Harold was my friend. Not every person would I say this about that entered our doors at the HIV/AIDS home I was working. He came from a small town in South Carolina of less than five thousand people. The poverty ridden black community in the town were proud of him. He had a personality of unlimited wattage that made you love him. He was a proud Marine who had been in combat for our country and volunteered to do good things in his community. He was a former high school athletic and scholar stand-out. But he was also gay and had contracted AIDS.
The town was now talking about his sinful nature and were wary of the disease he carried within him. He felt disappointed in himself that he was now not the solution but in his view the problem. He was one of the black men with so much potential but for whatever reason had failed to carry the dreams of his community forward. At least that is how he pictured it in his mind’s eye when he went to his dark place.
He was different from the other residents because of his military posture and the can do it nature of Marines. But then there was his playful flirting nature that captured hearts. One of the things he did that was counter cultural to a lot of thinking about group homes was when returning from wherever he would come through the door with the words “Honey I’m Home”. Though he did it a thousand times his infectious smile and voice would always lift your spirits. He was the one flirting with everyone especially the ones who were bedridden.
He to the very end tried to keep fit. Which often confused people when he said he was HIV positive. Though he probably never knew it he was the hero of the house. But he was living before the discovery of the drugs that would make early death the inevitable result of AIDS. He became ill.
He would lay bedridden in his room. But this did not keep him down he kept his door open and when anyone who passed by, he would yell something about how fine they looked that day. He would yell through the wall at his neighbor bedridden housemate. He was always accusing her of having men in her room or ‘borrowing’ things from his room. She would smile and if he was not showing her enough attention bang on the wall so he would start his rancor with her. The two of them could barely move but they kept it up to the end.
He always held out hope for a cure which was bound to occur at any moment. I do not know if he really thought it was around the corner, but his talk gave hope to many that yes it was around the corner. Constantly, he talked about what he would do and where he would go when the cure came. But AIDS was relentless in those days. He became too sick for us to take care of him in the home and was hospitalized.
I visited him daily, but it was evident that his time was limited. But even when he would convey to me his disappointment and dark thoughts, he never gave in to them. He appeared to have an endless supply of optimism. He was determined not to die with hopelessness on his lips.
I was scheduled for a short vacation, but Harold was close to the end. I did not want to leave him but in those days if you waited until there was a break in the deaths you would probably never take time off. When I informed him I might be leaving town he laughed at my misgiving and said ‘if you stay you will make me think I am about to die. Why would you do that? He said I may act cocksure, but I do have my fears and do not want any unnecessary help with them.’ He continued I would not want your child to blame me for not enjoying swimming in the lake with his father that would be a horrible thing to take to the grave with you. ‘Besides I promise you I will not die unless I have you right by my side so I can be sure to have the last word in who will win the NBA championship.’
I knew it was all bullshit to make me feel comfortable with leaving but that was his nature. He would be mad and scared if I stayed. I went. The night before I returned; he died. There would never be ‘Honey I’m Home’ spoken in the house again. But these many years later he remains one of my heroes who have taken up home in my heart.
I think I lost a friend today. I did not see an obituary in the paper. We were so intimate at one time. We had eternal moments together and thought nothing could separate us but now apparently, they are gone. I did not see it coming and do not know why it occurred. But they are gone. I feel it.
They were here and now they are gone. I feel the lost. Memories are already fading. Memories are so feeble and anemic. But who needs them. We never remember people as they were only as we wish to remember them. And after a while of this misremembering are they even the same person.
I have asked people around me if they know of anyone I have lost. They only look at me with a strange look and say no. But who is this person I have lost and why do they linger inside of me. I think back to the different people in my life and identify if they are alive or dead. As I do that mixed feelings occur of this presence I once had. They say people do not remember what you say or did but how you made them feel. But my memory of whoever this is made me feel all the emotions. I feel detached from the memories but at the same time I feel every one of them.
I wonder if this memory has been replaced by another memory. Is that memory accurate or the former one? If I knew who they were I could ask a friend which is true. Maybe I am thinking of it too much. Some say if you let your mind rest and think of other things it will eventually come to you.
I remember an Italian restaurant I once patronized I had eggplant parmesan. The pleasure of the moment came flashing back to me but I could not put a face to it. I am feeling so many emotions over this person I have lost. My whole life seems to be blended with this person I have forget. They must have been important to me. Was it my mother or a partner? I cannot find the person in my head. It feels important that I remember. But no one around me seems capable of assisting with this problem.
