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john-adamsEconomist Jeremy Gluck speculated on US Federal Reserve Board Chairman Alan Greenspan’s epitaph. Picking up on the tone of so many of Greenspan's speeches, he decided the epitaph would probably read something like this: “I am guardedly optimistic about the next world, but remain cognizant of the down-side risk.”

Though many people feel at peace about their own eventual death, others are concerned about the possible “downside risk.” One of humankind’s greatest fears is around death and the process of dying. Like the song “Old Man River” says:

     “Ah gits weary an’ sick of tryin’
     “Ah’m tired of livin’ an’ skeered of dyin’”

Some people believe that the most basic of human fears is the fear of death. “Skeered of dyin’.” Maybe you feel it a little, too.

In his later years, John Quincy Adams spoke about growing old. He said, “I inhabit a weak, frail, decayed tenement battered by the winds and broken in on by the storms and, from all I can learn, the landlord does not intend to repair.”

Though he may have held out no hope that he would not die, he approached his own death with acceptance and a remarkable lack of concern. When the elderly statesman fast approached his 80th birthday, he succinctly related his philosophy of death. The occasion happened as he hobbled down the street one day in his favorite city of Boston, leaning heavily on a cane, and a friend suddenly approached and slapped him on the shoulder.

“Well, how’s John Quincy Adams this morning?” the friend inquired.

The old man turned slowly, smiled and replied, “Fine, sir, fine! But this old tenement that John Quincy lives in is not so good. The underpinning is about to fall away. The thatch is all gone off the roof, and the windows are so dim John Quincy can hardly see out anymore. As a matter of fact, it wouldn’t surprise me if, before the winter’s over, he had to move out. But as for John Quincy Adams, he never was better...never was better!”

I have spent much of my life around death. I have sat with people as they died. I have listened to others relate near-death experiences. I have studied theology and am aware of what scriptures and religions say about life and death. And I have come to the conclusion that death is not to be feared. Moreover, when it is time for me to move out of this tenement in which I am housed, I intend to look forward to it joyfully. I want to say, “I never was better...never was better!”

Steve Goodier