March 17, 2024

“To Every Thing There is a Season”

To Every Thing There is a Season
A Time to Blog, and a Time to Not
(with apologies to the author of Ecclesiastes)

I spent much of the last week plodding through an intermittently entertaining book by one of my favorite authors, Geoff Dyer, though in the end, I agree with many Amazon reviewers that it was not one of his best.  But it was the title that lured me to read it, The Last Days of Roger Federer. (Dyer has a penchant for clever titles. The first book of his I read years ago, he entitled Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi, which was followed by Yoga for People Who Can’t Be Bothered to Do it.)  

As some of you may remember, I have been an ardent Fedhead for many years, and Dyer who loves to play and watch tennis has long admired the elegance of Roger Federer, probably the most beloved tennis player, and maybe the best, of all time. But Roger was eventually forced to retire several years ago because of recurrent knee injuries. And he soon will be followed to the sidelines by several of the great tennis players of this era – Rafael Nadal, Andy Murray, Stan Wawrinka -- leaving only the obnoxious Djokovic as the lone survivor of that quartet of tennis legends. Now it’s time for a new generation of tennis stars to shine.  To every thing there is a season.   

This week I’ve also been watching a bit of the current big tournament, which is taking place in Southern California.  I happened to catch just a little of the match of one of the legends of women’s tennis, Venus Williams, who is 43 years old, which is ancient by tennis standards. Offhand, I can’t think of any professional tennis player still on the circuit as old as she. But in recent years, it has been sad for me to watch her since she usually loses in the first round to unheralded youngsters, twenty years or more her junior. Venus can still hit the ball hard and occasionally can win a set, but her performance in this tournament was typical. She won the first set and then lost the next ten games and the match. To a quick exit once again.

It was painful for me to watch her. She moves so slowly now and takes forever to serve. She may still love to play, even if she knows she will lose, but many of her fans, like me, can only wonder when she will finally realize it’s time to put her racquet away. 

Dyer’s book does talk about Roger and other tennis players, but actually most of his book, which is really about endings, is devoted to other writers, artists, jazz musicians, etc., and how their working lives have ended. Sometimes, as with two of his heroes, Beethoven and the great English painter, J. M.V. Turner, they end at the zenith of their creative life. But mostly they don’t.  Mostly they are like Venus and sometimes, like her, don’t know when to hang ‘em up. It’s really a sad book, reading about the final days of these creative spirits. And even Dyer himself, though only in his early sixties, can see his own end coming, though he still thinks it’s “in the distance.” 

Reflecting on this book, and also thinking about the passing from the scene of most of the tennis players I have loved to watch in recent years, I began to think I should follow my own advice and not get to the point where I become an embarrassment to myself or my friends and few remaining fans.

So I’ve decided to give up the blogging life.

But I have another oddball reason for making this decision now. If I’ve counted correctly, this is the 100th blog I’ve written over the past four years. And I just have “a thing” about such round numbers. Whenever a novel ends on exactly page 400, I am thrilled. Even when reading books, I often try to stop on pages that are multiples of one hundred. It’s daffy, I know, but that’s just the way I am. So if this is my 100th blog, I think, given my numeral obsessions, it is a perfect time to stop.

But, of course, I have other reasons. For one, in the past few months, I’ve noticed that I keep making typos when I write. I’ve never been a good typist, but the kind of errors that have been cropping up in my texts are sometimes bizarre, as if my fingers have a contrary mind of their own. If it wasn’t for spellcheck, my blogs would be riddled with frequent and often weird miscues. As I’ve said, this is something recent and a bit disturbing.

For another, I know I can’t write as well as I used to. When I look at some of the books I wrote years ago, or even some of my earlier blogs, I can only mourn a certain loss in my verbal fluency. And sometimes I can’t seem to find the word or phrase I want to use and am forced to resort to my Thesaurus. And I know I’m not the only old duffer to whom this happens. It also occurs to great writers I admire, as I learned from Dyer’s book:

Hard to believe, but even [John] Updike, in his mid-seventies, confessed: “With ominous frequency, I can’t think of the right word. I know there is a word; I can visualize the exact shape it occupies in the jigsaw puzzle of the English language. But the word itself, with its precise edges and unique tint of meaning, hangs on the misty rim of consciousness.” Dyer goes on to comment:

“It’s just that the sentences lack many of the qualities that made the prose of twenty or forty years earlier such a joy to read.”