Someone called out a name to me that jarred emotions and concern as if my being was saying do not forget me. Was that their name, Mr. Walcott? I find myself being wheeled down this familiar corridor. I must have been this way before. The assistant stops to open a door I know. I read the sign next to it Dr. Meeks, Alzheimer Specialist.
I was visiting one of the sister communities of Koinonia Farms where I was volunteering. It was Open Door (sadly it closed in 2018) in Atlanta. I was spending my time learning about how this inner-city community worked. At the time after working in an inner-city community as a Baptist minister for five and a half years, I had a certain All-American look and knew how to not be frightening to normal folk. I was having a good time and living as I had for those years in Louisville with the homeless again. Of course, it was different not being the person in charge. Which I found a comfort in.
I served meals to the homeless, help run the showers available to the homeless a few times a week, I attended worship services, and attended classes to educate volunteers about the homeless and community life. I was in my comfort zone. One of the things both the Open Door and Koinonia did was to work with and support another community, Jubilee Partners (they worked with refugees from around the world). They were all a part of what could be called the Overground Railroad that ran in the eighties to offer hospitality and resettlement for Central American refugees fleeing their governments. The catch was Central American refugees were forbidden by then President Reagan’s law to be in the United States. The hypocrisy of this was Reagan’s support of the hardline leaders in Central American made the country dangerous for the refugees. This was why many fled their countries in the first place.
There had been two gentlemen who had come from Jubilee Farms to stay overnight at the Open Door to fly out of Atlanta to the more friendly confines of Canada. Now the Open Door was to try to ‘smuggle’ these two men aboard the plane for Canada where refugee workers were ready to assist them in settling there. The problem was most if not all of the Open Door community members were known faces at the airport for helping refugees making flights out of the country. Reagan had ordered just this week a more stringent enforcement of his law. The community did not know what might await them at the airport. They were afraid of what would happen to the men if their very recognizable faces were seen there in defiance of the law. They needed a fresh face and idealistic young man who would not appear as a threat. Enter me.
I agreed to take the men. Not because I knew how to speak Spanish or knew my way around the airport. But it was something different. The church I ministered at in Louisville had hosted a couple of times refugees on their way to Canada via the Overground Railroad. At Koinonia I had participated with other members of the community to help survey migrant workers in the various farm fields around Sumter County where Koinonia was located. The surveys were to see how many migrant farmers there were in the area what were their needs and how they were being treated. That was my experience with migrants or refugees.
I was given a five minute ‘how to session’ on what to do and their flight numbers. My biggest worry was how to lead these two men who did not speak English through the biggest airport in America. An airport I had never been in. But early the next morning we were off. I was nervous and apprehensive but determined to help these men get on their plane and impress the Open Door partners. As we walked through the airport security guards seem to be everywhere.
The two men who had mainly been in the safe havens of Jubilee Partners and Open Door were very on edge (an international language I understood). We finally arrived at the airlines ticket and luggage desk. I waited in line as they stayed back. When it was my time I walked as confident as I could to the desk. She smiled and I smiled back. She looked over the ticket information. I was feeling confident until she gave me a quizzical look. You are not Jose are you. I explained he was over there and did not speak English and I was assisting him (this was pre 911). She said she needed to see their identification. I explained they did not have an American ID. Now her ears pricked up. I then proceeded with a letter from the embassy saying they had a special dispensation to fly to Canada. Now the letter was not actually legal but it sounded good. She then stated this was not a usual letter and she would have to call security*. I said that was not necessary but if that was needed go ahead.
I was now using all my charm and white man nonthreatening looks I had to assure her it was okay. It was not working. Now I was worried not so much for myself. I could always plea stupidity but not so much my travelers. I took on my most pious look and voice and said, ‘If the airline did not want mine or their business, I did not need to fly with them’. And with a good huff I turned around and left. I gathered the refugees quickly and trying to convey with my body total indignation at the situation walked away.
It seemed as if we passed hundreds of security guards as we made it back to the car. I drove back to the Open Door by around about route (kidding) not to be followed. I told my story they looked and smiled and asked if I was open to trying again tomorrow. I said warily yes. Afterall I was feeling like a failure.
