Jack Mildren died last week: the stomach cancer he had fought off for two years mounted a counterattack and finished him off in a matter of two weeks. This wasn't big news around the world, but here in Oklahoma, Jack Mildren was a household name: among the finest Sooner quarterbacks ever, later a defensive back in the NFL now that's flexibility and finally a successful businessman who made a couple of forays into politics, serving a term as Lieutenant Governor, then making a run for the Governor's Mansion. In his last days he was visible, or at least audible, doing sports commentary on Oklahoma City radio.

Also last week, Edward M. Kennedy, hospitalized for what at first looked like a stroke, was informed that he had a malignant brain tumor, and that surgery to remove it would prove difficult at best. (Apparently distinguishing between actual brain cells and tumor cells is a tricky proposition.) This leaves the Senator facing chemotherapy and radiation, neither of which is likely to work for more than a short time: he might have three years left, or three months.

About this point, John Donne, from way back in 1624, reminds us:

All mankind is of one author and is one volume; when one man dies, one chapter is not torn out of the book, but translated into a better language; and every chapter must be so translated. God employs several translators; some pieces are translated by age, some by sickness, some by war, some by justice; but God's hand is in every translation, and his hand shall bind up all our scattered leaves again for that library where every book shall lie open to one another.

I prefer not to speculate as to how either of these men will appear post-translation: their names go into the book, and it will be left to generations to come to read and understand their stories, though I suspect Mildren's might be a bit less dramatic than Kennedy's.

But I bring this up, not so much out of concern for the historical record, but to try to find some perspective that might apply toward my own mortality. Ted Kennedy, despite his lionization by the Nanny State, had no use for their ostensible "health" obsessions, and survived to seventy-six years of age before the seizure and the subsequent terrifying diagnosis. Right now, during a period when most of my own bodily systems seem to be showing signs of distress, I can find some sort of comfort in knowing that someone whose life was substantially more dissolute than even my own made it to 76: today, halfway between 54 and 55, I'd like to think I had twenty-odd years left.

Of course, I may not. Jack Mildren's lifestyle, by all accounts, was at least somewhat healthier than Kennedy's. But Mildren's gone now, and he was only 58, a number I get to embrace far too soon. The precise method of translation God has in mind for me is yet to be determined, but I have learned the lesson taught by John Donne: sooner or later, the bell tolls for me.

The Vent

  25 May 2008

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 Copyright © 2008 by Charles G. Hill