Ready to depart

If you haven’t read Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, you’re missing out. And if you haven’t read the appendices of the same, you’re definitely missing out because it contains one of the most achingly beautiful stories. It is the tale of Aragorn and Arwen after the War of the Ring. For many years, Aragorn ruled Gondor with Arwen at his side, but he had decided it was his time to pass on.

“ “At last, Lady Evenstar, fairest in this world, and most beloved, my world is fading. Lo! We have gathered, and we have spent, and now the time of payment draws near.”
Arwen knew well what he intended, and long had foreseen it; nonetheless she was overborne by her grief. “Would you then, lord, before your time leave your people that live by your word?” she said.
“Not before my time,” he answered. “For if I will not go now, then I must soon go perforce. And Eldarion our son is a man full-ripe for kingship.”
Then going to the House of the Kings in the Silent Street, Aragorn laid down on the long bed that had been prepared for him. There he said farewell to Eldarion, and gave into his hands the winged crown of Gondor and the sceptre of Arnor; and then all left him save Arwen, and she stood alone by his bed. And for all her wisdom and lineage she could not forbear to plead with him to stay yet for a while. She was not yet weary of her days, and thus she tasted the bitterness of the mortality that she had taken upon her.
“Lady Undomiel,” said Aragorn, “the hour is indeed hard, yet it was made even in that day when we met under the white birches in the garden of Elrond where none now walk. And on the hill of Cerin Amroth when we forsook both the Shadow and the Twilight this doom we accepted. Take counsel with yourself, beloved, and ask whether you would indeed have me wait until I wither and fall from my high seat unmanned and witless. Nay, lady, I am the last of the Numenoreans and the latest King of the Elder Days; and to me has been given not only a span thrice that of Men of Middle-earth, but also the grace to go at my will, and give back the gift. Now, therefore, I will sleep.”

After Aragorn passed Arwen took her leave, said farewell to those she loved, and left Minas Tirith for the land of Lorien where she “laid herself to rest.” This causes me to wonder, “What must it feel like to accept death so gently? What state of mind is attained when you decide that right now is the right time to die?” And thinking of this question brings to mind an anecdote from Walter Lord’s A Night to Remember, an account of the sinking of the Titanic.

“Tonight the Strauses came on deck with the others, and at first Mrs Straus seemed uncertain what to do. At one point she handed some small jewellery to her maid Ellen Bird, then took it back again. Later she crossed the boat deck and almost entered No. 8 — then turned around and rejoined Mr Straus. Now her mind was made up: “We have been living together for many years. Where you go, I go.”
Archibald Gracie, Hugh Woolner, other friends tried in vain to make her go. Then Woolner turned to Mr Straus: “I’m sure nobody would object to an old gentleman like you getting in . . .”
“I will not go before the other men,” he said, and that was that. Mrs Straus tightened her grasp on his arm, patted it, smiled up at him, smiled at the group hovering around them. Then they sat down together on a pair of deck chairs.”

A different scenario to that of Aragorn and Arwen, but still a coming to terms with death. 

When I consider my own life, I sometimes think about old age. Will I write and bear witness to reality until my final breath? Or will I feel the approach of mortality, lay down my metaphorical pen, wrap up my affairs and prepare to die? If I settle all scores, discharge all obligations and tie up all loose ends, will I feel light and unburdened and ready to depart? Will such lightness cause a shift in my perception and understanding? And if it does cause such a change, what’s to prevent me from attaining that change right now? Only myself, I suppose. But I’m young. I have things to love and live for. Teetering on the precipice between life and death, I’d fight not to fall. But maybe I should be as comfortable with the fall just as much as the fight? Perhaps I should live like I’m ready to die?