The next day I learned they had called ex-President Jimmy Carter and he had arrangements to secure their flight for them. Carter was a ‘volunteer’ for Habitat for Humanity’ a program started by Koinonia and was apparently willing to work with the communes. They gave me one of Carter’s assistant’s phone number to use if I had any issues.
This time I walked through the airport as if I was on a mission from a President. I would not let anything stop me this time. I walked up to the desk brimming with confidence ready to take on the system. When they saw the names on their tickets they instantly rolled out the carpet. They had a Spanish speaker on site who interacted with the men and made sure everything was comfortable for them. They were on the plane lickety-split. I through my strong advocacy and force of personality had helped these men get to Canada. Or at least that was what I tell myself and others who were not there.
*If security experts notice something that might not be true of security in that era I apologize. It has been a few years. But the story is true otherwise.
Many years ago, I ran into inclusive language and wanted to have it become a part of my daily habitual discourse. Now that may sound easy but as I grew to accept new ways of being my language had to constantly change. But my first public endeavor began in a nursing home.
I was interning in a church’s nursing home program. They had over twenty seminary students interning with them at nursing homes across Louisville. I had been doing it for over a year when they asked me to mentor one of the newbies. He was a lot more conservative than I was. He was much more strait laced and handle himself as a very serious and intense minister. Despite our obvious differences we got along well.
Part of the job was to hold a worship service once a week. I would choose music and a liturgical form for the service. We would sing the ole time gospel songs and I would deliver a ten to fifteen minutes sermon. I loved the music time. Even residents who were not of sound mind, could sing the words of the hymns they had sang throughout their lives. Of course, they could not understand the sermon. I had two women who would often raise their hands and say Praise Jesus or Amen. There were a few others who were from less call and reply traditions who sat quietly but did understand. Out of the twenty plus residents who came seven or eight were aware.
I had recently had a discussion with some fellow wanna-be theologians about the use of inclusive language. The women theologians insisted on the need for justice in language. They were in the habit of counting others non-inclusive language. The discussion was heated and they were convincing me of the necessity of inclusive language. Suddenly one of the older seminarians said in the most prophetic voice, “That he always used the feminine pronoun for God. He would do this because he knew that it would take years of the use of the feminine pronoun for God to balance the scales of justice against the misogynist language that was used in the church for centuries.” Upon hearing this I watched the women theologians and maybe a male theologian swoon and thought one seminarian was getting laid tonight. I was convinced I was using inclusive language from that day forward.
I had a problem. I did not know how to incorporate inclusive language in the nursing home. Finally, Mother’s Day rolled around and I thought this was the perfect opportunity to introduce inclusive language to the nursing home. I thought to myself that half of them never knew what I was saying, my two ladies amen anything I said, and the others would probably not notice. The day rolled around to preach the sermon. I had alerted my mentee of what I was doing. He did not look like he was very supportive of the idea. But he had not seen the women theologians swoon.
The day of the sermon finally arrived. I had carefully chosen the hymns and scripture readings to be as inclusive as possible. At long last it was sermon time. I started off slowly talking about mothers and how special they were. And slowly made the transition to God as mother to all of us. I quickly realized that old habits died hard. God was a nurturer also. His breast gave us the milk of love. And several other times I said he only to quickly repeat myself using the pronoun she. God he/she or whatever I felt myself wanting to say in my frustration. It was by no ways a sermon to break ground on how to use inclusive language
I knew things were bad when my silent but there congregants would give me for the first time quizzical looks. You could tell they could not follow me. Hell, I could not follow me. My Praise Jesus women kept hoping I would say something they could praise but only looked on not sure how to praise such a disaster. I could tell my mentee was quietly laughing inside.
I finally came to a stop and thanked the Mother God for his many blessings he continues to give us. I was glad to be finished. Afterwards I went around the room and shook hands and hugged the people. Usually I would receive good words such as a ‘you preach as good as Billy Graham’. Today that praise did not come. I was only given ‘we still love you looks’ and hugs.
