Essays from the Heartland - My world and times viewed through the prism of the Kansas Flint Hills
Saturday, August 09, 2014
SAUSAGE, PAINT CHIPS, AND GUINNESS
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
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