The Wall Street Journal today (Feb. 5, 2010) included an essay by Edmund Carpenter entitled “before I Die.” Carpenter wrote it back in June 1938 at the age of 17. In the essay, the then young man talked about what he wanted out of life and his thoughts of what came after.
Life and death he said were two cups of wine. As we experience life we drink from the first and consider the second not knowing if it will be sweet, sour or tasteless. Carpenter’s is a wonderful essay and would be considered so had it been written by an adult, and not a boy, too young to really experience life and many years from death.
Regarding the life he wanted, Carpenter hoped for several things: do something great, experience deep love and deep sorrow, travel the globe and help others. According to the brief bio that preceded the essay, it appears Carpenter achieved many of his goals. He won the Bronze Star in WWII, attended Harvard Law School, and became an attorney and president of a law firm. He left six children and 15 grandchildren when he died late last year at the age of 87.
Now he is drinking of that second cup of wine.
Because the WSJ limits access of its articles to subscribers, the entire essay is not available to many. However, below is the last paragraph in which Carpenter speaks of that second cup.
As for death itself, I do not believe that it will be such a disagreeable thing providing my life has been successful. I have always considered life and death as two cups of wine. Of the first cup, containing the wine of life, we can learn a little from literature and from those who have drunk it, but only a little. In order to get the full flavor we must drink deeply of it for ourselves. I believe that after I have quaffed the cup containing the wine of life, emptied it to its last dregs, then I will not fear to turn to that other cup, the one whose contents can be designated only by X, an unknown, and a thing about which we can gain no knowledge at all until we drink for ourselves. Will it be sweet, or sour, or tasteless? Who can tell? Surely none of us like to think of death as the end of everything. Yet is it? That is a question that for all of us will one day be answered when we, having witnessed the drama of life, come to the final curtain. Probably we will all regret to leave this world, yet I believe that after I have drained the first cup, and have possibly grown a bit weary of its flavor, I will then turn not unwillingly to the second cup and to the new and thrilling experience of exploring the unknown.
I hope to share it with him someday.