Finally, I left with my mentee. On the way to the car we usually talked about the service and how the people seemed to be getting along. But today he appeared to be following that great maxim ‘If you do not have anything good to say than say nothing. As we shook hands goodbye, I peered deeply into my mentee’s eyes said with a wry grin on my face but in the most sincere voice I could muster,” I need to warn you only professionals should attempt this and do not try this at home”
While I was a student at Samford University I volunteered to visit two shut-ins once a week. In some ways this would prove to be a challenge for my religious development even though I would form a relationship with each of my shut-ins. They lived in two senior high rises in downtown Birmingham.
I can remember knocking on the door of the apartment of each feeling much like I was on my first date. On my first visit it took a substantial amount of time before the door was answered. Finally, Mrs. Warner came to the door. I introduced myself and she directed me to her table where we would have many talks and I would pray with her each before I left. She would always have off brand cookies waiting for me and the television playing the Christian Broadcasting Network in the background.
We would talk about her physical pain caused by arthritis especially in her hands and because I was a fledging minister: religion. She was always quoting and referencing a television evangelist and healer who she was dedicated to. She gave monthly from her social security check a nice tithe to this evangelist and healer. If I was unfortunate and scheduled our time together at the same time her evangelist’s television show I would be ‘obliged’ to watch him with her. She often shared the mailings his ministry sent her. Usually letters asking for money. On a couple of occasions, she apologized for the lack of cookies. She would explain she had answered her evangelist’s call for more money.
She once asked me if I could heal her arthritic hands. I told her I did not have the gift of healing. She seemed a bit confused as to why I was entering the ministry if I could not heal. I had to remind her on several occasions that as a rule Southern Baptists did not believe in her evangelist’s kind of healing.
Usually after I visited Mrs. Warner I would drive to visit (Stella as she told me to call her): my other shut-in. When she opened the door the first words out of her mouth was ‘I love my Jesus’. She asked me if I did and would praise Jesus offering up prayers and scripture verses to the universe. She was more evangelical than I would ever be. Her voice was so sweet and melodious you would have thought you were at the Pearly Gates hearing the angels inside praising God.
I usually would stay for an hour with each shut-in at the first. But I stayed too long with Stella. After thirty minutes with her, Stella’s demeanor would have a transformation. Gone was the angel voice. Now her voice was lower and if I must be honest, scarier. She would start using nigger in her sentences and complain how they were taking over the city of Birmingham. I would steadily correct her and say I did not like the use of that word and try to challenge her complaints. She looked confused when I did not join in her habitual race damning. And on occasion when I would challenge her she would momentarily stop. But she could not help herself and would eventually backslide into her racist monologues. I can remember being very uncomfortable when her black caretaker was in the room and she would start carrying on with her racist talk. It was very challenging to visit her. Always the first few minutes would start about her love of Jesus and a few minutes later she would degenerate into her racist diatribe.
I knew or at least I hoped her mind was not working right. But in all other things she appeared to have her senses. I never knew if it was the disease of the mind or the disease of the heart. My visits with her became shorter and shorter. I was only staying for ten to fifteen minutes by the end of my visits. I hoped by cutting the time with her I would miss the racist talk and only hear the ‘godly’ talk.
One day when I visited Mrs. Warner she was excited. Her television evangelist was coming to the Birmingham Civic Center. Her aide was going to transport her and she was going to position herself on the front row. She was going to at last be cured of the crippling arthritis in her hands. I had never seen her in such a good mood. I was concerned that she would be disappointed but did not want to dampen her mood. When I left I told her I would be praying for her and she could tell me all about it at our next meeting.
When I returned the next week she was slow getting to the door. As I greeted her I could see she was depressed. Slowly she divulged the story to me. She did it in a hushed funeral home voice. She had wheeled herself (with the help of a nurse to a meeting of his) to the stage. Listened to his revival spirited sermon. As was his custom he began the part of the service where he picked ailing members to the stage. She waited for him to call her on stage to be healed. He stopped and looked at her as he went down the row choosing people. But to her dismay he did not direct her to line up on stage. She desperately asked one of his assistants why she was not chosen. The assistant explained she did not have a gold pin signifying a certain amount of money she had given. In other word give more money if you want to be healed.
