A Letter to Myself on My Deathbed

Perhaps awareness of one’s mortality is the first spark of self-loathing

As a child I feared you, fear as cold and hard as a stone from the river. I imagined your frailty as something monstrous, something otherworldly. All rotten gums and cavernous wrinkles, you were ruin and disaster, the vandal from the gloomy future come to slowly leech my essence, the horrible witch already haunting the bright red alleys of my young body.

I saw you on your deathbed. The bed was always white as mountain snow and I was always somehow looking down on you — myself — from above. Your death was lonely and peaceful, but the peacefulness didn’t seem to matter.

Sometimes this childish fear was tinged with hate, a hate that pulsed hot at the back of my throat. I hated you for your immutability, the way I knew you to be waiting for me no matter what shape my life might take, the way the ending was already written.

Perhaps awareness of one’s mortality is the first spark of self-loathing.

As a young man I envied you, oily jealously greasing my skin. I envied that you had made it through all the anxiety and bullshit of the everyday, the commuting and the bills, the mundane chitchat, tectonic ruptures and mass shootings, the runny bowel movements and melting glaciers. And maybe it was all going to be okay in the end or maybe it wasn’t, but at least you had made it through and knew one way or the other, which seemed better than not knowing at all.

And I envied, too, the lifetime of wonders archived in your withered heart, the foreign sunsets beyond reckoning, the shiny baubles gifted from grandchildren, the hours spent lost in all those treasured books I hope to reread. You knew everything I did and everything I didn’t, and I assumed that somehow, you had even solved the riddle of what might be worth dying for.

Now, today, while the fear and envy are never completely gone, I am grateful for your imagined presence, and my rubbery gratitude strikes me as by turns morbid and weirdly genuine. I am indebted to you for our unwritten compact: Let me borrow whatever scraps of courage you can spare, and I’ll do my best to ensure that you lie on that snow white bed with as few regrets as possible. I am thankful for the secret that we share: Gaining wisdom almost always means a little more sadness.

Like the ragged outline of a lodestone missing from my pocket, I draw comfort from your absent presence. You are a beacon from the impossible never-to-come that inches closer each day, transmitting a backward whisper that folds my future into my past: I’m here. I’m right here. Don’t give up.Modify

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