I believe myself an aspiring writer; and yet, my time facing this screen is sadly limited. I am drawn by the greater vices: politics, law cases and e-sports. They pull me from my good intentions and trap me in the realm of the trivial. But on rare instances, I am sadly drawn back to this processor of words and I begin an essay such as this. Today’s thesis is the highest of all such sad theses; it is a musing on that great leap, the infamous exit, the slow bow. I speak on death.
I received word today of another death and it stuck to me. I tried all the tricks to keep it at bay: compartmentalizing, blocking, filtering, ignoring, flooding. And yet the word latched onto my retina, impairing my vision of the stories and articles and opinions I was attempting to drown it out with. It was so powerful that I marched into the kitchen and picked up the little box trap of peanut-butter-smelling-sticky-yellow-glue substance meant to rid the house of that little devilishly-sly mouse and threw it straight away. I knew that if somehow the trap had worked I would have to cover the rodent in oil and pry him loose with my hands because with the word now firmly entrenched in my retina I lacked the ability to follow through with my original plan of throwing him and the box from my 6th story apartment (which seems to me to be the only plausible solution to getting rid of a mouse stuck in such a trap). Death has a power to change our plans.
It didn’t involve a car. But it did involve a wife and three kids. They had to fly up on a charter flight to Jackson Hole Wyoming and drive by that arch of deer antlers that must have seemed so absurdly gruesome to tend to the body of the man who would be turning 43 this week. As if that weren’t tragic enough, the oldest son and only daughter both have birthdays this week as well. In the seriousness of the circumstances, it seems almost trivial to fixate on birthdays. But I do. It’s that last little push that tips the Jengo tower. It warps an already tragic situation into something unrecognizable. It keeps me up at nights. We shouldn’t pray to death, but if I did I’d ask it to take me any month but February.
And then there is the wife and the kids. They’ll be with me forever now, just like Suzi Everton. Suzi’s husband died when I was only 12. He was the kind of man who could forget he had an M.D. and was 40 years my senior. He was the kind of man who would look you eye to eye and offer what you knew to be heartfelt counsel. He was the kind of man that when he got angry, we all knew something was wrong. Something was wrong, it was a brain tumor. He died about a year and a half later. Amidst the grief I still feel for his passing there lingers a wisp of inspiration. I marvel at how a man could live his life in such a way that the tell-tale sign of his end was that he simply raised his voice. If we in this city of petroleum-pushed taxis and ambition-driven suits were held to the same standard, the waiting line for the MRI would eclipse Splash Mountain. That is my silver-lining, no doubt another technique to stave off the gloom of a beloved man’s death.
|The Mystical Horse|
In recent years there have been new additions to my halls of worry. Angelina, Pam, Wang Mama and yesterday, when the bike went over the guard rail and into the Snake River, Bridget joined that list. I hope the words halls and list don’t seem demeaning. You should understand that just like Suzi, I find myself desperately concerned for these women. I think on their loneliness, on their loss, and wish I could find some way to make it go away. I want to give Pam someone to talk to, let Wang Mama know that she is loved and watch over Bridget’s kids like they were my own. But I don’t. I’m plagued by the human condition of good intentions. But they will always stay on my list. I think lists are a powerful thing. They are concise and accurate, they let you know which assignments are due when and make sure you don’t forget that Greek yogurt that your wife loves so much. But the list these women are on is more powerful still. It’s a type of prayer-list. Though I don’t daily mention their names aloud in my hurried prayers, I know God see’s the list and takes due notice.
Of course, I didn’t mention Angelina in my good-intentions. You see, Angelina is my hope. Her husband had fathered me in a far-away land. He taught me how to work, and how to pray. Most importantly, he taught me how to eat. The man never spent less than 10 dollars on any meal and it caught up to him in a swimming pool in Hawaii. He left behind the happiest woman I have ever known. For months after his death I couldn’t bring myself to call her. I was afraid that maybe she wouldn’t laugh anymore. I couldn’t bear to think of a conversation without her laugh. But in one of the remarkable, rare instances of courage in my life, I called her. I haven’t stopped calling her since. We talk weekly and she thanks me for every phone call. Yet each time I insist it should be me thanking her. She doesn’t know that she is my relief from death. Each conversation makes me feel like I am somehow serving Suzi and Pam and Wang MaMa and Bridget.
Now is that long overdue moment when I consider what this essay has become (I know you were thinking the same thing). Is this the heavy-handed treatise on mortal frailness that the introduction promised? Yes and no. You see, I always try to be honest, and because of that honesty I just can’t bring myself to hand over a gut-wrenching, tear-jerking essay on this subject. I have a propensity to try and skirt death which prevents the shock and sobbing and depression. But death still has its influence. It comes like a cloaked dagger rather than the ostentatious swing of the sword. It creates an awareness of my limitations and a guilt for my inability to be Christ. It forms the fissures of conscience into which I thrust good intentions. Of course, the tradeoff is that of renewed priorities, wider perspective, increased concern and greater gratitude for God. Death isn’t simple, why should its consequences be so? And sitting here, writing this essay I now realize that this swirl of death’s foaming impacts is actually a primordial soup. It is the building blocks of compassion, which if acted upon evolves into love.