"As the days dwindle down to a precious few..."

The Last Great Adventure

I awake, my body is sore. Moving, the joints are stiff, the back rebels, activity requires some effort. This is happening much more regularly, is becoming routine. So, too, the general tiredness, and the fire, the energy that naturally propels me up-and-out is flagging. My eyes, despite cataract surgery, are starting to cloud, my ears need aids, my sleep requires mask and hose, my surgically repaired and reconstructed knees announce themselves when I walk.

I have been most fortunate. I am in my mid 70’s, still mobile and cognitively alert (albeit diminished). Modern medicine has left some scars, but for my age—lucky me! My physical diminishment and aches, minor though they be, are mine, experienced viscerally, personally, intimately. They inhabit me, claim me—are me! And I feel the Shadow closing in.

But they are more than that. They are my unique experience of “the dying of the light”; something experienced by all living beings, in their many forms, in their varied and unique ways. I am but one infinitesimal manifestation of life on this remarkable planet. My individual experience of youthful surge, followed by dissipation, then expiration offers me a peek through my narrow portal into the experience of the Surge, Dissipation, Expiration of all living things. Oh my! What a singular opportunity given to me in the wild randomness of my birth!1 I travel in a crowd with fellow beings, blinking into life for our brief, dynamic moment then, blink—out!

My dear friend, Bill, a pilot in the Korean war and an Air Force flight instructor, talked about death as “the last great adventure.”2 He wanted to be a witness, to be attuned to this last adventure. As life ebbed from him, so quietly in the dark night, he gave a faint sign that he was there, witnessing. Aware, he flew into the darkness.

Can I, as I dissipate toward expiration, lift my eyes from my compelling personal drama to the horizon of astonishment at being in this crowd? Can I be a witness to my expiration that shares common ground with Life? Can I be witness to this last, sacred moment?

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  1. See “Why Me?!”
  2. See Wrinkles.

16 Comments

  1. Joan Wink

    Beautifully expressed for all of us. Thanks, Joan Wink

    • Brian Vandenberg

      Thank you, Joan.

  2. Bill

    Beautiful. Just what I needed to read! Realizing the amazing idea of being alive! Thanks, Brian

    • Brian Vandenberg

      Thank you, Bill.

  3. Sharon Louise Poe

    Wow! So many of us are right there with you! My invincibilty is waning daily, but what a ride.

    • Brian Vandenberg

      Thank you, Sharon.

  4. Anthony Biegen

    Sounds interestingly like a dream I had that I’ll have to post sometime before my exit.

    • Brian Vandenberg

      Post it soon and send me a note when you do! Why wait. . .until it is too late. . .

  5. Gary Morse

    Thank you, Brian, for your powerful account of aging and moving closer to death, as we are all doing. This was beautifully written. It also reminds me, in more poetic and personal prose, of the lessons you used to teach from Becker’s Denial of Death. Thank you for sharing–and best wishes for every moment still in this life.

    • Brian Vandenberg

      Yes, Gary, there is a life history behind this post, including our exchanges long ago about Becker, as well the work of Yalom, existential fiction, philosophy,”morbid” art (e.g., requiems, Goya, etc.), etc ., all of which has been driven by a preoccupation with my mortality from my earliest years. It is heartening to know that you and others share this. And I return your “best wishes for every moment still in this life”, which includes my gratitude that you are still in my life.

  6. Linda Biegen

    In the words of DeborahTall “A story encompasses us, justifies our stay, prepares our leaving.” As you have lived Brian, you are true to who you are as the ending draws nearer. Curious, always asking questions, reflective and generous to offer others a little trip on your parade. Much love.

    • Brian Vandenberg

      Oh my, Linda, thank you for your very touching words. I am so fortunate to share my “parade” with you; your boundless compassion and love lightens the journey of all you who enter your orbit of care.

  7. Dominick Fantauzzo

    Brian, I have always been touched by your words and reflections of life. One of my most remarkable experiences has been the friendship we have had since high school. Although we don’t see each other often, you are a constant reminder of what human friendship means as we take this journey to its ultimate end. Thank you for being in my life.

    • Brian Vandenberg

      Thank you, Dom, and thank you for your life-long friendship that has brightened my journey. Your care, compassion, and humor are lodged in my heart.

  8. Charles Fremont

    Marvelously written, Brian. Entering my mid-80s and diagnosed with a nasty terminal disease, I am well aware of the shadow closing in, the dimming of the light. There’s that and it’s not going away. AND I am equally aware of and happily embrace a never dimming ENLIGHTMENT, an astonishment and wonder at the blossoming and vulnerability of all creation, a thirst for knowledge and connection and experience and the fulfillment of my own creative urges that never seem to cease. You and I and many in our orbit are damn lucky to have lived this long and this well in this world and still retain our sense of humor. I am grateful for every day and every minute. I am particularly thankful for indoor plumbing.

    • Brian Vandenberg

      Thank you, Charles, for your very powerful, very personal comment. Your spirit is well stated: Astonishment, wonder, and creative urges that are ever present in your marvelous art, your humor, and the way you have lived your life. We have, indeed, been damned lucky for so much. Indoor plumbing is much taken for granted but not your friendship, care, and love in the lives of those of us you have touched in your journey. We travel with you in our thoughts and spirit.

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