Having barely survived this, you and I have now, thank god, arrived at the end of the line. And just in time, too.

As Douglas and Tracy and Erfert and I were finishing up the book, I had chance to visit Mary D'Ascoyne Mazzini, M. D., my all-time favorite in a life-long stream of doctors.

She is merry . . . and funny, and very tolerant of my vagaries. I always ask her, when we meet, if we can "play doctor." She says, "Of course, but not with you." She's been my partner in the many trips we've made through my ups-and-downs, and had some suspicions about my breathing over the last few months. She had called for tests, and told me, gingerly, and with considerable empathy, that I had developed something called COPD, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

Getting COPD in late life is like having a first-class ticket for the maiden voyage of the Titanic, but not being able to get to one of the lifeboats in time.

§   §   §

This dying business is seriously irritating. I figured that when time came to pop off, I'd fade out like Byron's gentle Haidée. In Don Juan, after her father kidnaps Juan and banishes him forever from their isle of love, she falls into a swoon.

    Twelve days and nights she wither'd thus; at last,
    Without a groan, or sigh, or glance, to show
    A parting pang, the spirit from her past:
    And they who watch'd her nearest could not know
    The very instant, till the change that cast
    Her sweet face into shadow, dull and slow,
    Glazed o'er her eyes --- the beautiful, the black ---
    Oh! to possess such lustre --- and then lack!2

Or would it would be better for me to go like Mimi, turning to Rudolph, intoning,

    Qui amor . . . sempre con te!
    Le mani . . . al caldo . . . e . . . dormire?"3

Or how about Hemingway's Farewell, where Frederic whispers to the dying Catherine, "You've such a lovely temperature." And she:

    "And you'll always love me won't you?"
    "And the rain won't make any difference?"

Best of all, let's take the solemn passion in Jamie O'Neill's classic, At Swim, Two Boys. Where, as one astute critic wrote, "Love. It washes through At Swim, Two Boys like the tide along the Irish coast, is the stuff that holds it together. Jim Mack and Doyler lie about on a rock at the edge of the sea, seen from afar by MacMurrough."

    In the dip of that rock he knew there formed a primal unity, which was not, as Aristophanes had thought, an egg-shaped being; rather a twin-backed flapping seal that the unity of jealous gods had sought to sunder . . . not reckoning the human heart.4

§   §   §

I'm looking for a cool, garlanded place for my ultimate retirement, one filled with the many songs of the many birds, those who have come to send me off - - - me resting jauntily in my knotty loblolly pine box, wrapped in an elegant sky-blue winding sheet (complete with silver and gold pom-poms).

I want you to be sure that someone (like you!) is there to set my obelisk. Remember, it has to have appropriate heft if it is to keep me pinned down. I do tend, when I'm in these situations, to head off to all the wrong places, for all the wrong reasons, at the wrong time.

We must have the finest fieldstone, set atop me, fat and stolid, with all the appropriate words of godspeed, farewell, and god-be-wi'-you. This rock is to be my weightiest pièce de résistance. Thus, it must be grand - - - even grandiose - - - etched in letters of purest Copperplate, complete with one last mot, the last of the many that may have passed between you and me, on pages like these, over these many years.

It comes from Albert Camus, who, they say, may have turned more kindly towards the end, leaving us a lapidary epigram - - - one which I now offer to you. Consider it well, and, perhaps, let it float gently above our two resting souls:

    Beauty is unbearable, drives us to despair,
    offering us for a minute the glimpse of an eternity
    that we should like to stretch out over the whole of time.

§   §   §


2"What love . . . to always be with thee! My hand . . . warm . . . and . . . to sleep."