But even reading books is more difficult for me these days. One the reasons I had a hard time with Dyer’s book, aside from its small font, is that I have to wear a patch over my right eye to be able to read books now. And although I can still read with good comprehension, more and more, especially after lunch, I find that I grow drowsy and am reading the same lines over and over.  Plus, I read very slowly now. It seems to take me forever to get through a book now (unless it’s a novel, but sometimes, even then).

And there’s the life, or the half-life, of my body. I usually like to joke about all my infirmities and will continue to do that, but, really, I am not having a lot of fun dealing with my physical struggles and having to take so much time with body maintenance issues. Not only can I no longer see well, I can’t hear well either. But even worse are my increasingly weak and unstable legs. The other day, when I went out to put my garbage bin away, I slipped and fell hard to the ground. I couldn’t get up for several minutes until I managed to turn the bin on its side and hoist myself up. I was banged up and bleeding, but fortunately I didn’t break anything. I was lucky. This time. But what about next time?

I used to be able to ride my stationary bike, but when that was no longer possible, I could at least walk up and down my street. But no more. Now all I can do is pad around my house like a zombie, reminding myself, “don’t fall, Ken!” Needless to say, I can no longer travel and haven’t been able to do so for years. Now the best I can do is to wander out to my patio, once the weather warms up, to sit among my azaleas and watch the clouds drift by. If this keeps up, I will end my days as I started them 88 years ago – by crawling.

Enough. You get the picture. And please don’t think I’m trying to evoke your sympathies. I know I’m lucky still to be able to enjoy life as much as I can, and I remain grateful not only for what I can still do, but for the life I’ve been privileged to have. It’s been a good life and I have been blessed in so many ways. To feel otherwise would only be churlish and run the risk of my turning into a cantankerous old fart. No, despite everything, I am still happy.  

But entre nous, after having written so much recently about NDERs and their desire to return “home,” I have to admit that I often feel that I am just “passing the time,’ trying to keep myself entertained, while waiting for the good Lord to allow me, at long and longing last, to return home. Still “waiting to die” after all these years!

Nevertheless, I wouldn’t want to end this blog by giving you the impression that I am only preoccupied with my own difficulties nowadays. I still grieve for the Palestinians suffering so many terrors and privations in Gaza, for the Israelis who died from the brutal savagery of Hamas and for the captives – those who are still alive – who are not yet free, and for the Ukrainians who seem sure to lose the war after losing so many lives already. It is a dark and dangerous time we are living in.

And of course I follow the domestic and political news, too, again with a feeling of foreboding about what it portends for our country. Those of you who have read my blogs will know where my sympathies and antipathies lie. I will just say that’s one more reason that I hope I will not live to see the results of the next election.

But, as usual, I have another peculiar reason for that, and again it has to do with my obsession with numbers.  I’ve always been fascinated by prime numbers, and some of them I have found so distasteful that I simply can’t bear them. For example, for me 79 is very bad prime. So when I was 78, I couldn’t stand the thought of turning 79, so I decided not to. I just declared I would remain 78 until I could go straight to 80. So you can imagine how I feel about the dreaded prospect of becoming 89. No way, José! If I should have the misfortune of surviving another year, it’s 90 or bust.

Finally, a word to all of you who have been reading these blogs of mine for the last several years.

Thank you. Thank you so much. Even though many people have read them, I especially want to thank those of you who have taken the time and trouble to write to me. Sometimes with just a line or two, but often with long and thoughtful commentaries, mostly appreciative ones, but sometimes with comments from readers who have taken issue with me or tried to set me straight on various matters. I have been grateful for all of them and for all of you. You have enriched and enlivened my life so much during these years, and I shall miss you. I hope you will miss me, too, but we’ve had our pleasures with each other, haven’t we, during this season of my blogging life. To every thing there is a season, and with spring training for baseball coming up soon, I guess that will have to be the kind of season I will now look forward to. Take me out to the ball game – even if’s it only on TV.

March 6, 2024

Life in the Wrong Place

Not to be born at all
Is best, far best that can befall,
Next best, when born, with least delay
To trace the backward way.
For when youth passes with its giddy train,
Troubles on troubles follow, toils on toils,
Pain, pain forever pain;
And none escapes life's coils.
Envy, sedition, strife,
Carnage and war, make up the tale of life.

