A TIME TO DIE (fiction)
I have spent more than my share of time sitting in doctors' waiting rooms and I'm always somewhat amused by how people act when they are there. Today I'm sitting in another waiting room, waiting with the daughter of an old friend who is in seeing the doctor. Across the room is a woman flipping through the pages of a two year old magazine; Time, Newsweek, or People, and appearing to be interested in what she's reading. An older gentleman is sitting next to her and he is appearing to be napping, but he is constantly opening his eyes and checking his watch. A younger man is pacing back and forth and glancing at the door where, just a few minutes ago, a young lady who was obviously pregnant disappeared with the nurse. My companion is sitting silently and staring at nothing in particular; lost somewhere in thought.
After what seemed like an eternity my old friend emerged and walked over to where we were sitting. His daughter, suddenly realizing that her father was standing next to her chair, shot a quick and not unexpected question at him. "What did the doctor say?"
"I'm old and I'm alive. Now let's get out of here."
She started to protest, but he raised a single finger and pressed it against her lips. He smiled in my direction and headed for the door with his daughter in tow.
A short time later we were all sitting around the kitchen table in his modest suburban home. He produced three cups and filled them with steaming hot coffee from an old percolator.
"Nothing like a good hot cup of coffee," he said. "What do you think about heading up north tomorrow for a few days fishing? Looks like the weather should be good and we just might hit a good hatch."
His daughter screwed up her face into a scowl. "Dad, you're not going anywhere until you tell me what the doctor told you."
"My, my," the old man said, "I didn't know that I had to ask you permission. Who died and made you boss?"
"Dad, I just want to know what the doctor said. You're all that I've got now that Mom is gone."
"Now that's not true. You've got a great husband, even if he's not much of an angler, and three great kids. In fact, I would dare say that he is a better husband than I was at his age."
"Dad, I know that I have a great husband and I love my kids, but I don't want to lose you. You have to take care of yourself and I'm worried about your health."
The old man leaned back in his chair with his eyes fixed on his daughter. There was a long silence before he began to speak.
"Sweetheart, your mother and I promised each other that we would live our life to the fullest and we wouldn't quit until we couldn't go any more. We were determined to live our life with gratitude to God for each day that He permitted us to live, and you know that's how your mother lived her life. We spent nearly 50 years living out the life that God gave us together and when He determined that her work here was done He took her home."
Even though she had been gone for a couple years, as the memory of his late wife flickered across his mind he reached up and wiped a tear from his eye.
"Now I could be sitting here in this chair waiting for the Lord to call me home, or I could be wading a trout stream, working in the garden or sitting in a deer blind waiting for a big buck to walk into the clearing. I choose the latter. When the Lord considers that my work here is done He will call me home, just like He did with mother."
A big gray cat walked across the kitchen and jumped up into the old man's lap. Purring softly he settled down in his lap and reflexively he began to stroke his head. The old man's daughter stood up and walked over to her father and kissed him on the forehead.
"I love you dad," she said. "I'll see you Sunday at church, and remember you're invited to Sunday dinner."
"I love you too, and Lord willing, I'll see you Sunday."
After his daughter left the old man sat stroking the big gray cat that lay sleeping in his lap, the sound of his purring barely audible.
"What exactly did the doctor say," I inquired.
"You're in remarkable shape for a man your age. Can you imagine what I paid him to tell me that?"
"He said he didn't know what I've been doing, but whatever it is that I should keep doing it. I told him that I intended to do exactly that. Now, let's stop talking about my health and get to planning our next fishing trip."
The following fall we were sitting along a trout stream surrounded by the brilliant autumn foliage. Reflecting on the changing of the seasons our conversation turned to death and loss. He picked up a bright red leaf that had fallen on the ground and held it up.
"See this leaf? It's certainly beautiful, but it's dead. Now I could keep it, press it in a book and take it out and look at it occasionally, but it's dead. Its color will fade and if handled it will crumble into dust. It's best to admire it, lock the image of it away in my memory, and then set it free." He took the leaf and tossed it into the stream and we watched if float away.
"You can't keep it, you have to enjoy it and then let it go. That's how you handle death and loss."
Somewhere out there is an old man working in his garden and making plans to spend a few hours fishing his favorite stream. Later this fall, Lord willing, he will be sitting in a deer blind waiting for a big buck to walk into the clearing. If you're luck you might just see him. Who knows, it might even be me.