After telling me her story, she dropped her head and I could see tears flow down her cheeks. She whispered to me I should have been giving more. She of limited income stated to me I must give more. I was angry this was not right. He was nothing but a huckster and knew nothing about Jesus. But I managed to kill my first instinct and told her that I did not believe that it is how God operates. She said he was a godly man and if that is what he said it was the gospel. I could see there was no arguing with her. I suddenly felt a huge black cloud come over me. There was nothing this man could do that would have her leave his ‘flock’. He would buy two jets, he would be accused of an affair, he would be questioned how he spent his money but she and others would still support him. They held to their faith dearly no matter how challenging it might come. Though she walked through the valley of the shadow of death without comfort she would remain loyal.
After two years of weekly visits with these two saints it was time for me to head to seminary in another city. I slowly had prepared them for this moment. The program in which I first volunteered to visit had been closed for months now. There would be nobody to come and replace me. I had mixed feelings about this. I partly felt guilty but also was a little relieved to not have the responsibility of visiting them once a week.
When I visited Stella one last next time she served me one last dose of her vitriolic racist diatribe. And before I left she prayed for me and my new home. Mrs. Warner was excited to present me with a gift. She had passed from her valley to a new mountain top in the last six months. Her evangelist was even more of a godly man than before. She brought me her gift. I opened it. It was a book entitled Six Steps to Excellence in MInistry by her evangelist. I smiled and thanked her for the book. Later as I was walking out the door for the final time I saw on her television her evangelist.
At first, I thought she must be an advanced droid. She was always flawless. Then I decided an angel fit better. Yet in the end she was human. This was evident as we decided if we would be huggers. We waited for signals from each other as to whether we should hug. In the end we hugged once or twice, shook hands a few times and other times we raised arms to hug but realized the other was not showing hug and we dropped hands as if we had had a seizure. Droids would do one way which ever they had been programmed and an angel would go for the hug every time. Yes, she was human no one could program such human indecision.
But Kasey was a good human. She was the social worker/nurse you can only dream. I was seated in a chair waiting in line and suddenly there her face appeared in the rectangular window of the fire escape motioning for me to open it. And that was how she was. You needed help and intuitively she would appear even via a stairway no one used. Signing in for my next radiation treatment after I finished there she was. How she arrived there without me hearing her is puzzling. Did she beam herself there. She was the first social worker who never wasn’t. She always did what she promised when she promised.
I was there before the place was open and was waiting in the hall. Suddenly rushing thru the never used exit door at the back of the center she came crashing. She saw me smiled and said she would see me after my radiation treatment. I told Dr. Pablo I needed to discuss something with her and he said let me get her for you. In less than ten seconds Pablo came in with the smile of the cat who swallowed the canary. Behind him was Kasey. “Pretty impressive service hunh.” This uncanny way of being every where gave her a certain mystique.
She is probably the best listener to whines. I know she broke the limits of whine listening with me. Not once did she make it look like she could bear no more. She must have had a Big Ben methodology of listening to whines. But not only did she listen to the whines she offered solutions and suggestions. I feel your pain Mr. Freeman. Her follow through would make Stephon Curry jealous.
She once told me I wish I could take a magic wand and make it all disappear, but I can’t. I looked at her and said really you can do everything else. I told her she is the wand because you make it easier.
I have finished chemo and radiation and now will wait three months before the final verdict is declared. I have confidence it will be okay. And if it isn’t I have a magic wand to make it easier.
I have been to many retreat centers. Probably the most significant one was the Abbey of Gethsemani. This is the one where Thomas Merton chose to live out his monastic life. His social justice writings as well as his books on meditation have enlightened me more than once. My first trip to Gethsemani was by myself. Having never been to a monastery before I was more than a little apprehensive. But living in community with homeless, mentally ill, seminary students and other staff in the poorest section of Louisville, KY, I was ready for a spiritual alone time.
I pulled up to the wall that surrounded the cloistered community and pulled into a visitors parking space. I saw no door. I was arriving around 8pm which is late for a monastery, so all was quiet. I had driven down a dirt road to reach the seemingly out of place monastery in Kentucky. The place with the wall and no electrical lights outside was formidable. As I look up and down the wall there was no door that I could see. So, I started walking beside the wall hoping to find an entrance. Just as I was beginning to lose faith that I would find the door. I heard someone clapping behind me. It was a monk with a smile waving me this way. He took me to the gate and once inside to a small office. I had known the Trappists took vows of silence but I had never experienced it before.
