that dog every human track through the chances and changes of life.
Say it now, I’m thinking; because when the time comes there may not be time. So I’m saying it now.