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.

15 comments:

  1. Dear Ken,

    Thank you so much, my dear friend! Pim

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  2. I want to thank you, but I don't know where to begin. You have made such a positive contribution in the lives of so many people! For me personally, I just want to say that there are so many things that I would not have been able to do without you. I feel lucky to be able to experience life alongside you. I cherish you forever, my friend.

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  3. Ken - I can't claim you as a friend, but I have so enjoyed your blogs, and indeed your work over the years. Thank you! Just beware, speaking as one who has been caught in that trap, of so simplifying your life that you run out of "things of purpose" to do. Not things that push you too far physically or mentally, but things that you can still do with some effort, that peg your days with useful actions. You probably know this, but the tenor of your latter blogs hasn't let those things through so much. But anyway, you and others in the NDE world have given me the confidence that a series of anomalous experiences in my life, given their after-effects, were probably NDEs. It makes perfect sense of memories that a damaged (polio) brain quickly forgot, all but flashes and footprints. So keep on keeping on, my friend-in-knowing-and-wondering, in whatever generous usefulness you can still find to do. You will find it, it's second nature.
    And when the time comes, bon voyage!

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    1. BTW - not sure why I'm Anonymous. Actually, I'm Veronica...

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  4. Be with you always, Ken.

    Herman Wouk in Winds of War: Are we here to laugh or cry? Are we dying or just being born?

    Susan L. Schoenbeck, MSN, RN

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  5. First thing to say is how this blog belies your loss of capacity. That's not to argue with you but to marvel at how good a writer you are. I'm your age and I'm very grateful that it's the opposite for me, where I get sharper all the time and am still passionate about making a dent in this steely world that has itself hell bent for apocalypse. So, I have a suggestion. Ride my coattails. Engage with what I'm doing: NOW WHAT? https://suzannetaylor.substack.com/about. I have the best ideas to be found for what we-the people can do to end run around our imploded government and change this world to where we become a cooperative humanity.

    And, for the pleasure of your readers, here's Ken and me, circa early '80s, for an earlier version of my save the world proclivities: https://youtu.be/bPT2xbKZl4U?si=-rs9EoSFUOc6zj3i. Too bad I had a boyfriend and couldn't take you up on your flirty invite where I'd possibly be your loving partner now.

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  6. Ken,

    We've known each other since The Ultimate Journey Conference in Oakland, CA in 1884. We were both presenters, and my wife and I gave you a ride to the conference. We had just moved to the Bay Area for me to attend graduate school. It was great to finally meet you, and share the work that we were doing.

    We later met at Ruth (Forbes) and Arthur Young's home in Berkeley for a colloquium of yours. We continued to correspond, and I later sent you a copy of my esoteric compilation on death and dying, Death: The Great Adventure (Lucis Publishing, NY, 1985).

    In the last few years, our correspondence has been more frequent. You encouraged me to write a blog for Raymond Moody's University of Heaven website which was well-received. You also read, enjoyed and favorably 'reviewed' my esoteric memoir.

    I found your book, Heading Toward Omega to be invaluable in creating an unpublished manuscript comparing the events of the NDE with those of the esoteric process of dying. I later created a 3-part video series for YouTube entitled, Death: The Great Adventure to illustrate my research.

    Ken, I think you and Raymond Moody have done the most significant work with the NDE of any other researchers/authors. You two form the 2 front pillars of the Temple of the NDE. And millions of us around the world are forever grateful for your invaluable and insightful work in that discipline.

    These past few years of your blogs have further revealed your quick wit, candor, challenges, courage, creativity, caring, charisma, cleverness, and charm. Our time together has been a great adventure, Brother!

    See you on the Other Side,
    Robert Borel

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  7. Greg Simpson from ConnecticutMarch 17, 2024 at 5:43 PM

    Hi Ken,

    Life certainly has its interesting twists and turns, doesn’t it? It was over half a century ago that our paths first crossed. I was your 20 year old student in two Social Psychology courses at our beloved UCONN and you were my professor in your early thirties.

    Fast forward half a century and we connected again through letters and emails. Dear sir, you have taught me much through the years, first through your courses and later through your books and other writing. Now I’m a retired social worker and you are a distinguished emeritus professor, still addressing the big questions about life and death.

    God bless you for all you have taught me through the years. Most importantly, you have taught me (as the Venerable Bede wrote hundreds of years ago) that “…death is only a horizon, and horizon is but the limit of our sight.” Here’s looking ahead as we both get to see what’s waiting for us on the other side of the horizon.

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  8. Many thanks Ken for all the interesting books You wrote and for this wonderful blog. Verba volant , scripta manent. I'll read parts of this blog or your books from time to time even in future.
    Regards from Italy.

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  9. Love to see the positive Ripple Effect you have had on so many with your presence, teaching, books, and blogs. Your wisdom, wit, love, curiosity, and honesty have impacted so many and have rippled out through their thoughts, words, and deeds. I understand that your blogging may be coming to an end but know that your words, wit, and wisdom will be returned to often, reflected on deeply, and acted upon with love. THANKS!

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  10. Reading this page, I can picture your ordinary days in my mind. It reminds me of my mother living alone. And I found one more common in your feature and mine.
    Let me and my wife pray for your health of body and mind.
    Best regards, Junho

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  11. Hey Ken,

    For the record, your writing has NOT lost its edge. I'll miss your thoughts, and hope you reconsider. Persons older than 87 are entitled to change their minds up to 28 times.

    Jay D.

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  12. So the comments don't amount to a prime number: Sending heartfelt thanks and best wishes always.

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  13. Dear Ken. I'm really sorry that you're unable to continue with your blogs which I've looked forward to and have enjoyed reading. I've read your books since Life at Death and have been inspired and challenged positively by them. I will miss your wit, compassion and insight. Thank you for everything you have done over many years. I wish you health, happiness and peace.

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    1. Dear Tom — Ken would just like you to know that he received and was grateful to read your note of appreciation to him about his blogs. He said to tell you that notes like yours — and he received quite a few — meant a great deal to him.

      Peace and Light,

      Kevin

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