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On Death and Dying … a Conversation

18 May

 

 

 

 

On Death and Dying … a Conversation

By L. Stewart Marsden

“Are you afraid?”

“Of dying, or death?”

“Of either.”

“Of dying — well I’m a little wary of that part. I have a low threshold for pain, you know.”

“What about death?”

“That’s the easy part. Everybody before me, and everybody after me has and will do it. I think we have it wrong, though.”

“How’s that?”

“Most are convinced it’s a final destination. Like the beach.”

“The beach?”

“Sure. You think about your trip for months on end. You imagine the warm sun and the calming surf and the lack of hurry or care. All of that anticipation.”

“Ok.”

“You pack your car with everything you’ll need, and map out your route, then jump in and start the engine.”

“Right.”

“Along the way you might hit traffic, or a detour — maybe even a wreck or two along the way.”

“Uh-huh.”

“At some point you begin to smell it in the air. The salt. That first indication you are very near. And you get impatient to get there. Or to be the first person in your car to see the ocean.”

“Yes.”

“You arrive, and you get together with your family, who’ve all arrived from different places, traveling different routes, and you mill about and greet one another. Then the inevitable question: how long did it take you to get here?”

“I see.”

“Yeah. So in a way dying is like your trip to the beach, and death is arriving at the beach.”

“Does everyone make it to the beach? You mentioned wrecks along the way.”

“You mean the heaven or hell thing?”

“If you like.”

“Kind of where the metaphor breaks down. So the way I see it, the beach isn’t the destination.”

“No?”

“The better metaphor –– at least the way I see it –– is labor and birth.”

“Why?”

“Labor is what we conceive as our life. In labor, we ease down the birth canal, and there are trying times along the way. We are distorted and pushed on every side. It’s cramped, dark, and –– frankly, uncomfortable most of the journey.

“Then, towards the end, we begin to see a little daylight ahead, and that daylight gets brighter and brighter. So does the pain and the difficulty. Again, maybe we get stuck. But you see we aren’t with anyone else. It’s just us. Just me. Just you. Our individual gauntlet to face and bear. Finally, we emerge –– to the applause of those waiting our arrival. We are swept up and held close and cradled in the arms of Someone who has been patiently anticipating us.”

“And who is that Someone?”

“You want me to say God, right?”

“I want to know what you think. You can say whatever you like.”

“I don’t know the answer to that, only that I’m excited to find out.”

“So you aren’t afraid you’re going to end up in one place or other?”

“Let me ask you something.”

“Okay.”

“You believe in God?”

“I do.”

“And is God male or female?”

“I don’t know.”

“Loving or strict?”

“I’d say both.”

“So there’s room in God’s lexicon for the two to exist juxtaposed?”

“Juxtaposed isn’t a word I would use, but, yes.”

“So a loving and strict God can appoint my afterlife to either a heavenly or hellish eternity?”

“Are you afraid of hell?”

“Do you mean, am I sure of my eternal destination?”

“I suppose.”

“For a complicated and unknowable God, that question seems too simplistic.”

“Well, how do you see it, then?”

“More complicated, of course. I’m not so sure our heavens and hells are after we die, but before it. And I’m not so sure we have only one life and death.”

“You believe in reincarnation?”

“Not in the sense I come here as human, live and die, and come back as a caterpillar.”

“Then how?”

“Have you lived a perfect life?”

“Of course not.”

“But a good life?”

“I try.”

“Why?”

“Why try? I suppose it’s in my nature to do the best I can.”

“Is it enough?”

“Enough for what?”

“To get into heaven.”

“To get into heaven you must be born …”

“Again! Exactly!”

“It’s a spiritual rebirth. Not a physical one.”

“Are you sure?”

“I –– we’re talking about you, not me.”

“I’m absolutely fine with the rebirth thing. It makes sense to me. I was, I am, and I will be. Even the Bible says ‘you are gods.’”

“That’s not what it means.”

“No? Are you sure? When Christ said, ‘It is finished,’ what did he mean by that?”

“He meant that the battle between good and evil was finished. That his death –– his blood and his body –– were the atonement for the sins of Man.”

