As I write this, I’m thinking a good deal about Time.
It’s Thursday night, and, because fall break begins tonight, I’m now halfway through the semester – with a good deal less than half the work done.
In the background, I’ve got the National League playoffs on AM radio – the best way to enjoy baseball if you can’t go to the ballpark. Earlier today, Detroit got its ticket stamped for the World Series. In an inning, barring a huge rally by the Giants, my Cards will be a game away. Almost time for what Ring Lardner called the “World Serious.”
In less than three weeks, we’ll all have a chance to choose between two imperfect candidates – and their imperfect parties – to lead our nation into an uncertain future.
Crunch time. For the superannuated grad student. For two big-league teams. For the candidates.
Crunch time for all of us.
But it’s also the loveliest time of the year. The time of ripening crops and reddening leaves. Time to make our homes snug for the coming winter. Time to begin gathering the family for the holidays ahead.
The Greeks had two words for time. Chronos referred to time in the sense we measure by years, weeks, days, hours and nanoseconds. Chiros referred to time in the sense used in movies as the drama approaches its climax.
Time, in the sense of “High Noon” – not an hour, but the moment when the hero meets the villain on a dusty street, and only one man walks away.
Time, in the sense of an individual facing the eternity of non-existence which follows life as certainly as the non-existence which preceded it.
Time, in the sense of a person - or a people – facing a challenge, a crisis, or a moment which must be seized, or lost.
One of my favorite lines from Shakespeare comes near the end of King Lear. Edgar, loyal son of the blinded Gloucester, comforts his despairing father, “Men must endure their going hence, even as their coming hither. Ripeness is all.”
Near the end of Hamlet, the play’s hero says nearly the same thing to his loyal friend, Horatio. Facing a duel which may (and will) be his death, Hamlet says, “If it be now, ‘tis not to come. If it be to not to come, it will be now. If it be not now, yet it will come. The readiness is all.”
On November 6, the citizens of Massachusetts will vote on a referendum which would allow terminally-ill individuals to choose to end their lives by taking a prescribed lethal dose of drugs. The proposition is nearly identical with the provisions of laws already in effect in Oregon, Washington and – by court degree – Montana.
In Virginia, there is no such law – and I find that obscene.
At sixty-one, I hope to have a good many productive years ahead of me, but neither I nor any of my generation – the Baby Boomers, who once embodied perpetual youth – can pretend that we have forever.
If my generation is ever to achieve its potential – or even manage to avoid being the first generation to leave this country worse than we found it – it’s Time.
And whether we do or not, in a decade or two or three, we will all face the end of our individual lives under laws which give us little choice but to hang around as long as medical science can keep our hearts beating.
Again, to be perfectly frank, I find that obscene.
Unless I die untimely, the day will come when I am no longer myself. My mind will crumble, or wander off, and all that will be left of me will be a shell.
And when that time comes – or preferably, a little before – I’ll want the option of downing a glass of good red wine, with a little something extra in it, and just slipping away.
Any law which makes it illegal for my loved ones – or my doctor – to allow me that final toast are just, plain wrong.
Perhaps you don’t agree. Frankly, I wouldn’t care if I were the only person in America who thought this way. But the fact is this: Over the past few years, I’ve discussed this matter with any number of people – of all political backgrounds and many levels of education.
And not a single one of them has said a word in disagreement.
And I find that strange.
Here’s a political issue which would probably command a large majority in any popular vote – and neither party, and no candidate, will touch it.
Meanwhile, America’s largest generation is moving inexorably toward the time when life will either end, or become a sad parody of itself – with no legal remedy.
That remedy should be made law.