The monk led me through registration and showed me my room without a single word. I was left in my room alone. I observed the single bed, chair and desk, night stand with lamp, and wood cylinder to hang a couple of garments. Then I listen; it was total silence. I was living in the inner city of Louisville. I woke up to homeless gathering by the door directly under my window. If they felt I was late opening the door they banged. I almost cried at the silence. The constant pressure of trying to meet everyone’s needs was gone for the next five days.
I slept soundly; upon awakening I went to breakfast. The monks eat facing one way so as to prevent conversation. I looked around at the different visitors and monks. The food was good eggs, toast and their famous cheese. They were also famous for their wine, which must have been kept for themselves because it would not be served with any of the meals.
So, I spent the week listening to Gregorian Chants and Mass. I prayed. I walked the grounds which were hundreds of acres. It was my last day and I had one more thing I wanted to do. Thomas Merton, when he was alive, had a small cabin in the woods where he would write, have visitors and so on. It was his hermitage and I wanted to see it. I had travelled the trails and had been to every section of the monastery’s ground but a section that was off limits to retreatants.
That was where I was going to explore today. Being sure that no one saw me I passed the sign that said monks only. I took an old foot path and within fifteen minutes of walking I saw it. The famous cabin of Thomas Merton. Stealthily I made my way up to the porch. I caught my breath and looked through the window. Just as I did this a monk jumped up from a desk looking out the window. He was laughing. I was in full peeing in pants mode.
After I recovered I smiled at him. He gave me that shame on you look. And I knew it was time for me to return to the retreatant part of the grounds. As I walked back I thought of the homeless whom I felt were constantly invading my personal space and laughed. I was just like them.
I only broke my silence once while I was the monastery. It was when I shrieked “Shit!” at the monk who had jumped out at me. I had thought my first word would be profound. And maybe it was. I leave that up to you to decide.
Her name was Jennifer Cobb. She was the original woman. Thus the initials JC. My first love. We met in eighth grade. I had begun to notice girls. But she was more than a girl she was smart, funny, and cute. Even though I did not know it I had a crush. We sat beside each other and recessed together most of the time.
In ninth grade I went from noticing girls to want them to notice me. We once on one of those modern dates where there are ten other people involved. I was convinced I had found the love of my life. My only problem was I was too shy to ask her out. Then Mike Williams appeared. He was my competition on the football field. I was the only starting freshman and he was the up and coming sophomore superstar. And he was a natural player with the ladies. Everyone liked Mike. Even I liked Mike. He was the most winsome person you have ever known. He was slowly becoming master of the school.
Of course this was no problem for me I did not want to be the master of the school. But one day he saw her and was captured by her beauty. Now it was obvious he was on the hunt for my Jennifer. Our competitiveness rose to heights unrecorded. The only problem was he had all the advantages. He had stubble. I had peach fuzz. He drove his own car. My parents transported me. He was confident around girls. I was a mess of hormones and silly around girls. Everyone wanted to date him. Few even knew me. The one-sided competition was on.
He kept on showing up between class breaks. God he was a master of the flirt. I would interrupt him and challenge him in that adolescent way. He ignored me as the young man he was. It was obvious Jennifer was attracted to him. But I could also see she had eyes for me too. I knew I had to ask her out soon or Mike would sweep in and I would be choking on the exhaust fumes of his move. But where and how do we get there. Finally, the solution came in the form of the year end school dance. I knew the clock was ticking. Yesterday Mike had worn his letterman jacket, one I had not received yet.
I was desperate; but I was shy. I picked up the phone several times for two days and would never make the call. But today I had to or my cause would be lost forever. I let the phone ring and then hung up. Thank God there was no caller ID in those days. And then with my heart in my throat I stayed on the line. She answered. I thought I heard a lilt in her voice when she realized it was me. After an overly few moments of awkward conversation I pounced. I asked her. There was a sigh on the other end of the line. Oh mike I am so sorry. I waited but the dance is tomorrow. I thought you were not going to ask and I finally said yes to Mike. My heart was crushed and if there was a God in heaven I would crush Mike Williams. But I knew it was my fault.
We talked for a while. She asked me if I was going to the dance and if I was she would save a dance for me. I said I did not know and to have a good time. We ended the conversation amicably. All of my dreams of a-year end dance romance followed by a summer of love were gone.
