It's a bit hard to express what it's like to feel your own death approach. So I'll take a shot at it because I'm not shy.
Because I do feel this. And it may even have something to do with boxing. But, no boxer, no matter what they face in the ring, will ever be like us. And by "us," I mean me, and those like me, who know that their time is approaching.
I've been rereading Yeats' "Sailing To Byzantium," and I really can't explain why. I like the poem, but I like millions (OK maybe thousands) of others as well. Maybe it was the sudden leak in my roof, after the terrible, near-tropical storms we've had here in New England.. Maybe it was when I went into the attic to find the leak, and instead found yet another dead bird. I find dead birds all the time in my attic, mostly starlings. They have a nest, multigenerational by now, under the eaves of my front porch. And they launch attacks against the sparrows that try to nest among the branches of the big, old tree I have in front of my house. I once watched a day-long battle between the starlings and the sparrows.
That tree must be at least 100 years old, and I know that, because my house is officially registered as being 100 years old with the (quaintly termed) "city" of Northampton, Massachusetts. Don't misunderstand me: Northampton is beautiful. I love it. I moved here from Brooklyn, NY, because I was chasing a girl (the love of my life, until she left me for a German guy she met during a summer linguistic seminar in Salzburg.This would be a long story). When she left me, I stayed, one of the very few smart decisions I can point to in my life. In fact, my house is only that young, 100 years, because a fire early in the 20th century destroyed all the town records. So, city officials reset the clock on everything, and my house is now a youngster at 100 years old.
And now, for the present, for a certain time, I live here, ostensibly the owner, the latest in a succession of owners. They're dead, and I will be soon as well.
As I said, I got to rereading Yeats, and I really can't explain why, except perhaps that my wife and I are drifting apart, when I came across this statement that Yeats wrote about this poem
I am trying to write about the state of my soul, for it is right for an old man to make his soul, and some of my thoughts about that subject I have put into a poem called 'Sailing to Byzantium'.
And I think that this is proper. I remember my Uncle Mike. He was a Vice President of a bank in New York, way back in the 1950s and '60s, had a Master's Degree, and was justifiably proud of these achievements. But then, he got retired by the bank, and never recovered from this. He had enormous status and influence during his working life, made a lot of money, and had the respect of the entire extended family. And then, one day, it was his last day, he came home, and it was all over. He never recovered.
So, I'm really thinking of those of us, all of us, who won't go gently into that allegedly "good night." But we will, and should.
So, you and I will die, quite literally; our hearts will stop, our blood will cease to flow, the neurons that make up our brains will stop firing. But there are other deaths before that really big one that we won't actually ever experience, because we'll be dying while it happens.
It's the little deaths that get you, and everyone around you. Like my Uncle. He lingered for years, in an enormous depression, and then died, which was a relief to everyone. I'm currently in a similar situation, and believe me, it can't be put into words. And the nagging idea that there were failures, here and there, but you might have eternity to correct these.
I wonder how boxers feel, at the end of their lives.
An aged man is but a paltry thing, A tattered coat upon a stick, unless Soul clap its hands and sing, and louder sing For every tatter in its mortal dress, Nor is there singing school but studying Monuments of its own magnificence;
And therefore I have sailed the seas and come To the holy city of Byzantium.