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A Preface to The Last Sweet Mile

Since completing The Last Sweet Mile in 2015, I’ve always assumed I’d read it again someday. As of this moment, I have yet to do so. In the seven years since I signed off on the final manuscript, I’ve only read one chapter, “Shovel,” which I did for a roomful of gracious souls at Hutchmoot the year after publication.

I’m not afraid or embarrassed of what I’ve written.

I’m not unwilling to read it. After all, I wrote the book as much, maybe more, for myself than for anyone else.

I’m not worried it might trigger something unpleasant. Quite the contrary.

It’s just that there is a private ceremony I’ve imagined, and tried to protect, ever since the book was published. I admit it’s a somewhat curious event I have in mind. Here’s how I picture it:

I will be old, undeniably old, but still in my right mind. I’ll still be living alone, as I always have. I will set a date, maybe Gary’s birthday or a July 22nd or some holiday, and spend a week in preparation of its arrival. I’ll pull out old family pictures, comb through photo albums of trips he and I took together, and read through old sermon notes or letters he wrote during his years abroad.

It will be a joyous immersion.

On the chosen date, I’ll lock the gate (if I’m able to walk that far), cloister myself away from any disturbance, say a prayer (maybe read Doug McKelvey’s wonderful “Liturgy for a Purposeful Gathering”), and open the book.

I’ll return to, and walk down, the Last Sweet Mile.

Reading will begin during the early evening hours. I’ll pour a glass of port and sit in a favorite chair near the fireplace, in the light of a single lamp.

At that moment, my brother—and all that is contained in the pages of the book—will stir to life. I anticipate laughter, tears, and surprise. “Oh, yes, I’d forgotten all about that!”

I expect I’ll sense a mixture of gratitude for the far-behind and longing for the up-ahead.

Most of all, I will feel what I felt when I first wrote these pages, not long after Gary’s passing, when my heart was still tender, my memories clear, and my emotions alive in ways I’d never known before. All the bittersweetness of that year will come to life in a way that might well leave me dazed for days.

Dazed in a good way.

And so, when my dear friend Pete suggested I reread the book to make edits and corrections, I flinched a bit. His aim—for correction, clarity, improvement—made perfect sense, but I was reluctant to deprive myself of the curious ceremony I hope to carry out someday.

I was relieved when the decision was made to reprint the book “as is.” Right or wrong, I’ll only be able to feel once what I think I’ll feel when I read it for the first time.

It will be a joyous immersion…I expect I’ll sense a mixture of gratitude for the far-behind and longing for the up-ahead. Allen Levi

Presumptuous? Undeniably. The moment I am protecting so vigorously might never arrive, or might arrive after my poor brain is addled with age. I might forget who I am long before I try to recapture who Gary was. Still, I guard the possibility. At least for awhile longer. In the meantime, I don’t need a book or ceremony to bring Gary to mind.

At present, the thousand blueberry bushes he and I planted on our farm years ago are lush with ripening fruit. I was in the patch this morning and thought of him. He would be pleased with this abundance.

Sitting last night on the porch of his empty house (which has a splendid view of the rising moon) brought him vividly to mind.

The recent re-learning of a song about caregiving reminded me of sleeping night after night on the floor beside Gary’s bed during our final days together. It was hallowed ground because he was there.

Everyday. Everywhere. Reminders.

Might I beg your indulgence? And ask your forgiveness for any uncorrected passages, for things I could have said more eloquently?

The words I wrote in 2015 were written at a time when grammar and rules of writing were secondary to me. Not unimportant, but not most important. I was attempting the impossible feat of squeezing my heart through a cartridge of ink. The results were sure to be a bit messy. I hope what I wrote makes sense and paints, however dimly, a worthy portrait of my brother.

In the best version of my ceremony, I finish the book, say my prayers, lay down to sleep with the windows open, and wake up on the other side.

At the wild continuous party.

With Gary.


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