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At the end of Shakespeare's The Tempest, old Prospero abandons his magical powers and sails home to Milan. He had his enemies assembled on an island. He could have avenged all wrongs but chose mercy instead. Now, as he heads toward an uncertain future, he says "every third thought will be my grave." A younger me used to read that line and think "how morbid. He's just given up." Anna Deavere Smith's Let Me Down Easy, among other things, is about death and dying. Toward the end, she portrays people who have found various ways to drop the imagined cloak of bulletproof living and accept their mortality. Prospero may be sullen and despairing. True. Or it could be that, recognizing his end is in sight, every first and second thought will feel more alive.

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