Search on SLJ.com ....
Subscribe to SLJ
Nonfiction Matters
Inside Nonfiction Matters

Life Also Means the End of Life

Mortality: Tony Judt’s "Night"

The end of the year is in so many ways a moment of endings. We all know how the dark, the cold, even the flow of family, holidays, parties, can bring about intense depression. I just learned of a person who felt all those pains so strongly she took her own life. I did not know her well, but well enough to be able to picture how much pain she must have been experiencing. I was thinking about her when I read this: http://www.nybooks.com/articles/23531
       Tony Judt was a professor of mine in grad school. He is famously brilliant, witty, well-informed — and disliked if you disagree with his strong views (he is a Jew who is frequently critical of Israel; a former leftist who skewered the French Marxists of the John Paul Sartre era for their blind defense of the Soviet Union). He now has a form of Lou Gehrig’s disease. Tony is fully alive — in his mind — but his body is failing all around him. In a way he is the opposite of the woman who took her life — he is doing everything he can to remain vital — while his body, daily, insists on dying. I once emailed Tony about another piece he’d written — I noticed that after he gave a fresh and subtle analysis of a situation he often seemed to picture a "bad moon rising" — a very dark future aborning for one part of the world or another. Maybe he sensed that dark force gathering in himself.
        We are all mortal. A very articulate physician once pointed out to me that we speak of fighting disease, battling it — as if that were a contest we could win. Yet the only thing we all know for certain is that we will lose.  Death is so unreal — except when it is suddenly close in our families, in our friends. It comes as a shock; and sometimes, like in these dark days, it seems to be knocking. The end of the year, the end of life, the extinction of a body’s functions — for me at least they are all rushing together. It is nice then to have my kids to read to — to see just how young and alive they are — they are just swinging into life, while some others swing out: the seesaw of mortality. On that pivot of old and new, I say goodbye this year.

Best to all of you for the year that is coming.