“And you believe that?”

“I do.”

“So it was a done deal?”

“A done deal.”

“Then why hell?”

“Beg your pardon?”

“That’s why I’m not afraid of death. God has something far more wonderful for me than I can ever imagine. IF what you say is true.”

“So you do believe in God?”

“What I believe … will it change anything?”

“In what way?”

“In terms of me living or dying. This body of mine is going to wear out. Built-in obsolescence.”

“It won’t change whether you will die or not. It might change how you live, however.”

“But, everything I’ve done up to this point in my life –– none of that will be undone? I can’t take the bad things back, right?”

“Right.”

“What if I could? What if this life of mine is like a slinky toy, and it spirals slowly, each circumnavigation a lifetime?”

“A slinky is analogous to reincarnation?”

“Crude, I know –– but it serves my purpose. Let’s add another element. Do you believe in the laws of physics?”

“What I understand of them.”

“Well, gravity is the easiest, I suppose. The apple from the tree thing. Are you familiar with the Law of Conservation of Energy?”

“That energy always exists in some form or fashion, never diminishing?”

“Close enough.”

“It’s a theory, I believe.”

“Ah, like heaven and hell? But you understand heaven and hell to be spiritual absolutes, and Conservation of Energy is an absolute scientific law.”

“What’s your point?”

“My point is that I –– me –– the energy of who I am –– will not dissipate nor diminish. Not ever. Not one iota. It may transfer to a different form, but it won’t be lost.”

“So you think you are eternal?”

“Have been for a very long time now.”

“And by that you are equal to the god who created you?”

“Didn’t say that. I am the product of whatever caused me to be created. I am energy. Like everything around us. By virtue of that, I –– or my energy –– will be forever.”

“Namaste.”

“Don’t be sarcastic. If you think about it, it’s hard to argue against.”

“So it’s black and white with you, then?”

“Explain, please.”

“Science and what you call incontrovertible fact or theory, versus the existence of an all-knowing, supreme being.”

“I didn’t say that. I’m certainly open to an omniscient being. But I’m also open to the thought we could be in the bedroom of a four-year-old who is controlling all of this! Which is less absurd?”

“You compare God to a four-year-old?”

“It’s the Old Testament/New Testament contrast. To me, after all of the stuff in the Old Testament, God grew up a bit. Like that bit with Abraham and Isaac. He didn’t know Abraham was going to be obedient and would actually kill his own son? How’s that possible? Was that for Abraham’s sake? Or did he figure The paparazzi was going to start showing up at these events? So he learned from his own creation, and looked over and chose his son to come down and make things right.”

“Hush your mouth!”

“Sorry. I didn’t mean to offend. I mean, how could God ever learn something from his own creation? Is that outside the scope of possibility? I thought all things are possible with God.

“Seems to me there’s enough evidence –– especially over the millennia –– that humankind has been going through this very slow slinky toy evolution process. We are learning that our impulses for power and dominance over each other and the world we live in are not the ones to guide us –– especially if one rejects the concept of survival of the fittest –– which has usually meant the most physically powerful and aggressive.

“What if survival of the fittest meant mentally and emotionally and spiritually fit? What then?More and more of us are rejecting how things have been, learning from the results of those base and instinctive primitive impulses. Fear and hate of those different from us. Clear-cutting and ravaging the land and its resources.

“So you asked am I afraid of death? Just the dying part. Mostly because I’m a wimp. But to me, being dead is either going to be mental oblivion, or rebirth, and a chance to continue that progressive evolution trend towards something bigger and better and kinder and more satisfying. I can die with that.

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The interrogation

18 May

 

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The interrogation

by L. Stewart Marsden

 

Thank you so much for having me over.

My pleasure, Dear. I know your father’s a hand-full right now, with the accident and all.

And thanks for watching over him while he was at the hospital.

No problem. Cream?

Please.

Sugar?

No, thank you.

(Pause)

(Both together at the same time) Well, I . . .

(They laugh nervously)

Sorry!

No, please . . . you wanted to say?

