Eyebrows were raised when the Academy in Stockholm decided to award this year’s Nobel Prize for Literature to the songwriter Bob Dylan.
While some complained, others rejoiced that the way was now open for others, including another veteran song-writer, the Canadian Leonard Cohen.
Cohen , who gave the world the song ‘Hallelujah’, and earned $1 million dollars royalties thereby, is now 82 and reportedly in indifferent health.
A recent interview in the prestigious New Yorker magazine revealed him as someone preparing for the end of life’s journey.
He was always conscious of the transience of life. In one of his early songs he conjectured that ‘life is a leaf that the seasons tear off and condemn’, and in a more recent one he refers to himself as ‘a brief elaboration of a tube.’ He therefore faces the end of life with some equanimity. ‘I am ready to die,’ he said, ‘ I hope it is not too uncomfortable.’ He then observed, ‘If you still have your marbles, and are not faced with serious financial challenges, you have a chance to put your house in order.’
The dying Socrates remembered that he owed a cockerel to a friend and arranged to have the debt paid. But putting one’s house in order is more than paying debts and writing a will; it is to prepare for death and what lies beyond. Samuel Rutherford, a Covenanter leader in 17th century Scotland, often counselled his correspondents, ‘Forefancy your death bed’.
Jewish rabbis have a tale about the student who asked his teacher when a man ought to repent. ‘The day before you die,’ came the rabbi’s answer. ‘But’, protested the student, ‘how can I know the day when I am going to die?’ ‘Precisely’, replied the teacher, ‘ that is why you should repent today’.
An earnest young clergyman, new to his parish, called to visit a bed-ridden old man. In the conversation, the young minister touched on the inevitability of death, and the encounter with God which lies beyond. His words were cut short when the old man interrupted him, by saying, ‘Young man, I thatched my house when the weather was warm.’
He had set his house in order. I wonder, gentle reader, have you?