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Soon, Victory! Year-End Reflections on Life & Death ... and Basketball

In its year-end review of stories from California, the New York Times included this article, written by Soumya Karlamangla, about the San Diego Senior Women's Basketball Association. The league, for women 50 and over, includes participants who play into their 80s and 90s.

I hadn't seen the article when it was first published last month, but I am delighted I caught it today. It conjured in me memories of Meg Skinner, who played in the SWBA until she was 92, and at whose funeral I presided in March of 2019.

At her funeral, and in the reception that followed, family and friends recalled the remarkable spirit with which Meg lived her life, a spirit she sustained as she approached her death. When she reached the point in her life when she could no longer play basketball, Meg chose to end her life by "VSOD" - voluntary stopping of eating and drinking.

I am not recommending Meg's choice of how to end her life -- this is a personal and intimate decision, and I do not believe that there is one "best way to die." I also recognize, of course, that few people are able to exercise the degree of agency in their dying that Meg was able to exercise in hers.

But I do recommend Meg's spirit to you. The first time I met her, when we discovered our shared passion for basketball, she explained to me: "I am really a tennis player. I didn't pick up basketball until I was 68." I find this inspiring as I enter my 60s and find myself wanting to continue playing basketball.

In eulogizing Meg, I connected her end-of-life decision-making to the ancient tradition of Christian martyrdom, which embraced two central metaphors for the task of facing down death. One central metaphor was of the soldier who fights fearlessly in battle. The other was of the athlete who gives everything in pursuit of a crown of laurels.

Meg Skinner approached her dying as a final competition, one in which she was confident she would prevail. The last time I saw her, just a few days before her death, Meg greeted me when I walked into her room by pointing her finger to the sky and declaring, "Soon, Victory!"

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