“. . . wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight. . .”

Waiting for the show to start, sitting in the front row of a balcony at the Myerson Symphony Hall last night, my friend Googled Bernadette Peters whom we were about to hear. We had



had a conversation about her age on our way to the concert. I said she’s 68, and he wouldn’t believe me. I was wrong. She’s only 65.

At any rate, I was having two small problems age may have exacerbated. The front row of any section of any auditorium is either the best or the worst seat in the section. It’s obvious why it may be the best. Not so obvious about the worst—architects never leave enough leg room for first-rowers. And my old hips need to be able to change position during a two-hour concert.

And I forgot to wear my bifocals. They were expensive and designed to wear all the time, but they don’t work at the computer or the organ, so I forget to take off the old “magnifiers” and put the bifocals on when I’m going out. The evening would have been more fun if only one Bernadette had been on the stage all the time (a touch astigmatic).

Being 69 really had nothing to do with either of those problems. I’ve never been able to sit still—and not because any joint of my body is in pain. I just can’t sit still unless I’m asleep. And I’ve been wearing glasses for about 30 years. So my hip and eye discomfort were (are) not the result of old age.

Am I old, or simply on the way to being old? Most of my friends rush in to tell me I’m not old when I mention it—with a couple of notable exceptions. Of course, they also assure me that I’ll find lots of ways to feel useful in 88 days when I retire, with little or no evidence that’s true. I know they’re right. I can write all day. Or teach writing at the Aberg Center for Literacy. Or work in the athletes’ writing center at SMU.

Or play the organ all day.

Or finally read Proust’s In Search of Lost Time (not likely—why would one hypergraphic want to bother with the frenzy of another’s?).

Or do something with the energy of Bernadette Peters (again not likely—if I had ever had energy like hers, I think my life would be much different right now).

But I have one over-riding project to finish.

Many of my friends shy away from my frequent mention of thinking about my own death. One—and only one—of my friends agrees with me that now, now while I am of as sound (if not quick) mind as I have ever been, now I (all of us)—need to settle in our own minds what we believe will happen when we die and what we want to happen to whatever of the material trappings of our lives remains when we are gone.

This is not being negative. It may be very serious business (and for someone like me, being serious can all too quickly flip over into depression—but I understand when that is happening), and it may seem to be the exact opposite of the Pollyanna existence our television and internet views of life project that we should live. But being dead serious does not necessarily mean being dead or longing for death or being morbid or being a nuisance or being unpleasant to be around.

Have you ever seen a TV commercial for, say life insurance, that begins, “We know you are a thoughtful and self-aware person and are contemplating what you believe will happen to you when you die, so let us make your contemplation a little easier by handling a bit of your very real concern about that. Pay us to figure out the matters of the temporal/economic world that you will leave behind.” Foolishly, I’d probably liquidate all of my assets and invest in whatever they were selling just because they admit that dying is not just something I’m going to do next week and it will be over and all will be well.

Why on earth did I drag Bernadette Peters into this? Simple. She sang songs from the ‘50s, ‘60s, ‘70, ‘80s, and ‘90s (if there were any newer than that, I didn’t—of course—recognize them). Many of them she introduced to the world by performing them on Broadway. Into the Woods, Little Night Music, Gypsy—I couldn’t begin to name all the shows she’s been in. And here she is at 65 doing a sort of retrospective of her career—although no one said as much.

Do not go gentle

Do not go gentle

And then she sang other peoples’ songs, most notably “Some Enchanted Evening” and “Fever.” My God, how long had it been since I heard that old Peggy Lee favorite? 1958. I was 13. I loved it then. I loved last night.

This is a ramble trying to find a definite thesis. It’s only this. I intend to think about all of the stuff that makes up who I am. And about the stuff that will make up who I am for the next (what? ten?) years. And then how I might come to terms with what happens after that.

PLEASE. This is not depressing. This is the point of it all. Don’t feel sorry for me or tell me to stop being negative or morbid.

Walking into my apartment last night after spending an evening with another old fossil, I knew for the first time in a long time that I will get through this. I will have peace before I die, not simply rest in peace afterwards. But, as we all know from Dylan Thomas, I can’t go gentle into that GOOD night.

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on that sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

3 Responses to “. . . wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight. . .”

  1. T. D. Davis says:

    I know the feeling. Hard for me and my arthritic knees to sit in a theater but I love theater (and baseball) too much not to try. Saw Bernadette in a couple of different shows. Hope you got a good performance. Best to you.

  2. bobritzema says:

    “I intend to think about all of the stuff that makes up who I am. And about the stuff that will make up who I am for the next (what? ten?) years. And then how I might come to terms with what happens after that.” Good for you. That sounds like a worthy project for the extra time you’ll have in a few months. I’ve become interested recently in memento mori–the practice of reminding ourselves of our eventual deaths. As you say, thinking about such things is not depressing, just realistic.

  3. Memeto mori. I had forgotten that term. Thank you for your (always) thoughtful comments.

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