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In this poem, I try to speak plainly and directly about the reality of human mortality. A note of caution: some readers may find the subject and treatment disturbing.


A Meditation on Life and Death

By Ken Sanes

We all know that life terminates in death.
But all too often we are unable to imagine
that our own life will come to an end.
This is especially true of many young adults
who live in safe and prosperous places
where death is usually hidden from view.
These young people are often filled
with aspirations and forward-looking ideas,
and they think of life as an open horizon,
while death seems like it is far away,
lost in the mists of a distant time.
Unfortunately, these young people
are at the beginning of a well traveled path
that leads from innocence to experience
to infirmity, and then out of existence.
It is true that, in the course of life,
many of them will receive rewards
that seem to justify their early optimism.
They will know what it is like to be inside
another person in romantic love
and hold a vulnerable new life
as it is sleeping in the cradle of their arms.
They will share meals with friends
as spirits overflow and the evening is lifted up
with laughter and conversation.
And some will have accomplishments
that lead to riches, accolades, and admiration
so everything revolves around themselves.
All of this is as it should be since
these young people should enjoy
the one and only time they are alive.
But as the years continue to pass,
they will also learn a basic truth
that people discover in retrospect,
which is that their existence is almost at an end
even though they were only recently young.
By then, many will have begun to suffer
a breakdown in body and mind.
They will have more trouble
keeping track of their train of thought;
walking will be slower and more labored,
while visits to doctors -- and funerals --
will have become the stuff of their lives.
And they will understand in a deep way
that there will come a time
when their breath and heartbeat will stop,
their elusive self will disappear,
and the same nature that moves the earth
will divide their remains, as dust returns
to dust, life consumes life, and molecules
are reconfigured in the creation of new forms.
Like every generation before them,
they will experience a terrible awe
at the way the fullness of life
finds its end in the nothingness of death.

 

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Here's another version of the same poem.


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