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This is one of two versions of this poem. Here's the other one.


The Course of Life

By Ken Sanes

As we entered young adulthood,
of course we understood
that life always terminates in death.
But we couldn’t imagine that our own lives
would come to an end. Instead, it seemed to us
that life was like an open horizon
while death was something far away,
lost in the mists of a distant time.
And at first many of us had experiences
that seemed to justify our early optimism.
Most significantly, we learned what it is like
to be inside another person in romantic love
and hold a vulnerable new life
as it is sleeping in the cradle of our arms.
We also discovered the social pleasures
of sharing meals with friends,
in which spirits overflowed and the evening
was lifted up with laughter and conversation.
And some of us had accomplishments
that led to riches, honors and admiration
so everything revolved around ourselves.
It was experiences like these
that led us to think of life as mostly good
and not even the inevitable setbacks,
or the moments when we felt like broken selves
in a broken world, altered our view.
But then as the years turned into decades
and the decades succeeded each other,
a change took place in our perspective
and, like many people before us,
we began to understand a basic truth,
which is that we were approaching our end
even though we were only recently young.
And we started to think of life as a path
that leads from innocence to experience
to infirmity, and finally out of existence.
At the same time, many of us sensed
that life had a new richness to it, tinged
with a heightened awareness of its passing,
and some tried to convey a sense of that
in poetry, stories, music, and painting,
or we looked for other ways to repair
the world we were passing on.
Finally, we passed through a threshhold,
and began to suffer a breakdown
in body and mind. We had more trouble
keeping track of our train of thought;
walking became slower and more labored,
while visits to doctors -- and funerals –
became the stuff of our lives.
By then, the change in our perspective
was almost complete,

and we understood in a deep way
that there would come a time
when our breathing would stop,
our elusive self would disappear,
and the same nature that moves the earth
would divide our remains, because
dust returns to dust, life consumes
life, and molecules are reconfigured
in the creation of new forms.
Like every generation before us,
we experienced a terrible awe
at the way the fullness of life
finds its end
in the nothingness of death.



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