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Riding off into the sunset

Writer Richard O'Leary wants to ride off into the sunset at the end of his journey.

Opinion

Riding off into the sunset

Richard O’Leary is not sure whether it’s a mid-life crisis, but he’s thinking a lot about his final days and where he wants to spend them.

Do not go gentle into that good night,

Old age should burn and rave at close of day;

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

– Dylan Thomas

Just like in the old cowboy movies, when my time is up I intend to ride off into the sunset never to be seen again.

Although I probably won’t have a horse. Or riding boots. Or chaps.

So no nursing home for me, just one long walk to the end of my time on this planet.

I don’t know exactly what has led me down this path, but I suspect it’s a throwback to my Pop’s last years when Alzheimer’s had robbed him of his mind, his loved ones and his identity.

Maybe it was my wife’s stories of her visit to her grandmother’s nursing home during our recent holiday – the stark, sanitised, loneliness of it all.

Possibly it could be my mid-life crisis that keeps getting pushed back as life expectancies lengthen – it seems that every birthday for the past 10 years has marked the halfway mark of an ever increasing average lifespan.

Could it be that I went to my first 50th on the weekend for one of my friends, rather than as a son, a nephew or a work colleague?

There is a chance it flows from my near phobia-like fear of saying goodbyes.

Whatever the reason, I’ve picked the location. The Central Australian desert. A place as deep in spirituality as it is shallow in sentimentality.

A desert is serene in its simplicity and breathtaking in its insistence on honesty – there is no place to hide. Prevaricate and perish.

Each morning it provides a sandy tabula rasa for another 24 hours where you must pick yourself up and start again.

A desert strips civilisation of its pretence; there’s no place for your designer clothes, complicated coffee orders and fanciful day dreams.

You are what you are – either a predator or the preyed upon, a survivor or a statistic, one with knowledge or one without it.

Maybe Nadine Gordimer captured it best when she said, “A desert is a place without expectation”.

That’s the place I want to be in my dying days. No carpet. No antiseptic. No communal meals.

Sand between my toes. Fresh air in my lungs. Acceptance in my heart.

No goodbyes.

Richard O’Leary is a journalist, a political adviser and a father who knows there’s a deeper meaning to life, but struggles to find it.

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Richard O’Leary is a journalist, a political advisor and a father who knows there’s a deeper meaning to life but struggles to find it.

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