How the holy and the profane mix in the light of day and at the end of life is sometimes the most beautiful thing in this world and a compassionate entry into the next. After failure and defeat, a concentration upon certain beauties, though forever lost and unretrievable, can lift the wounded past woundedness and the dying past dying, protecting them with an image, still and bright, that will ride with them on their long ride, never to fade and never to retreat.
---Mark Helprin, "Charlotte of the Utrechtseweg," from his short story collection "The Pacific"
I was thinking of my sister yesterday, which was the 29th anniversary of her death at age 39. I wrote about her here. That led me to thoughts of the death of my father, 40 years ago next month. He was fifty. Both died of cancer.
As my father exhaled his last breath, his eyes opened wide in a look of amazement, as if in that instant he had the most astonishingly beautiful vision. While an atheist might dismiss it as a physical reaction, the believer would hope that he looked into the face of God, an image "still and bright," one that carried him past dying, never to fade and never to retreat.
Lately, I awake in the early hours of the morning, my mind filled with the need to put my house in order, to settle accounts. It's not that I have a sense of my impending death, but rather, of the need to throw out the trash and focus on the essential truths of life, both temporal and eternal. "You've wasted too much time," my mind tells itself, "on the unessential. Life is too short and precious for anything other than love, in all of its forms."
Does anyone else have those periods? I think that it must be common. One thing I am not is uncommon.
I also think that over the span of a full life, it is better to make mistakes in being too reckless with love than in being too cautious, although self-control and balance are generally acknowledged as cardinal virtues. I have always erred on the side of restraint, even retreat when the going gets messy. My late sister and father were the opposite. Hearts on their sleeves, they rushed into life with open arms and felt it all, the good and the bad.
In his most recent novel, "Sunlight and Shadow," Mark Helprin's male protagonist tells the love of his life some truths about "truth."
But, Catherine, everything that's true despite us - the things they're talking about, natural laws - will always remain true despite us. What matters is what's true because of us. That's what's up for grabs. That's where the battle is. One remembers and values one's life not for its objective truths, but for the emotional truths...The only thing that's really true, that lasts, and makes life worthwhile is the truth that's fixed in the heart. That's what we live and die for. It comes in epiphanies, and it comes in love, and don't ever let frightened people turn you away from it.
It comes in epiphanies and it comes in love. I think that's correct.
Time's a wastin'. Let's get to it.