Dying is strange and hard
if it is not our death, but a death
that takes us by storm, when we’ve ripened none
The Cranach painting led Stan and me into a discussion on whether we would like to extend the time of our lives, if such a thing were possible. I said that the foreseeable end did not frighten or worry me; on the contrary, I liked the idea of living with a conclusion in mind, and compared an immortal life to an endless book which, however charming, would end up seeming tiresome. Stan, however, argued that living on, perhaps forever (provided he were free of sickness and infirmities), would be an excellent thing. Life, he said, was so enjoyable that he never wanted it to end.
When we had that conversation, I was not yet fifty; this year, I turned sixty-three, and I am more convinced than ever that an endless life is not worth living. Not that I think I have many decades to go. Of course, it is difficult to be certain without holding the entire volume in my hands, but I’m fairly sure that I’m on one of the last chapters. So much has occurred, so many characters have come and gone, so many places have been visited, that I don’t suppose the story can continue for many more pages without petering out into an incoherent and incontinent babble.
…As Petrarch understood it, the intimate conviction of readers is that there are no individually authored books: there is only one text, infinite and fragmented, through which we leaf with no concern for continuity or anachronism or bureaucratic property claims. Since I first started reading, I know that I think in quotations and that I write with what others have written, and that I can have no other ambition than to reshuffle and rearrange. I find great satisfaction in that. And, unlike Stan, I’m convinced that no satisfaction can be truly everlasting.