August 4, 2012

Dudley Clendinen: "Final Exit" Song and Prayer

Dudley Clendinen

Last month, an old friend brought me a recording of the greatest concert he'd ever seen, Leonard Cohen, live in London, three years ago. It's haunting, powerful music, by a poet, composer, and singer, whose life has been as tough and sinewy and loving as an old tree.
The song that transfixed me, words and music, was "Dance Me to the End of Love." That's the way I feel about this time. I'm dancing, spinning around, happy in the last rhythms of the life I love. When the music stops -- when I can't tie my bow tie, tell a funny story, walk my dog, talk with Whitney, kiss someone special, or tap out lines like this -- I'll know that Life is over.
It's time to be gone.
Those are Clendenin's final words from the New York Times Sunday magazine article he wrote last summer. A gay alcoholic with Lou Gehrig's disease, Clendinen was describing his own impending death. He didn't take his own life as he'd planned, but died of natural causes on May 30, 2012, determined to the end to finish the book he was writing about his final years
.Between February, 2011 and January, 2012, he participated in a series of interviews with his friend and Baltimore radio host Tom Hall, in which Clendinen discussed his disease, mental state, and preparations for death. I found his comments about death -- even in the last two interviews -- much more uplifting than depressing.
 In that last interview, Hall asked his guest about a prayer he had written even before the ALS diagnosis. Clendinen answered: "Yes, I did it after I got sober and realized that I should be thankful and I should use the chance to better my life. It's not a religious prayer. I'm not religious, but I'm spiritual. So it's not Catholic, or Muslim, or Jewish, or Protestant. It is just particular to me,"
Oh God, who art the center of all things, thank you for the sobriety of today and of yesterday and of the day before, and all the days of my new life. Help me to keep that life fresh and to view its precious possibility and its purpose, and to use it to loving ends and in important ways to me and to those I love and who love me. 
Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. 

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