“The [gentleman] doth protest too much, methinks.” Shakespeare
I just celebrated my 75th birthday with my children, their spouses, and grandchildren. Twelve of us gathered in Leesburg, Virginia. The highlight of the trip for me came on Friday night as I gave each of them a copy of my recently completed “Spiritual Autobiography.” It runs seventeen pages of 12-point type. But wait… there’s more.
In 2020, I completed the first phase of gathering my writings in a 3-inch binder called My Life as a Journey: Hank Dunn, 1948 – ____. I printed out every document I could find of my writings, 767 pages worth, going back to the 1970s. I will add a couple hundred more pages in the coming months.
The thought is to leave a paper copy of my thoughts and the experiences in my (so far) three-quarters of a century. One could say, “Oh, Hank must be afraid of dying because he is going to such lengths to make sure he is not forgotten.” Okay, maybe that is true. I have always said that I won’t know how I will handle my own impending death until I get that terminal diagnosis, which is still yet to be on the horizon.
But I have another motive for leaving such a significant paper trail. Here is an excerpt of the preface of my spiritual autobiography addressed to my kids and grands:
“You might not read this in the coming days. You don’t have to read it at all. I just want you to have it in case you are ever interested. I think back to how I was not curious about the lives of my parents and grandparents while they were still alive and of sound mind. Now, I can think of tons of questions like, ‘Dad, what was it like for you after your father died when you were ten years old?’ I never asked him. I wish I knew.”
I am just now reading The Worm at the Core: On the Role of Death in Life, written by three social psychologists in 2015. They build on the work of Ernest Becket’s Denial of Death (1974). The Worm goes to great lengths to prove that we all live in terror of death and that our actions and those of the culture we inhabit seek to comfort us. NOT ME.
Doth I protest too much? I like to think that, in my heart of hearts, I am leaving this extensive paper trail of my life and thinking and beliefs in case my children, grandchildren, or other descendants are ever curious about me. I am very comfortable with my deepest convictions, even though some would say they are not orthodox. Perhaps there will be other seekers of spirituality in my family who would benefit from reading about my path.
I have no control over whether anyone cares about what makes me tick. I cast these words out into the sea of my legacy, perhaps to drift on as flotsam. It’s what I can do in these last years of my life. Well, hopefully years.
Chaplain Hank Dunn is the author of Hard Choices for Loving People: CPR, Feeding Tubes, Palliative Care, Comfort Measures and the Patient with a Serious Illness and Light in the Shadows. Together they have sold over 4 million copies. You can purchase his books at hankdunn.com or on Amazon.