The vicissitudes of life robbed me of any hope with my first love. My family moved away that summer. In those days there ware no cell phones or social media to remain in touch. You could write a letter but I was never much of a writer. These many years later I wonder about the fate of Mike Williams. And sometimes I smile and sigh when I think of a little girl from Boaz, Al. who I will never know what might have been.
There is a big lobby. In the lobby is a distinguished woman or at least a woman looking much like Michelle Bachman. A man who is obviously a toadie rushes up to her. ‘Hey Ms. Hari, we would like to welcome you as a new member to the Death Panel in Heaven Committee.’ Ms. Hari replying, “Well this building is certainly heavenly enough. I mean with all the angelic gargoyles and the minimalism of the Shakers. It is perfect.’ “ Yes ma’am we here believe although we have one of the most devilish jobs that should not prevent us from bringing the best aesthetic to Vahalla. This committee amazes me. The US GOP should have egg on its face. When Obamacare was being approved the GOP in opposition vehemently said it created Death Panels. And yet all along we were creating death panels in heaven.’ Ms. Hari, looking curious ask, “And what is your particular position.” Toadie said,’ I am an officer of the Deep State. Boy that would flip out the GOP. I am the motor that makes the Death Panel go.”
Toadie takes Ms. Hari to a big conference room where other similar looking distinguished are gathered. There is a buzz and conversations about parties and real estate deals. Toadie, ‘Mr. Chairman all members are here so the show must begin.’ The Chairman says,” Yes let us all be seated and begin. We are pleased to welcome Ms. Hari today. Well let us get right to it. Toadie give us the first case.”
Toadie replies, “Okay case # 50000000000. One Bob Hayes He has many things to offer as far as retaining his life on earth. But there are a few things we should note which contradict the first look. His ex-wife has offered up to us a letter of referral for his removal from Earth.”
Ms. Hari,” How do we obtain such letters from an earthling? Her prayers?”
Toadie, “Heavens no. We do not listen to prayers. But once a person is assured a future residence here we allow them to write letters of recommendation. Anyway, in the letter she says he is a mouth breather and on occasions pontificates too much, and his sense of humor leaves a little to be desired.’
A committee member, “Well that does it for me let us have his death right away.”
Hari exasperated “on the advice of his ex who offers annoyances and not bad deeds.”
A committee member, “Well exes are usually our best referrals. They have lived with the person. And as far as annoyances she also states objectively she hates him. Doesn’t that carry weight at all with you or would you from aloft your pie in the sky question her judgement.”
Hari, ’No, I am only trying to learn the system that is all.’
The Chairman interrupts, “Do we have further evidence?”
Toadie, “Why yes. His son is distant from him. His wife is occasionally frustrated and even at times furious with him. Plus there is the matter of his books. They are pretty obscure and none have hit the New York Times Bestseller list.”
Another committee member chimes in, “Obscure books, nothing could be worse. And I feel we must relieve this poor woman who is married to the mouth breather. I concur death should be implemented.”
Hari again incredulous, “But the good report states he tries to do good for others. He helped start a non-profit with no overhead and raises money and gives to other non-profits that are doing good things in the community. Previously he spent over 25 years working with the poor. What is bad about this?”
The Chairman interrupts, “The poor wa wa. Did not Jesus say the poor will always be with you? So forget about them they are an albatross around the necks of our greedy entrepreneurs. And can you believe this in the good report it says he is a vegetarian. Vegetarianism only allows animals to live not him. Such holier than thou claptrap.’
The heads of all the committee members are nodding in agreement. Except one, Ms. Hari’s. Toadie looks at her with total displeasure and states,” Ms Hari who recommended you for this committee.” She hands Toadie a written referral. Toadie’s face turns green and he hands the paper to the Chairman.
The Chairman looks at her puzzled, “This says god is your referral. Do you mean the God. Or one of the many others.” Hari replies, “I mean the God”. Toadie,” this is most unfortunate. We have functioned well here in our outpost in heaven for generations striking down everyone we thought deserved death. I mean we have been responsible for some pretty big deaths MLK Jr., Bobby Kennedy, Emmitt Till, and Mahatma Gandhi, to name a few. And now God wants to interject into our committee.”
The Chairman disturbed, “What is this about? Wait a minute your name is not Mata Hari.”
