Gilead is a book from the point of view of a character named John Ames who is old and dying. The whole story is him writing to his very young son about life. This series of posts is about the notes my own father made in a copy of the novel before his passing. For more background, feel free to read the past posts in this series:
Here’s a portion of the paragraph my dad put a bracket around on page 73. The boldfaced words are what he marked.
I have worried some about [my] last hours. This is another thing you know and I don’t–how this ends. That is to say, how my life will seem to you to have ended. That’s a matter of great concern to your mother, as it is to me, of course. But I have trouble remembering that I can’t trust my body not to fail me suddenly. I don’t feel bad most of the time. The pains are infrequent enough that I forget now and then.
How the end comes is of great concern to the narrator. More specifically, how his life will have seemed to the child (his son) to have ended. A young parent rarely worries about this. Of course, term life insurance is something young people purchase, but I think it’s more of a covering-your-bases-doing-the-right-thing action. Worrying how your end will seem to your children comes later in life, possibly when death is crouching on the stoop.
The narrator then says he has trouble remembering he can’t trust his body not to fail him suddenly. As we get older, the Lord takes certain abilities away from us. It’s humbling and inevitable. I tore my ACL in 2005 and haven’t played a game of pick-up basketball since. I can only imagine what it’s like to have the head injury my dad suffered in 2008, which left him slower and somewhat older. He knew it, and I know he was humble enough to accept the decline in many aspects of his active life. What may have been difficult to handle was the pain.
The narrator writes, “The pains are infrequent enough that I forget now and then.” Hopefully my dad marked this because his pains were infrequent, too. A lot of times we give the elderly a hard time because of a lack of positivity in their dispositions. Then I wake up with a crick in my neck and I’m miserable all day. I’d be a horrible old person, which is obviously a shame.
The first lesson this passage teaches me is to enjoy this pain free time in my life. To cherish walks with my family, riding a bike, swimming, running, and–yes–even the gym. I read a saying the other day that went something like: “Run while you can.” It’s good advice.
The second lesson is that the way I live will affect how my children view my end. A full life that’s well lived and full of love makes the end endurable for loved ones. It’s difficult to choose how one will depart this earth. Living your life is what you have control over.