Our own births and deaths we can imagine as abstractions, hidden as they are from us by forgetfulness and the mystery of the future respectively. Old age becomes an ongoing experience for many of us in the form of increases in illness and decreases in memory. But it is acute illness that informs us most intimately of all three. A bout of gastroenteritis will have us recall the humiliation of failing will and of abandoning reality through the simple wish that what is happening, the illness, was not. Thoughts of martyrs in all their guises drift through our feverish brains along with the certainty that under torture we would have betrayed any faith, loved one or military secret. All that matters is the end of suffering. We can also, once this set of dark thoughts pass, wonder if birth and death are much different than acute illness. And when the vomiting stops and strength and appetite return, we can massage those aching joints that get us around in our declining years--oh, how they decline!--with a renewed sense of the daily grind of chronic illness they represent. But not for long. We'll forget this little birth too. Somehow we have to return to a confidence in self. We'll forget, mercifully, how we had betrayed everything.