Mata Hari, “Why yes it is and yes God sent me down here to spy on you. We have noticed some strange choices for death and were confused by some of your decisions so God sent me to check it out. And I have noticed the heavenly architecture but no heavenly attitudes. You seem to have the dressings of heaven but the attitudes of hell.”
‘Well we have been watching Fox News and the GOP for years that is the way they do it and they claim they are God’s people,” the chairman responded.” But I am confused did you not work for the Germans?”
“Yes I did and that is why I was chosen. It was believed that I may be able to see the devil in the details and sure enough I did see Mr. Toadie. You see when Mr. Toadie says he works for the Deep State he means very Deep as in Hell. And I do believe I see a few other faces from that general direction’.
Suddenly, the walls came tumbling down and the death panel building was found to be in the midst of hell. Mata Hari,’ and the other reason I was chosen I was already here. But now thanks to my exposure of you and the author’s fascination of me I now am allowed to enter Heaven.’
Toadie looks after, ‘but are we not to make anymore decisions.’ “No you had your time and now we will offer healthcare for all,” replied Hari. “You had to know that eventually the richest country the world has ever seen would have to offer universal healthcare and not offer the death panels of insurance companies, hospitals, and the inability to pay. If they did not they would not be trusting in God.’
It was the eve of Thanksgiving was still in the hospital. I was drugged still to stop the pain of the operation. In my bed I suddenly see my doctor in jeans and no lab coat. He looks at no charts which I thought was peculiar. He spoke to no staff but headed straight to my bedside. After the preliminaries he stopped and looked me straight in the eye he said the biopsy for the tonsils had come back negative but, he stopped something was stirring inside him, but I found a mass behind the adenoids and its biopsy was malignant.
He had struggled but the words had come. I sat up in my bed in my drugged stage and slowly let the awareness of what he said wash over me. He fretted out loud I do not think I could have caught it sooner. I have been over and over it in my mind. I started asking questions. At the moment his questioning of himself was not necessary. I needed understanding. But he had given me the information that was known more tests would reveal more. We sat there in brief silence he not knowing much else to say. Me I did not know what question to ask. Finally, he said he wanted to tell me before he left town for Thanksgiving. I thanked him for coming by. He left. His responsibility being completed. I sat up in the bed slowly pondering his words . I thought of my family and how I did not want to ruin their Thanksgiving.
When one hears information like this or bodies and minds do not know what to do next. What do you do when time may have been stolen from you. Every conversation and deed would now have to have an asterisk beside it. Yes, we will have to do that if I am here. If I am not here where will I be. I wanted to grow old with my family. I want and almost need to see who my children became, to hold my wife’s hand as we watched the final sunset pass over our lives, to have crochety old man lunches with my friends, to learn and live a little more on this planet.
Of course, all of this was a bit premature. After all we knew I had cancer but not the seriousness of it. This news would come later T-3 0 is what he said. The cancer was larger than four centimeters making it a stage 3 but it had not spread to other parts of the body making it a 0. The survival rate is well above fifty percent for five years.
Now how do you tell the various groups of people the news. You are reminded of how your life is interweaved through so many others. Book club friends, work friends, places you volunteer, family, personal friends, your wife’s friends, old friends you have not seen in a while, church friends, facebook friends, blog readers, making up your life. Who needs to know and who can find out through the grape vine. It seems immense and constant yet also small and fleeting. The thoughts will I be missed are interwoven with will my life have made a difference in the big scale of things.
You remember the teachings that life is impermanent. You have intellectually always accepted this but now that it is in your face you struggle with this. I do mind dying if that is the course I am to take but I am not necessarily afraid to die. Oh hell who am I kidding I am a little afraid to die. I mean not the peeing in your pants fear but that nagging what the hell comes after this. And hopefully not hell.
I have read hundreds of historical biographies and I have said they all start with a spoiler alert they all die in the end. No matter how great or good the person in the end they have died. And in a sense reading these biographies have impacted the way I view the flow of of life. I do not think it is my time but others who have died have thought this too. I still have projects, goals, dreams and hopes. I have plenty of living yet to do. But as everyone else who has drawn a breath on this sphere I am at the whim of the gods and always have been.
But I now more than ever need to live in each moment. The clock that is always running in the attic of our lives is now obvious to me. A Stoic once said ‘Life is Long if you Know How to use it.’ So my readers let us take a glass of wine and make a toast to living our lives usefully, passionately, and exuberantly.