Saturday, August 09, 2014


Life for Nancy and me right now is a series of great and small events that sometimes challenge our ability to make sense of life.

The most important of these events is Nancy’s responsibility as caregiver for her mother, who is nearing the end of her earthly journey. She’s 95. She’s suffering from congestive heart failure. The bones in her back have been shattered. She has difficulty breathing. Everything is slowly shutting down. Pain is her constant companion. It’s often excruciating. The episodes of dizziness and nausea are becoming more and more frequent.

It could be even worse if it weren’t for the care of the good people from the Jones Health Center and Hand in Hand Hospice. We’re very grateful for that.

But, that doesn’t make this once in a lifetime event any less painful to watch. A couple of days ago, Nancy and I visited her mother on a particularly trying day. At one point it appeared that she was succumbing to the inevitable, but by some force of will she snapped herself back into the land of the living. We’ve seen this before. Nancy’s theory is that her mother is a child of the depression era. She clawed her way through the Great Depression and World War II. Heaven is just a whisper away, wooing her, but she’s so used to fighting and clinging to this life she can’t seem to let go.

On the way home I found myself begging God to not let my life end like that. I uttered a silent prayer, half in rage. “I’d like my last sensation in this life to be the rush of adrenalin that comes with living dangerously, Lord. I’ll do anything. I’ll take up bungee jumping from the Royal Gorge Bridge. I’ll swallow flaming swords.”

Years ago, cardiologists told Nancy’s father that the sausages he loved for breakfast would probably cut his life short, but he kept eating them. He died at 81, a happy man. I think she’s decided that a hearty breakfast of sausage would also be a fitting exit for her.

While we’re trying to make sense of what’s going on with her mother, the smaller events seem to be confirming the futility of clinging to the wheels and gears this life.

This series of mini-confirmations began when we tried to make arrangements with AT&T to have a landline connected in Nancy’s mother’s room. After three weeks of exasperating phone calls and pleas, the line was installed. Unfortunately, it was installed in the home or room of someone named Phyllis, who was every bit as stunned as us. The easiest part of the process was cancelling all the orders. It only took a couple of minutes.

While the phone saga was unfolding, a couple of college students were painting our house. They were doing a great job, but had a few delays, particularly one caused by a really irritating visit from a state “operative” who told my wife stop sweeping the front porch and ordered the students pick up every paint chip on the property. Everyone complied, fearing that if they didn’t they’d wind up in the hoosegow. I’m sure he was sent by some state agency named “Department of Agents Who Protect the Public from Paint Chips by Hassling College Students Trying to Make a Buck.” They probably sit in dreary grey cubicles and suffer from an exceptionally virulent strain of cranial-rectal inversion syndrome.

The piece de resistance in this chain of events came last week when the Postal Service taught me the meaning of service. I tendered a couple of time-sensitive packages on Tuesday and was told to expect delivery on Thursday. When that didn’t happen, they told me they’d changed their minds and to expect delivery on Friday. When that didn’t happen they told me to expect a Saturday delivery. It’s what the Post Office calls their “never late” or “always on time” service.

The more things unfolded, the more I felt like a character in a Kafka short story.

It’s a good thing I didn’t have time to pay attention to the news. If I had, my head would have exploded.

The more I try to make sense of this world, the more I find myself asking why we cling so desperately to it. Do we really believe that government operatives protecting us from paint chips can add a nanosecond to our lives? Can AT&T or the Postal Service open heaven’s gates for us?

Bungee jumping or sword swallowing aren’t really practical, but I think it would be quite fitting for Nancy and me to spend our last moments in a Dublin pub, with the strains of Paddy Maloney and the Chieftans playing in the background.  We’d order bangers and mash, a side of sausage and paint chips, along with one last pint of Guinness to wash it down.

Now, that’s living dangerously. And, that would be a fitting exit!

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