Vol. 12, No. 3,009 - The American Reporter - October 19, 2006


by Cindy Hasz
American Reporter Correspondent
San Diego, Calif.

Printable version of this story

SAN DIEGO -- "Drive between the chicken sheds and the goat ranch, on that road in-between the two, and follow it for about a mile. Go to the right when the road splits, down around the hill and I'm off to the bottom."

Those were my directions to George, the minister. I found him living in his RV and an adjacent makeshift domicile constructed out of plywood and tarps.

He'd made it downright cozy with a woodstove made from two barrels, shelves, chairs for tables and even a television sitting on a crate with decrepit bunny ears on top. Looking out and through the windows he'd scavenged from somewhere and recycled into his home, you could sit facing southwest into the green fields that stretch out below him.

I found myself thinking he had a better view than most folks with an affluent lifestyle.

It looked like Appalachia. Lots of scrap wood, bathtubs, old cars that hadn't gone anywhere in years. A three-legged dog, doors standing open, mobile homes in various topographical elevations; more scattered than placed. Like a tornado had passed through and no one ever bothered to change anything back.

A certain, haggard and desperate charm.

Just like George. He welcomed me in and fixed me a cup of Nescafe. I sipped it and watched him talk. He had the reddened face and bright blue eyes of an alcoholic. I remembered my father looking like that. High blood pressure too. That's why his doctor had sent me out to see him.

To George, my coming round to see him was predestined and less about his health than my soul. He was well into a gospel roll when I got around to asking him if I could check his blood pressure. He paused, nodded and sat down and continued, "Seek first the kingdom of God," I wrapped the cuff snug around his left arm. "And his righteousness... ." I closed the valve between my right thumb and index finger and pumped the black bulb in the palm of my hand. "And all these things will be added unto you."

"I like the King James myself," I mentioned, as I cracked the valve slightly, released a steady, soft hiss of air and watched as the needle fell backwards through the numbers. 160/90. Borderline hypertension.

"It's so poetic," I unfastened the Velcro and took the cuff off his arm.

"It's not just poetic," he protested, "the word of God is living, and active and sharper..." "than any two edged sword," I finished for him. "Hebrews 4:11." He looked at me surprised.

"Are you taking your medication, George?" "Naw, he smirked, "I'll probably die from a stroke. My Dad died of a massive one when he was just 63, and most likely that'll be my ticket to heaven too. I'm ready to go."

"Kinda like in the movie 'Little Big Man,' I said. "The good-day-to-die routine?"

"Only if I remember right, didn't he just have to get back up and walk back into the village after nothing happened?" he pointed out.

I glanced up and realized he wasn't even listening. He was putting more wood on the fire. Clearly, he had his heart set on a neat and tidy, though somewhat dramatic, ending. Maybe a fiery chariot would swoop down from the sky and take him away like Elijah the prophet.

Could be that easy: bam, blood clot to the brain and you're floating above your body, being sucked into that tunnel of light. Or flash, cerebral hemorrhage, sweet nothingness.

Just as likely, it could be years of struggle in a wheelchair or bed, with feeding tubes and diapers.

Made me think of how some people pray to St. Joseph for the grace of a happy death. Not a bad idea, really. What is a "happy death" anyway? Okay, dying in your sleep. Or during sex? Or in a state of drug-induced euphoria? Wonder if St. Joe did any of those. According to Catholic tradition, it couldn't have been the sex or heroin derivatives, so that leaves sleep. I keep trying to expand the definition but, oh, well... .

Problem is, we don't have control over all the variables - usually, that is - and for whatever reason, are forbidden by religious and cultural mores from taking anything more than a passive role in relation to death.

Ah, but we find ways around that. No, not the Hemlock Society. That's too transparent. We kill ourselves slowly and pretend all the while that we know nothing about it. We can smoke and drink ourselves to death. Eat ourselves to death. Work ourselves to death. Many of us are brilliant and downright devious in the ways we seek salvation from the pain and suffering of this life.

George refuses to take his pills. It's his perfect right to do so. As long as he is competent to make his own medical decisions we, the "health-care professionals," must allow him that freedom.

Maybe it's his way of seeking the kingdom.

You know, that place where dreams aren't moth-eaten, hope can't be crushed and RV's never rust.

Copyright 2006 Joe Shea The American Reporter. All Rights Reserved.

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