“It’s just one part of nature eating another part of nature,” he said.

I was looking at a caterpillar munching on a leaf from a tree I had been gazing at in rapture for several minutes during my second LSD trip. My guide, an impish fellow professor with a devilish twinkle in his eye, was trying to reassure me that this was only “the way of the world,” and that I shouldn’t be upset. But I was. Somehow, I was horrified at the sight of nature’s rapacity

I was reminded of this incident the other night when I was watching a documentary about the violence of birds. We don’t usually think of these delightful winged creatures as aerial savages, but they certainly are, as this documentary makes clear. Of course, we already knew that some of the birds of Australia are legendary for their viciousness, but surely not the stately swan.  But, yes, even swans can attack unwanted interlopers with ferocity.

After seeing his documentary, I was led to reflect on the violence of nature generally, but particularly that concerning animals. Their world seems to be divided between predators and prey, and to see defenseless animals in the midst of being devoured by more powerful adversaries can turn one’s stomach, so, more often, we prefer to turn our eyes away from such a horrifying bloody spectacle. The old adage, “red in tooth and craw” comes readily to mind.  What a world we live in.

Of course, we humans are the alpha predator of the planet, and by now we are well on our way to causing the extinction of all the megafauna on the planet we have left.  We not only eat other animals, but we kill them with impunity. If we kill another human being and are apprehended, we can be tried for murder, but if we kill other animals, there is, with few exceptions, no court in the world where we can be brought to justice. Meanwhile, we are free to treat (or mistreat) the animals we like to eat by penning them up, confining them to cages where they can barely move, shooting them full of hormones, and then slaughtering them.  Pity the lot of such animals.  What a world we live in.

Naturally, we don’t limit our killing to animals. We humans have been in the business of killing other humans for many thousands of years, including bashing in the skulls of Neanderthals and sending them the way of 99.9% of all creatures that have ever walked or crawled on the earth – to extinction. And once we discovered the spear, we were on way to devising all sorts of weapons for torture and killing until we have reached the age of nuclear warfare.  Now, when we read history, doesn’t it seem that we are really reading about one battle after another, one war followed by the next, with no end in sight?  This history of our world is written in the color of blood. What a world we live in. 

Think about all the soldiers (and civilians) who, over the centuries, have been slaughtered or maimed for life because of our penchant for endless war-making.  Really, to try to imagine the scale of human suffering because of all the wars and other forms of savagery we have unleashed on one another is impossible. We are a violent and sick species.

And then I can scarcely fail to mention the truly monstruous villains responsible for the death of millions during warfare and instances of ethnic cleansing and genocide – vile men like Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, and now I suppose we need to add Vladmir Putin to this list given his cruel and heartless slaughter of so many innocent penned-up, starving Palestinians in Gaza.

And, of course, I haven’t space to mention other heinous monsters from the more distant past.

In this respect, we are more like chimpanzees than bononos.  Of course, chimps are very smart and we are fond of them since they “are so like us” in so many ways.  But as Jane Goodall pointed out years ago, they are also violent and warlike.  You don’t want to mess with chimps either.

Even the sports we enjoy watching like football, boxing, hockey and so forth are devoted to trying to hurt your opponents. Ever witness the spectators watching a boxing match?  Not a pretty sight, to say nothing of the pugilists involved in beating each other until one collapses on the canvas.  We love our blood sports, too.

And then I think of women – women who not only have often to endure the agony of giving birth, but then who may themselves die in childbirth.  Or even when they do survive may sometimes find that the baby they have struggled so to bring forth is horribly deformed, and now they have to deal with that, too.  Or even if the baby seems to be fine at birth, he or she may yet die when young, causing their parents untold grief.  To how many millions of women has this happened over the centuries! The numbers must be legion.

And I won’t do more than allude to other forms of suffering to which women are subjected by the violence of the men in their lives including their husbands. Men are cruel, and women often suffer from their cruelty. 

Then, we must not forget the future we all face when we get old and infirm and are often subject to years of intolerable pain before we are released into death.  To say nothing of the enormous expenses we can expect to incur in the last years of our lives.

