Amy and I spent the past week on the Mendocino coast, just north of the little town of Gualala. One evening a planet appeared low in the sky as the last light of sunset was fading--you can just make it out in the top left corner of the image above. Pictures like this fail to do justice to the real thing, of course, and yet they still serve a important purpose, prompting memories of moments that shouldn't be forgotten.
After I took this shot I stood looking out at the Pacific, watching the stars slowly emerge as the sky darkened, listening to waves crash into the cove below, feeling the air swirl around me. It was a moment I've experienced many times during our trips up here, and yet there was something different about this one. Amy had gone back into the house, and I sensed her presence and her absence. I felt alone beneath the sky, before the sea, and also together, with her and in some sense with humanity.
I believe that one of our most important tasks as adults is reconciling with our mortality and acknowledging the shortness of life; so many problems seem to stem from our childish refusal to face up to these fundamental facts. As a consequence, over the last few years I've found myself drawn to readings on death and dying--in addition to the Stoic texts I refer to above, Christopher Hitchens' Mortality, Atul Gawande's Being Mortal, and Paul Kalanithi's When Breath Becomes Air have all had a profound impact on me.
All that came to mind as I was looking out at the ocean, and I broke down. The thought of leaving this place, of the end of this existence, was just too much to take. But far from being morbid or gloomy, the experience was deeply life-affirming. I was as sad as I've ever been, and as happy as I could hope to be. Even as I strive to face the end of this life with equanimity, I find myself appreciating it more and more.