An Old Man’s Silent Prayer 

Poem by David A. Levitsky, Photograph by Jeffrey F. Barken 


Each night, I practice dying, 
I surrender my body and my mind to the unknown.
I welcome the blanket of unconsciousness  
That covers me with the serenity of peace.

Oh, death, take me quietly to my home. 
Wrap me in your stillness. 
Drown me in your nothingness. 
Play me the music of silence.

Return me to the place from which I came, 
Before the breath of life addicted me to air, 
Forcing me to suck that forbidden fruit: 
The insatiable hunger for life. 

Why is the price for my return so high?
The cost is my fear of pain, a price so high 
It prevents me from performing that courageous act 
To return to my homeland? 

Why did you tether me to a sense of time,
Forcing me to watch the clock of life, 
To see my body slowly disintegrate
To witness the death of my friends. 

Even the guilty are blindfolded before execution.

Don’t make me wait until I have to beg. 
Take me before I am stripped of my pride 
Before they wrap me in diapers, 
Before they imprison me with drugs. 

Don’t let confusion cloud my mind,
Fading the memory of my friends, my family
Into complete oblivion.
Don’t take my mind before taking me.

Let me walk to you with pride and self-respect. 
Let me say goodbye and farewell. 
While I have the strength to plan my future. 
Let me determine when to return to you. 

Give me the tools, 
So that I can leave painlessly, 
Without distress or regret
To both myself and to those who love me. 

Show me one final act of kindness,  
Take me before I awake. 
Until then, let me fall asleep, where
Each night, I practice dying.





David A. Levitsky is a Professor Emertus of Nutrition and Psychology in the Division of Nutritional Sciences and the Department of Psychology, Cornell University. Professor Levitsky has published more than 150 scientific publications in the fields of Nutrition and Psychology as well as written two books. Professor Levitsky has won many awards for his teaching and was honored as a Stephen H Weiss Presidential Fellow, the highest teaching award bestowed by Cornell University.