I recently finished reading a very stimulating book called In Praise of Failure. In it, there is a story about a very unusual but brilliant Romanian writer by the name of E. M. Cioran.  He was famous not only for his books, but for his life a dedicated idler.  He felt that there was no point in working in a meaningless universe, so he never did.

But he could not escape a brutal end to his life.  It is a cautionary tale that I hope will never happen to you or me, but does to so many.

Toward the end of his life, Cioran developed Alzheimer’s and, though he loved to walk, he could no longer find his way home. Then he started to lose his memory, though not his sense of humor.  Someone asked him if he were Cioran.  He replied “I used to be.” When a friend read him passages from his book, The Trouble with Being Born, he listened carefully and then exclaimed, “This guy writes better than I do.” It was all downhill rapidly from there.  Cioran soon couldn’t name the most familiar things and then he forgot who he was altogether.

One reads this with a shudder.

I could go on for many pages with this litany of horrors, but I won’t.  Instead, I will just remind you of the diseases we are all subject to, thanks to the microbes and viruses of this world.  The Black Death that wiped out a third of the population of Europe in the middle of the 14th century and raged with periodic outbreaks for centuries afterward.  “The Spanish Flu” that killed millions at the end of the First World War and immediately afterward. And of course, COVID, in our own time.

Years ago, I read a popular novel by John Irving called “The World According to Garp.”  The theme and motto of that book was simple and devastating:  The world is not safe.” Indeed. It is an abattoir.  

What I have written so far, though disturbing and even frightening, is not exactly news. We all know this, though we prefer not to think about such horrors. But there is another one, potentially far worse, that you probably haven’t heard of, but you are about to.

Ever hear of solar winds?

These are storms that form in what we tend to call “outer space,” and they can be deadly in their consequences.

I’ve just read a truly frightening article about them in the latest issue of The New Yorker.  It was entitled: “What a Major Solar Storm Could Do to Our Planet.”

These storms are unpredictable and cannot be controlled.  They’ve been happening forever, but we mostly have been unaware of them because until recent times, we haven’t had thousands of satellites in the sky and become so dependent on a constant supply of electricity to power our computers and other such now indispensable technologies for modern life.

But now, suddenly, we have begun to realize our vulnerability.

To illustrate the potential dangers we face from this menace, here are a couple of quotes from the article:

The potential consequences are as sweeping as our technological dependence. In 2019, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, surveying the landscape of possible disasters, concluded that only two natural hazards have the capacity to simultaneously affect the entire nation. One is a pandemic. The other is a severe solar storm.

Extensive damage to satellites would compromise everything from communications to national security, while extensive damage to the power grid would compromise everything: health care, transportation, agriculture, emergency response, water and sanitation, the financial industry, the continuity of government. The report estimated that recovery from a [severe] storm could take up to a decade and cost many trillions of dollars.

It could also result in the death of millions of people and usher in a new dark age, which would take years to recover from. Nothing would ever be the same.

“The world is not safe.” 

More than that, it seems to have been a mistake.


Of course, there are many wonderful things in our world – the beauties of nature (at least when the sun shines), the splendors of humanity’s achievements, many good and lots of great people, the elegance of Roger Federer on the tennis court, the leaps of Baryshnikov on the ballet stage, holding a newborn in one’s arms, Woody Allen’s latest film, and so forth.  The list of things to be grateful for could obviously go on for many pages.

We can also be thankful for saints, but as the great French aphorist, La Rochefoucauld, remarked, “For every saint, there are a thousand knaves” (Actually, that was me, not him).

But, still, there is no gainsaying that this is still a perilous world we live in, and no one lives in it without suffering and dying.  That’s obvious, too, of course. 

These considerations have led some people to conclude that this world of ours, as I suggested above, was a mistake and should never have been brought into existence.  And, more than that, that it was actually not created by God at all, but by a malevolent entity usually called “the demiurge,” which is usually said to be a warped god of “corruption, decay and darkness.”

People who take this view are called Gnostics, and in the history of religion, they have had a sizable and influential following, although orthodox Christianity did its best to wipe them out and was largely successful.

