I dreamed of death the other night. Mine. Nothing dramatic. A mob in the tens of thousands, faces distorted, angry, screaming, shaking fists and farm implements, was intent on killing me. Ahhh. Would that our circulation would justify that number.
It wasn’t exactly like I was battling this enraged herd, more like walking through them, without fear or emotion, tossing bodies hither and yon. I know. Duh. Regular waking life for all of us?
Funny. In my dream? I had a calm smile.
Truly? I thought 2022 would catch on fire, dry up, blow away and its singed remains float into a peaceful brook. Last year, one malady followed the previous. My health would tumble. Then I’d start to sneak up on my Race Horse Self True Shape. Then I’d tumble. I wouldn’t be exactly Black Plague sick, but I’d feel so puny, I couldn’t get out of bed. Up one week. Down the next. Up. Down. Up. Down. Take tests. The lab guys couldn’t find any felonious microbe (good band name), save for maybe cut down on my beloved Orange Gatorade to just three of those giant 250-gallon stadium coolers per day.
Gatorade? It has electrolytes, you know, more when it’s orange.
As I approach middle age, it’s time to take care of a few annoying issues at the shop. Cataracts. Guy plumbing check-ups. Fatigue. Back issues. Hope no Medicare execs are reading because actually, I have about 30 things wrong with me and “You’re Ugly” and “You Constantly Misplace Modifiers” didn’t even make the list. My doctor sent me to the lab (this is where everyone reading, at the same time, starts shrugging their shoulders and sings — “… late one night, when my eyes, beheld, an eerie site, o’ a monster from the lab, began to rise, and suddenly, to my surprise, he did the…”).
It’s two weeks later. Never made it to get my liquids tested. You see, the night before, I made the mistake of visiting a certain local fast food chicken outlet. I believe they had a kindly Confederate gentleman in the dapper white suit as their ambassador? This may sound like a country/western song title, but, “Don’t Eat Fried Chicken, That Glows Bright Green In The Dark & While We’re At It, You’ve Got A Cold, Cold, Cold Heart…”
Ka-twang. Coyote howl.
Later that night, I got sicker than disco. This was not just one of your normal heave-ho, Seasick Level 9 episodes. For 48 hours, I was stumbling into my office latrine every 11 minutes and not to examine my fetching boyish smile staring back at me in the bathroom mirror. I lost a lung, spleen, kidney, typewriter, lower intestinal tract and what little self-respect I still had. This was the sickest I had ever been in my life, not counting when I make fun of the local liberal daft political party/doomsday cult with whom I begrudgingly share my valley. Pretty much, for nearly two weeks, I slept 21 hours a day, in 40-minute increments. Not in any O Woe Is Me manner, but, I wondered. “Is this — it?” Was I going to die?
Or, as Signal Editor Tim Whyte carps weekly: “No more than you usually do every Friday morning for the past 50 years…”
Flat on my back, hurting in cells I didn’t know I owned, it was a legitimate question. Funny. My first reaction was a moment of profound peace, then of gratitude, then of assurance. This Life Thing, isn’t it just an absolute hoot? How can you not be grateful for the 10,010 blessings gift-wrapped in every darn second? I’ve had so many disappointments, failures, embarrassments, goofs, hurt myself and others and was enveloped in assurance. And love. It’s all OK. Nowhere to go, nothing to do, not a single task to accomplish. In the worst of appearances, even death, I was absolutely, confidently ducky.
And I was still dead dog sick for a couple of weeks and, yet, somehow managed to enjoy something most of us rarely indulge in — being. A friend of mine visited. He knows me better than most and noted I’ve spent a lifetime holding things in, more than most. This might not have even been food poisoning, just an invisible safety valve releasing on a life severely driven. Hard to fathom, but my pal’s sister once said that the best breath we will ever take is our last. Oddly enough, I found that comforting, too.
We all share a similarity, linking us to caveman relatives to someone, right this very instant, kicking the bucket. How will we die? Sabertooth tiger? Poorly designed trampoline? The ultimate betrayal, our own heart attacks us? Will we curl up in a ball in a Ukrainian blizzard, take a bullet on a Chicago sidewalk, be No. 317 amongst the thousands killed in the recent Turkish-Syrian earthquakes? There will be a series of lasts that will go unnoticed. The last car we’ll buy. Or maybe oxen. The last blouse or pair of pants. The last meal. The last kiss. Or hug. How terribly sad. There are people in the world, outside of infancy, who will never know this beautiful human currency of a hug or kiss, or seeing that divine twinkle in the eye.
God loves us through others, through ourselves, too.
The good American poet Edmund Vance Cooke published a delightful poem, “How Did You Die?” in 1903. It puts a bounce into my step, reading his last stanza: “Death comes with a crawl, or comes with a pounce, And whether he’s slow or spry, It isn’t the fact that you’re dead that counts, But only, how did you die?”
Hmm. Don’t know, Ed. Would it be an imposition to ask for a few practice punts?
As for life?
Looking in the mirror this morning, I am reminded of P.G. Wodehouse’s observation: “Why don’t you get a haircut? You look like a chrysanthemum.”
John Boston is a local writer with 119 major awards. Check out his new, humorous dog book at johnbostonbooks.com.