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a bedside visit, simply

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Visited someone at hospice today. We first met four, five months ago when he went in with a terminal illness and asked me to help him prepare for death; “in the Tibetan way,” he said. Since I knew/know very little about their sophisticated protocol on preparing for death, we looked at some books together and I offered to contact a local lama. No, he said after we’d met a few times, I want you. Since then, he’s been in and out of hospital a few times, getting a little better at first and going downhill ever since. We’ve met for lunch at a restaurant, for tea at his house, and talked on the phone on and off. Now death is rapidly approaching.

With the late-afternoon spring sun streaming through the window and bathing his face a bright yellow, we sat for quite a while: he in bed, me on a chair squeezed-in along the wall. Just this morning, on a whim, I’d been playing Leonard Cohen’s London Concert at home. Thinking of my sick friend, I twice listened to what Mr. Cohen describes as “a song, a poem really, which I wrote during a time of some difficulty.”

If it be your will
That I speak no more
And my voice be still
As it was before
I will speak no more
I shall abide until
I am spoken for

If it be your will
If it be your will
That a voice be true
From this broken hill
I will sing to you
From this broken hill
All your praises they shall ring
If it be your will  
more

I’d brought a CD player to his room and we listened together; then sat in silence. As the sun sank and the room grew darker, the dinner tray arrived … and still we sat. I noticed his eyes fixing on the Tibetan singing bowl I’d brough along and placed the wooden mallet in his shaking hand. Slowly he struck the side of the bowl once in hesitation, and again with determination. The pure ring lasted and lasted. He smiled, closed his eyes, and gently fell back onto his pillow. “I’ll come back tomorrow,” I said and bowed. Simply, simply.

For a boot-legged YouTube recording by Leonard Cohen and the Webb Sisters singing this poem, click here. Note: this is not from the London Concert. There’s also a version by Antony.

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