Lie down to pleasant dreams
May 26, 2011By Bill Skiff
“… Go not, like a quarry-slave at night,
Scourged to his dungeon; but sustained and soothed
By an unfaltering faith, approach thy grave
Like one who wraps the drapery of his couch
About him, and lies down to pleasant dreams.”
The above is only part of William Cullen Bryant’s poem (“Thanatopsis”) that I memorized in my high school English class. I have always enjoyed the thought — more so recently.
During the past month, I have lost two Rotary friends. Heath Riggs from Richmond was a 92-year-old gentleman whose life was full of working to make the world a better place. I loved his dry Vermont humor.
Mike Coates of Williston was my buddy for many of his latter years. When you are as close to a person as I was to Mike, his passing leaves a void in my life deeper and wider than expected.
Within the last year I also lost a great dance partner, my college roommate, and two longtime tennis partners. After Mike’s death, I thought, “Wait a minute, what is happening here?” Then I realized these friends were all getting older. And it hit me — so am I.
Death has always been in my life as it is in everyone’s. Animals died on the farm when I was a kid. I experienced losing a pet calf and my friend Teddy, the canine ballplayer.
Then mom and dad died. Dad was 92 and mom was 86, so I was somewhat prepared for their passing. I was much younger then, and death for me seemed a long time away. That was then — this is now.
When I sat with Mike during his last days I realized how difficult it is to die, and how no one really wants to do it. As you realize you are no longer going to be around for family events or take another run down a trail at Bolton Valley, it makes you ponder death and your own legacy. Mike and I agreed that someday we would take another run down a mountain together; we just didn’t know where it would be or when we would do it. I liked that.
As I continue my latter days, I wonder what my legacy will be. I sometimes remember Woody Allen’s thoughts on death and dying: “I don’t want to achieve immortality through my work; I want to achieve immortality through not dying.” In reality, I hope when my time comes I will “rap the drapery of my couch about me and lie down to pleasant dreams.”
Bill Skiff grew up on a farm between Cambridge and Jeffersonville. After a career in education, he now lives in Williston, where he is a justice of the peace and Fourth of July frog-jumping official. In “Places I’ve Played,” he shares his experiences of growing up in Vermont. Comments are welcome at email@example.com.