Not long before her death, Elgar had written one the greatest concertos for cello in the repertoire, but after Alice died, he seemed to have lost his raison d’être for composing. Oh, he tried, but he could longer summon the energy for large-scale creative works. A third symphony had to be abandoned; an opera was left unfinished. He would rather go to the race track than to his piano. He made a fool of himself by making a pass at a then celebrated violinist with the delightful name of Jelly d’Ayani, who rejected his advances with disgust.
He outlived his wife by fourteen years, dying in 1934, but essentially his creative life ended with the death of tiny Alice.
When I wrote about Elgar some years ago, I entitled my final chapter, “The Long Diminuendo.” Little did I know then that that phrase would presage my own life as it entered its final stages.
This of course is the fate of many persons who, like me, have outlived our expiration date, as I like to jest. We may be born with so many breaths to take, but we remain breathing even after our creative muses have taken leave of us to inspire someone else who still has something of value to give to the world.
My last significant books on near-death experiences were published when I was in my mid-sixties. After that, I essentially took my leave of my professional life. I stopped speaking at conferences or giving public talks; I declined all such invitations or requests for interviews. I turned away offers to appear on television or in documentaries on near-death experiences. I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life answering breathless questions from interviewers about “what it is like to die.” I remember on one television show, when I was asked this question yet again, I simply began to slide off my chair. That, at least, got a laugh.
I wrote a bunch of other books, too, mainly memoirs, including three of the most important books I would ever write. But I kept these works private, almost secret; they were far too intimate for me to consider publishing them commercially. I did share them with a few of my friends, however. The longest one, which ran 629 pages, so engrossed one of my friends that she stayed up thirty-six hours to finish it. Another woman read it twice, and it changed her life dramatically. I found it quizzical that the most important books I would ever write would be read by so few people.
I wrote my last substantial book a few years ago. It was another book about classical music. I called it When Jews Ruled the World – in Music. Few people seem to know what a pivotal and crucial role Jews played in fostering an interest in classical music in the Western world. Or care. I knew few people would be interested to read a book like this, so although I had it privately printed, I never made it commercially available. A few of my Jewish friends read it.
Of course, there was a time when my books on NDEs were read by thousands of people and when I was in demand as a speaker. I also was a guest on most of the big TV shows of that era – the early 1980s until the early 90s – and on radio programs, too. I had my “fifteen minutes of fame” and enjoyed them while they lasted. I travelled widely, was on the international “circuit” for a long time, and met many extraordinary and accomplished people. By every measure, I had had a successful and highly rewarding career.
But that was then. What about now?
I remember that when Édouard Manet became housebound toward the end of life, suffering from syphilis that would soon kill him, all he did could was to paint what he could see from his living room. I’m fortunate that for the most part I do not suffer from significant pain and at least at this point – knock on silicon – I do not have any serious disease. At this stage, the only terminal disease I have to endure is aging. It’s really not so bad, at least most of the time.
And lest you get the wrong idea, I’m not depressed. Mostly, except when I can’t sleep, I am happy and still grateful to be alive. It’s just that I’ve realized for a long time this is my afterlife. My real life is over and has been for some time.
So maybe my blog was a little wistful as I reflected on my current life as a has-been, but, if so, I want to you to be aware that I am a happy has-been all the same!]
But in a way, my real life now is my dream world. There, I often dream that I can walk again. I am astonished to be able to walk. I can hardly believe it. Of course, I eventually discover that “it was just a dream.” I am disappointed – shit! But I also have erotic dreams and adventures in my oneiric life, a real compensation for the lack of any such activities during my waking hours. At least that’s something to look forward to. As the old song goes, “I can dream, can’t I?” Sometimes I think that’s about all I can do these days – or nights.
So that’s where I find myself now – in what the Tibetans call a “bardo,” a gap between what my life was and what my life may be when I am finally dispatched from this world. I’m playing “the waiting game,” and, as I’ve indicated, although it’s not always exactly fun and certainly not exciting, life is still worthwhile. It’s just that I never thought I’d find myself here. No old person ever does.
Since very few people will read my last book – and I do mean my final book – which I called Blogging Toward Infinity, I will end this finite blog by quoting the valedictory with which I closed that book:
At the end of Giuseppe Verdi’s opera Otello, the doomed Moor kills his wife Desdemona, having been duped by the perfidious Iago, and realizes too late to his horror that his wife had been innocent. Before stabbing himself, he cries out, “Ecco la fine del mio camin,” meaning, for those of you whose Italian is a bit rusty, “this is the end of the line for me.”
Oh, maybe I will continue to bat out a few more blogs in due course, if I can find something worth writing about, but this will be my last book. For those of you who have read some of my blogs in recent years, thanks for your interest in my work and your occasional appreciative comments. Feel free to stay in touch, if you like. If you don’t have my e-mail address, you can always reach me by writing to my webmaster, Kevin Williams, at email@example.com
A famous general of my time, Douglas MacArthur, in announcing his retirement from the military wistfully remarked, “Old soldiers never die, they just fade away.” As I’ve said many times, I don’t think I actually have what it takes to die, but, like the general, I do plan to fade away. That’s me you see exiting stage left, after hearing a smattering of tepid applause from my remaining fans.