That Death Which We All Must Face

I watched an interview with the aging William F. Buckley, Jr. made a year or so prior to his death. Buckley was asked how he felt about the inevitability of dying (this is paraphrased in my own words from memory) and Buckley basically said that he had grown weary of life and was ready to rest even though he had experienced an unusually rich life of good fortune, education, fame, and even such things as being a skilled sailor of small boats and a musician who could play the harpsichord. Buckley spoke Spanish before he could speak English. Buckley remained a devout Roman Catholic all of his life which I did not realize until I happened to find his book “Nearer My God” which was his account of why he valued Roman Catholicism (and I have that book here on my shelves.) I realize that my age of 62 is not that old but I agree with his notion of weariness and see death as a form of relief. I met a very wealthy and successful man from Morocco who was Muslim (but I suspect not extremely devout, perhaps more secular.) When he met me, he commented that I should take better care of my health and diet (not that I am so delinquent) and he explained that he had survived a heart attach. I laughed cordially and explained to him that in my estimation I am better off in a curious way than he is simply because I have no wealth or power and will not be sad if I learn that I am to die in a month but that he enjoys much wealth and power and will be greatly saddened when the time comes for him to give up this earthly life as we all must sooner or later. Perhaps I would feel differently if I had wealth or fame or power. But it was interesting to hear a man like Buckley state that he had grown weary of being alive since surely he was a person who had everything to live for. I did feel sorry for Christopher Hitchens who is dying of cancer and publicly expressed regret that he had encouraged people to smoke and drink and drain every drop of pleasure from the earthly body since he believed that there is nothing after death. Perhaps I am a fool to which that I had such a life of intellectual intensity as Hitchens even though I do not share his beliefs or values. I suppose I am even envious of the intellectual life of Oscar Wilde although is problems were far more sordid than Hitchens. Perhaps in my folly I will stop short of coveting Wilde’s life and only covet Hitchens and those on the Charlie Rose Talk shows (the intellectuals of course, not the artists or politicians.)

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I greatly admire one devout Roman Catholic woman (who shall quite possibly read this post) who told me that she adores Hitchens writings and feels sorry for his illness and prays for him. I questioned her very carefully, privately, to assure myself that she understood that Hitchens was an outspoken atheist and a critic of Mother Teresa. She assured me that she was well aware of his positions on these matters but adored his style and wit anyway. I gave what she said much thought an came to realize that one could indeed be fond of such a person as Hitchens for his wit and style even if he espoused something diametrically opposed to our own values. I came to see such magnanimity as hers to be the mark of a truly great souled (Maha-Atma) person. We must be able to admire even our enemies and especially our enemies which is quite a bit less that Jesus suggests when he says that we should LOVE our enemies. Those things that we would be wise to do in life are very difficult and yet extraordinarily simple and often we only understand such wisdoms late in life when it is too late to go back to our youth and live life differently. I watched the “Motorcyle Journals” movie of the early years of Che Guevara. I saw a photo of young Che and Fidel together in a shack of a room, perhaps still in their 20s and the earliest known photo of them together. One conservative asked me how I could possibly find anything to admire about such a cold-blooded killer but I asked if one could not see George Washington or McKinley or Eisenhower or Truman as a killer or a murderous person in some respect. Surely Napoleon and Caesar and Alexander the Great were also killers. Democracy and freedom runs more on the blood of victims than it does on oil or gasoline or prayers of the pious. But the same might be said of any revolution.

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