I first encountered Dylan Thomas’ poem “Do not go gentle into that good night” while working on an MFA in creative writing at the University of Alaska Anchorage. It became my fourth quarter (end of life) philosophy:
Do not go gentle into that good night,/Old age should burn and rave at close of day;/Rage, rage, against the dying of the light.
The Bible allots us “three score years and ten.” Even by my poor math abilities, that amounts to 70 years. So, at 71, I am in my bonus years. When I now hear if I follow a particular diet, take a particular pill or break a particular habit, I will live longer, I keep doing what I please, as an extended life now just means a few additional months in an assisted living facility, watching TV reruns and wishing someone would change your Depends.
I keep looking for examples of those who live my fourth quarter philosophy such as Burt Munro, whose story is told in the movie The World’s Fastest Indian (motorcycles, not native Americans).
Recently, Joy Johnson, 86, ran a marathon and died the next day. Great exit Joy!
The same week, Vernon Maynard, 100, didn’t exactly “go out with joy” but he did celebrate his birthday with his first skydive. Right on, Vernon.
On June 25, Ardys Kellerman, 81, died in a motorcycle accident. Yes, she was driving and had recently been awarded a certificate for having put a million miles on her various BMW motorcycles. Great ending, Ardys.
A few years back, I watched on TV as a 90- plus year-old fellow made his first bungee jump. Residents from his old folks home came to cheer him on. He climbed on the platform, put his dentures in the bib pocket of his coveralls and jumped. He said he’d be back the next year to do it again.
The poet Edwin Robinson depicts another alternative in Mr. Flood’s Party. Eben Flood is on a hill above Tilbury Town on a moon lit night, partying all alone with his jug. (Google it.) He is lonely, because he has outlived everybody he knew in Tilbury Town, and now his biggest concern is that he find someplace he can set his jug, so it won’t fall over and break.
If you want to avoid a fourth quarter like Mr. Flood’s, buy a motorcycle, arrange a sky dive, paraglide off Poo Poo Point, take a hike, bicycle the STP, or run a race. If you’re not the adventuresome type, then check out the volunteer opportunities published weekly in The Issaquah Press. There are people and organizations that need you. Your church needs you. There are service clubs that need you. “Don’t go gentle into that good night.”