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I’ve been letting go, and this…yes, I’ll call it a surrender…this surrender has been accompanied by something strange and wonderful. I’m not sure I can adequately describe it. But let me look for words that will at least come close.

A kind of singing quiet has been settling over me.

It arrived unbidden. It took me by surprise. I’ve had neither strength nor inclination to fight it off or question it.

Maybe this quiet is nothing more or less than what some people mean by acceptance. Or peace. Or grace. But there’s a richness to it, a texture, that I did not expect.

It isn’t passive; only still. It’s close to death yet full of life.

For me, this quiet is another form of music. It’s music without motion, just a harmony frozen in time.

I wish I could explain how I’ve finally arrived at this amazing calm. Truthfully, though, I suspect that I did not achieve this quiet, or even find it. It found me when the time was right.

I think over the years of my illness–no, over my entire life–and I consider my flailing efforts to find serenity. I chased it with logic, but at the same time used logic to fend it off. I sought it with yearning, with private rituals that were my own eccentric way of praying, of moving closer to the spiritual.

Now I feel that these exercises, while necessary, were probably beside the point. Peace keeps its own schedule. You can’t hurry it. And when it comes, it’s a gift freely given, more than something earned.

My hunch is that it comes to saints and sinners equally. It’s not about justice, and it doesn’t mean that life is fair. Just inevitable.

A big part of the calm that has settled over me is the happy conviction that my wife and children will be okay. I don’t know if this belief is a cause or an effect of my serenity, and it really doesn’t matter. What matters is that, after my wrenching sorrow at leaving Laura and the kids, after my aching guilt about what my sickness has put them through, I have come to feel a proud confidence that they will emerge from this with their spirits intact and a great deal of wonderful life ahead of them.

I’m sorry for the worry I’ve caused, and for the grieving that is still ahead. But I also know that grief will subside, that at some point memories will bring thoughtful smiles along with the tears.

I hope and trust that my family will continue to feel love for me. I believe that love can reach past loss and make their lives richer. Absent, I can still be part of who they are. Grieving is part of loving. That’s just how it is.

As for the rest…I’ve poured myself into my life. I haven’t held back. And I’ve pretty well used myself up.

This calm I feel now–in some ways it’s a more durable case of the contented exhaustion I have felt after skiing for ten hours, or playing music through the night, or working round the clock at something that seemed terribly important at the time. It’s a calm that comes from knowing that I’ve held nothing back.

I’ve worked hard at my life. I’m proud of that. None of it came easily, and sometimes I pursued it with more insistence than grace. But that’s who I have always been, and I’m proud of that as well.

If I had pushed a little less, relaxed a little more, I might have led a longer life–who knows? But I could not have had a life that suited me better, a life that was more my own. I’m very grateful.

There’s just one final thing I want to say. Probably it’s how everybody wants to be remembered. But that’s okay. I’ve said from the start that I make no claim of being special; I’m just one more person dying, revisiting his life. I think my father would have said the same thing, in the same words, if he’d had the time.

It’s simply this: I really tried. I did my best.

pp. 212-214. Excerpted from: "Not Fade Away: A Short Life Well Lived" by Peter Barton + Laurence Shames. Posted by permission of Laurence Shames. Published by HarperCollins Publishers, copyright 2004.

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