From time to time, late at night, my thoughts turn to the time when I will cease to be.
Death and I are not strangers; we met for a brief time just over eleven years ago, but we parted again soon after. I know that we'll meet again sometime--and I don't fear the meeting, although I would just as soon our reunion be delayed.
My mind always works with numbers and patterns, though, and I find myself calculating even in thoughts of my own passing.
Should I live as long as my mother, I have already passed the halfway point between my first death and my next. Every one of those days that I remember--every morning walk, every waking, every sleeping, every accomplishment, every failure--those would be how many days I would have left to me still.
Should my years equal my father's, then I have still seventeen years left--but seventeen years ago was only 1994, and I feel like 1994 was so little time ago. I remember 1994, not as a distant time, but as a distinct, almost tangible series of moments. I recall the house in Rome, and I remember the hot dry summer, and I can recall the Christmas tree and the ornament that broke when Asia knocked it from a lower branch, and I recall Friday night meals when we arrived at our second home in Rome, and I remember Susan's look of happiness as she drove her Miata for the first time... how can seventeen years seem so brief?
Mr. Steele lived to be 92; if I am granted that same number of years, then I have 34 more years to fill. 34 years ago, I had just moved to Marietta with Susan, filled with enthusiasm and optimism at our new life away from the confines of Cedartown. We were still relatively poor, but we were too happy with what life had given us to fully realize it. I remember weekends with friends, trips to Rome, excursions in our yellow Honda (my first new car), explorations of Marietta, snow days that were promised by prognosticators and never came... Could that really have been 34 years ago? And if so, how quickly will the next 34 years pass by?
One of the gifts that death gave me eleven years ago is that I no longer fear the end of my days; I have been there once, and there was nothing frightening or terrifying there. But I also have seen others die since then--my mother, my father, my cousin Frank, friends, other members of my larger family--and I know the emptiness that their passing has left in my life. Some of the holes left by their absences are vast abysses, unfillable and impassable; others are smaller chasms, but they are holes nevertheless. It is the worry that my passing might leave such yawning holes in the lives of those I love that worries me far more than death itself.
But sometimes, late at night, it's the nagging worry that my passing might leave no holes at all.