Nevertheless, many Gnostic gospels have survived, including the Gospel of Philip that holds “that the world came about through a mistake.” Further, the one that made it and botched it wanted to create an imperishable and immortal world, but failed miserably.  Instead, the Gnostics say, he was just a clumsy creator, “the originator of an embarrassment of cosmic proportions.” As a result, the world we find ourselves in is an unfortunate and misguided one, which the demiurge should never have attempted because such an undertaking was beyond his capacities.

According to the Gnostics, the demiurge was driven by “passion, ignorance, and recklessness.”  Flawed and limited as he was, he nevertheless was able to create “mankind and the universe that we all still inhabit.”   

Thus, if we follow the Gnostic view here, we are living in the wrong place, in a world that should never have been, and from which “the true God” was absent.

Such an interpretation of our “fallen world” helps to explain the so-called problem of evil (that Leibniz first called “theodicy”) in which a supposedly beneficent and omnipotent God was seemingly incapable of preventing bad things, like wars, volcanoes, earthquakes and floods, from happening. Well, according to the Gnostics, He couldn’t because the true God is not present in our world, which is ruled and was ruined by the demiurge.

Which leaves us with the obvious question:  Where, then, is the true God to be found?


I think by now, you must know the answer to this question. At least you should if you’ve been reading my blogs about NDEs all these years, especially my most recent ones.

How many times have you read the NDE accounts I have cited and quoted from in which an NDEr states that this is not the real world, but a kind of dream world from which they awaken to true reality once they enter the world of Light?  It’s there that they so often say that they are finally “home,” where they belong.  And it’s there that they encounter the Light, which they know intuitively is God, the true God, the God of infinite and unconditional Love, a Love so intense and overwhelming that their only desire is to merge with it and never leave its embrace.

In short, this world of Light is immediately recognized as our true home because it is only there that we encounter for the first time the God we had believed was in the physical world. 

Instead of citing some of these narratives again, I will simply quote a few from a recently published book by a Swedish author named Jens Amberts. He entitled his book Why an Afterlife Exists. These are some of the stories from the lips of NDErs that convinced him of his claim:

The minute I woke up on that hillside in heaven I knew that that was more real than any time I've ever spent here on Earth. And I knew instantly that my time here was really but a dream. It's real to us when we're in it, but once I was there in heaven I realized that's more real, that felt more real, and it made much more sense to me than anything here. In heaven, it's so clear, so real, so rational, so logical, but yet emotional and loving at the same time. Immediately I knew that was real. Immediately.
Now, what heaven looks like. ”OMG” doesn't even describe how beautiful this place is. Heaven is, there are no words. I mean, I could sit here and just not say anything and just cry, and that would be what heaven looks like. There are mountains of beauty, there are things in this realm, you can't even describe how beautiful this place is. There are colors you can't even imagine, there are sounds you can't even create. There are beauties upon this world that you think are beautiful here. Amplify it over there times a billion. it's incredibly beautiful, there are no words to describe how beautiful this place is, it's incredibly gorgeous. 

I went into the light, and as I was moving up into the light, I just started to feel so good. Like the higher that I went into the light, and the more that I moved up and further away from Earth, the better I felt. And the feeling of pleasure does not really apply to this Earth, like nothing can compare. Like if you took everything that you were in favor of, like maybe getting a massage, in a hot tub, your favorite music, your favorite food, your favorite drink, everything that you love, happening to you all at once, no matter what it is, all at once, it would not even closely compare to the pleasure that was just within that light. And as you moved further into [it], like further away from this Earth, the pleasure felt even better. 

You know how people say that it's like a dream? Like living life is like a dream and then the other realm is the real world? I wouldn't even say that that's even a remotely accurate description. It was just such a minute, insignificant little experience that I had on Earth, that was just so short and temporary, that I might as well just forgotten it. Yeah, it was just, it was nothing. It was like, yeah, he's back home” kind of a thing. You know how people say it feels like you're home? I would go further and say that it felt more like I was there forever. It's way beyond just a feeling of being at home, that doesn't describe it very well. It's like I never left there. To be honest, I think we're all kind of there, we’re just perceiving ourselves as being here at the moment. But we never actually completely leave that realm, I don't think. It's just a short little experience, that's all. That's all life is.

So, when you still find yourself suffering in this difficult and sorrowful world, be assured that as real as it seems, it’s not the real world at all.  One day you will wake up from this nightmare and find that you are home where you belong in the world of Light and in the presence of the true God.