And Death Shall Have Its Dominion

by Theodore Dalrymple (December 2015)

For the first time in my life I feel the approach of death not as a certainty in the abstract but (if I may be allowed a seeming paradox) as a lived reality. My hands are increasingly deformed by osteoarthritis, the joints being both enlarged and inflamed; and I can no longer disguise from myself an accelerating decline in energy. Only a short time ago, or so it seems (the foreshortening of time being also a sign of age), I could work all day as a doctor, be on call at night, and still, when the occasion required, write three articles a day.  more>>>


13 Responses

  1. Having been reading the extraordinarily perceptive and equally entertaining writings of Dalrymple/Daniels for over 30 years, this is depressing – and perceptive and entertaining! I suppose that’s because I’m about the same age and recognise only too clearly what he’s describing.

    Clive James made the observation that if you know the lights are going to go out, you may as well keep reading until they do. Please, Dr D, keep writing while the lights are on!

  2. Very beautiful and moving essay, Dr. Dalrymple. It reminded me of a poem written by Romanian poet Marin Sorescu, that I am adding here (sorry for the translation, it’s been made by me). The poem is called “Accounting” and goes as follows:

    There comes a time
    When we have to draw beneath us
    A black line
    And do the accounts

    A few moments when we were to be happy
    A few moments when we were to be beautiful
    A few moments when we were to be brilliant
    We met, a few times
    Some mountains, some trees, some waters
    (Where are they? Are they still living?)
    All these make a bright future
    That we lived

    A women whom we loved
    And the same woman who hasn’t loved us
    Make zero

    A quarter of a year of studies
    Make a few billions of fodder words
    Whose wisdom we gradually eliminated

    And, finally, one fate
    And another fate (where did this one come from?)
    Make two (We write one and we carry one,
    Maybe, who knows, there is an afterlife).

    Maybe there is some hope, after all?…

  3. You sound a bit down in the dumps, Mr Daniels. If it’s any consolation, I’d say that throughout the years you have given to the world great joy and elucidation with your wit and insight. These attributes have, I’m sure, not gone unnoticed by a great many people, of whom I would include myself.

  4. Thanks for sharing…l thought this daily struggle easy just another symptom of my obessive compulsive personality. In addition to tying shoes,etc I find it more and more challenging to visit the dentist (always some issue).deciding to apply cream to create red blistered hands to be preemptive re skin cancer.. how much do you want to put in this old car (body) anyway.. and incidents like a fender bender… something being lost are more worrisome. .. ok enough…

  5. In 1849 Walter Savage Landor concluded a poem:
    “I warmed both hands before the fire of life.
    It sinks and I am ready to depart.”

    But, as Allen Tate once observed, he lived fifteen more years. May you have twice that, Doc.

  6. Very interesting essay. I have trouble posting because my eyes are getting bad enough that I fail Captcha. And I’m not that old!

  7. Yonder See the Morning

    Yonder see the morning blink:
    The sun is up, and up must I,
    To wash and dress and eat and drink
    And look at things and talk and think
    And work, and God knows why.

    Oh often have I washed and dressed
    And what’s to show for all my pain?
    Let me lie abed and rest:
    Ten thousand times I’ve done my best
    And all’s to do again.

    A.E. Housman

  8. In agreement with other commentors Mr. Dalrymple; you’ve lived a worthy life. You should find some comfort or feeling of validation in that your contribution to the enrichment of the human experience for so many, this commentor included. You’ve always struck me as sort of a brilliant, but somewhat bumbling Jonah. The paradox of a godless prophet serving and (to use an older phrase), giving glory to the God he doesn’t believe in more faithfully than many confessing servants of this God, is to say the least, amusing.

    Your surety about the unknown is a bit well, naive. As Chesterton said: “We do not know enough about the unknown to know that it is unknowable.” And we have in the reaction of a very well-known personage, not known for either euphoric excess or…lying, the following statement when asked about the “shoelaces”- level logistics and considerations of a potential follower needing to bury his parents…”Let the dead bury their dead, but you…come and follow me.”.

    This last statement is either a complete fabricated falsehood, that should elicit the ultimate pity of such a deluded speaker of such inanity OR it just might be very plain truthfulness on the part of a very sane person (some would say the sanest), who was also known to have said the following: “Come to me all ye that labor, and I will give you rest.” and also “I am the resurrection and the life”. The Heaven this person described, seemed to be full of purpose, and what he referred to as “eternal life”. The analogy of which I suppose would be difficult to describe to most people as it would I suppose be difficult to explain the pleasure feeling of the experience of a trusting friendship to a child, who knows only the satisfaction of his little toys.

    What if the problem is not that the existential super-market has run dry at the end of so many lives, but rather, that what were called pleasures and feelings of engrossing, fulfilling purpose, were actually crude shadows compared to another reality casting them?

    What if the ennui is actually the effect of an everlastingly, flaming desire, seen though the glass darkly of minds not accustomed to the participation in relationship to a reality that is actually the reason for being in the first place?

    What if mental curiosity and assent are only the stepping over the doormat to an actual living experience of this?

    Alas, too many are stuck in the doormat inspecting it’s fibers for the source of the luxurious smells coming from inside the house.

    It’s never too late to step in. There’s no formula and like the other most meaningful things in human existence, they can only be known by participation, and not merely by analysis. Regarding which, I’ll leave another quote from an old Scottish writer of fairy tales.

    Analysis is good, as death is good. But neither is life. – George MacDonald

    Peace and a hope and prayer that you perhaps may come to know for yourself personally, the things I’ve alluded too. Thank you for all of your brilliant thinking, living, and sharing sir!

  9. Good grief ! I am nine years older than you are. I was in Britain and Belgium in September with friends visiting Waterloo. He is a retired British Army surgeon. I just published a book. You have many more publications but seem to be on a downward swing. For mental exercise, I am going through my Calculus and Physics from 50 years ago when I was an engineer before medical school. Buck up !

  10. Seasonal affective disorder?
    We are slaves to our hormones as you have illustrated so eloquently in your wonderful writings. May you continue for many more summers.jerym eedy

  11. @Josef R: Your comment, Sir, simply made my day. It fully incarnates my thoughts (only that I just cannot put them into words so nicely as you).

    May I venture to guess that you are one of those who were subdued for life by George MacDonald’s “Unspoken Sermons?”

  12. This is such a good piece that my comment will seem like an irritating quibble. I take issue with the statement : “The only oblivion of which we have actual experience is that of sleep”. Perhaps you haven’t experienced general anaesthetic, with its absence, at least in my case, of any sense of the passage of time. It was like being switched off and then switched back on.

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