This is all new to Dad. New place to live. Different area of the country. I think the stress was a little much for him. And you stepped in and I do — really — I do appreciate it.

It’s a big adjustment. He tells me that he and your mother were married forty-five years.

Would have been. She died before that happened. We were planning to have a celebration when her health suddenly turned.

I’m sorry.

Don’t be. She lived a good life. She and Dad were like this. I know he misses her, you know.

He does.

Soooo . . . how did you and Dad meet?

We met in the dining room here. He would come in and sit by himself, you know. Not too outgoing at the time. Still trying to adjust and everything.

Yeah. It was a hard decision for us.

You and your dad?

Well, yeah. And my brothers.

I see.

Well, he wasn’t doing well by himself. And the house was full of memories — and way to big for him to keep up anymore.

Right.

And then — well, he had another incident — similar to this one.

Really?

Last October. Mom died in September, and we all thought Dad was doing fine. It turns out he wasn’t.

What happened?

Near as we can tell, he went out driving and got lost. He ended up in the next county and pulled over. A state trooper found him and took him to an emergency department at a hospital there. That’s when they called us. We were worried sick! It was pretty late and was dark. You know you hear about these older people wandering off and all . . . oh, I’m sorry! I don’t mean to offend you!

What, for being one of those older people? Sure beats the hell out of the alternative, I always say. You did not offend me, Dear.

So my brothers and I decided he would be better off in a safer environment — where he didn’t have so many responsibilities and all.

Yes. Responsibilities definitely speed up the aging process.

You don’t think so?

What I think is probably worth the cost of that cup of coffee you’re drinking.

I’m sorry, I got off track. You were going to tell me how you met my dad.

I accosted him, really.

What?

Like I said, every time I saw him he was alone. At dinner, or walking around The Glens. He looked so lonely! I couldn’t stand it. And the men out here are not the kind who accept strangers very well. They tell you it’s a friendly place and all — (whispers) but it’s not.

Yes, they told us that. Introduced us to several who lived here and I thought them quite friendly.

It’s a set up.

What?

They promise those geezers seconds on desert.

No they don’t!

I’m just saying. Anyway, your pop hadn’t made any friends by the second week here, and I took it upon myself to introduce myself.

I’m glad you did. Thank you.

Well, he didn’t respond too well at first. I guess he’d never met someone as old and as forward as I am.

You’re not old!

Honey, I was there when the pyramids were still on paper!

(They laugh)

Want me to warm that up for you?

No thanks. So then what happened?

We sat at lunch together a couple of times. I would invite him to sit by me, and he really had no choice ’cause all the other geezers were watching.

Ha!

Then, one evening he arrived earlier than me, and when he saw me he grinned from ear to ear and pulled out a chair for me — right next to himself.

Aw.

So that went on for a while. Finally, your dad asked me out on a date. Well, not a date. An outing. He took me to a baseball game, of all things.

Dad loves baseball. He and Mom, well . . .

I don’t love baseball. Or even like it. Had never been to a game in my life and never watched it on TV. None of my husbands were fans.

Husbands? More than one?

Honey, I collected husbands like charms on a bracelet!

How many?

Three. After the third I figured I’d give ’em up and enjoy life. Too much trouble, men are. So I moved down here and started growing cobwebs, if you know what I mean?

I’m not sure.

You’re young. You’ll find out. So we go to this game and start to talk, and your dad starts hitting on me like crazy!

He did?

And we left the game early. But we played our own version of baseball when we got back here.

What?

You know . . . he taught me what first and second base meant.

Um, I — Why are you telling me this?

You asked.

Not for details, for goodness sakes.

Honey, you’ve been wanting the details ever since you got here. I’ve been on the earth long enough to know how other women think.

I came to make sure Dad was okay after the accident.

You came after the manager told you that your father had a girlfriend.

That’s not true!

Isn’t it? A few stitches and you fly all the way from New York? I told you he was fine, and that I was taking care of him. But that’s what worried you. Another woman, taking care of your father. Someone you knew nothing about.

He mentioned you in one of his letters.

Really?

Said you were ogling him in the dining room.

He said “ogling?”

