When Sheehan (This Running Life, 1980, etc.) was diagnosed with inoperable cancer, he turned his physician's eye and writer's ear to the subject of his own mortality, producing this posthumous volume. Dr. Johnson once observed that knowing that death is imminent has a wonderful way of focusing the mind. Dr. Sheehan was never someone who had trouble focusing in his writing. One of the great apostles of running, he wrotes columns and books that were always wonderfully lucid explorations of the balance between body, mind, and spirit. Not surprisingly, this volume, tracing his final journey toward death from prostate cancer, is more of the same, only more intense. The book, he says in the introduction, really has three subjects: It's ``about what dying actually means to a person undergoing it . . . a communion with others experiencing dying. And . . . an evaluation of my life.'' The first essay clearly began as a rumination on turning 70, but when Sheehan received the diagnosis of his cancer, it was transmuted into a very different story. And an inspiring story it is. Sheehan is completely frank about the indignities of fatal illness—pain and painkillers, loss of appetite and unappetizing food, constant fatigue and a sudden loss of powers. He is also mercilessly honest in self-evaluation. Finally, he draws on a lifetime of reading and writing to produce a luminous examination of those larger questions that we don't really confront until we must. From Epictetus to William James, Unamuno to Thornton Wilder, Sheehan has a knack for finding the right thought and thinker. In 1993, he died at peace with himself and his life, and left behind this last glowing gift. Almost unbearably moving at times, a must-read book for anyone facing severe illness or loss.
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