Loving and Leaving the Good Life

Helen’s book to remember Scott after his death at age 100, celebrating his life and explaining how they met, what their lives were like before they met. After reading this, I have a deeper appreciation for Scott’s writing, because he must have done most of the heavy lifting on Living the Good Life which I enjoyed and keep thinking about; Helen’s writing bordered on unreadable, making me reconsider the idea that everyone can write their own story. The least interesting bit she expounded upon at great lengths was her relationship with some Indian guru, Krishnamurti, who convinced her to abandon her violin studies in Holland and to join him in his quest (she later quotes some Bhagwan Rajneesh to Scott about death as he approaches it).

The best parts are the words of wisdom about death itself, almost a quote collection that Helen pasted together into her scrapbook, like Samuel Johnson’s 1780 letter of sympathy, “The continuity of being is lacerated, the settled course of sentiments is stopped; life stands suspended and motionless, till it is driven by external causes into a new channel. But the time of suspense is dreadful,” or the supposed ancient Chinese saying “We cannot help the birds of sadness flying over our heads, but we need not let them build nests in our hair.”

Fascinatingly, she gives us the details on how Scott planned his death by fasting once he reached 100. He wanted to live as long as he was useful and could bring firewood into the house, and beyond that just wanted to peace out gracefully. They already usually incorporated a fast day (usually Sunday) into their week, taking it easy and ending the evening with a supper of popcorn, carrot juice or cider, and listening to records. And once a year they fasted for ten days, just drinking water and working a bit less: “We looked forward to periods of abstinence and believed we benefited in body and mind, and gained extra time for reading and writing.”

Scott had long talked about not wanting a lengthy decay in a nursing home, wanting to depart with dignity and at home. He wanted to go of his own free will, consciously and intentionally. Lao Tzu: “Let life ripen and then let it fall.” A month and a half before he died, he stopped eating solid foods. “Death by fasting is not a violent form of suicide; it is a slow gentle diminution of energies, a peaceful way to leave, voluntarily.” For a month, Helen fed him apple, orange, grape juice. The final weeks were just water, completely detaching him from life. Sounds peaceful.

One of Scott’s favorite rhymes:

Dollars and dimes! Dollars and dimes!
To be without money is the worst of all crimes.
To grab what you want, and keep all you can
Is the first and the last and whole duty of man.