Well, something like that. Making eyes, I believe.

He wasn’t exactly turning away, my dear.

So, just what kind of relationship do you have with my dad?

Well, it’s become quite intimate?

Intimate?

As intimate as too old people like ourselves can be.

What do you mean by intimate?

Well, what do you mean by it?

Um, you know.

Sexual? It’s okay. We can use the word sexual in this day and age.

Yes.

How old are you, Honey?

I’ll be forty-two.

How long you been married?

Fourteen years.

Children?

Three.

How would you describe your relationship with your husband after fourteen years and three kids? Hot? Romantic? Still the love-of-your-life stuff?

Well, I — we love each other and are very — committed.

Ah, committed. Your dad likes that word. Are you still intimate?

I’m not sure what you mean by that.

Intimate. Pillow talk. Hand holding. Walks together. Trying new things together — and I don’t mean sex. I mean, your dad took me to a baseball game. I’d never been to one before. And did he tell you about the skydiving?

Skydiving? Dad?

And me! We went skydiving! Guess whose idea that was? Your dad’s! And guess what I have just bought?

What?

Two tickets for Game Four of the World Series!

You’re kidding!

I’m too old to kid, Kiddo!

He calls me that.

I know. I know a lot of things. And I know that right now your dad and me got a pretty good thing going. The sex sucks, but him and me are very intimate.

What are your . . .

Intentions? If I left it up to your dad we’d hop the bus down to city hall and get hitched. But he’s too mixed up right now. That’s why he got lost again. He’s so in love with your mother, and misses her too much to let go. I’m not really sure what I am to him, but I’ll tell you this, it must be good, because he tells me that he sleeps so well these days, and it’s not because I’m exhausting him in the sack.

My brothers are worried that you might be a — a —

Gold digger? God no! My first husband actually had me in his will when he died. He had a lot of money. My second husband was a gold digger, but I found out quick and got rid of him. And my third husband? Well, I got him by the balls, and I’m squeezing out everything I can — which isn’t chopped liver, if you know what I mean.

So you’re not after Dad’s money, then.

If anything, he should be after my money. But, no — we enjoy each other. Is that so hard to believe?

It is in a way. Forty-five years of marriage. And Mom’s not been gone that long.

I know. That’s why I say no every time your dad brings up marriage. That commitment thing you mentioned. He’s really stuck on that.

Look, I’m sorry. You’re right that I came down here to check you out. You hear all these stories.

I know. And I don’t blame you one bit. It shows you care. Your dad thinks you kids are worried about the money.

My brothers are. I’m worried that Dad is safe, and that someone won’t take advantage of him and hurt him more than he’s already hurting.

Me too. And believe me, there are a lot of blue hairs and pink hairs out here have him in their sights. They were too slow. I got him first. In the best way, of course.

Do you love him?

Honey, love is a word I’ve found too easy to use over my lifetime. The word is not magic to me. What is more important between your dad and me is that we are intimate. Remember, not the sex — but the being. If love means would I hurt if he dumped me — then — yes, maybe I do love him. But I also know that hurts heal over time.

Yeah. You’re right.

You been hurt?

Once or twice.

You look okay to me.

Yeah.

More coffee?

Sure. I’d like that.

So, tell me about those once or twice hurts . . .

 

Copyright © by Lawrence S. Marsden, 18 May, 2014

The Conversants

1 Sep

The introduction,
brief repartee,
the conversants come to the point
where the one who is
will say to the one who is not:

“You’re not from around here, are you?”

in a slightly condescending way,
and then go on to give advice as to
the wheres and not to wheres
and the whos and not to whos
and all the things to see and do,

and you,
the one who is clearly not,
will smile and listen,
politely nod
while the one who is
goes on and on,
in that slightly condescending way
who then will say,

“Welcome! We’re glad you’re here!”

Yet you know — it’s perfectly clear —
the sentiment is strained
through clenched, but slightly smiling teeth,
as is your feign-ed gratitude
for this intolerable interlude.

And you turn away to meet someone new
most glad to the heart
that you are not yet part
and are not from around here — yet.