I've been neglecting these pages, forsaking my readers, and for what? An android. Truth be told, I've sold my soul to scrabble or something like it. Words with friends.
That's the only apology I offer.
But today, II.II.II, I was at my job where I go every day, living among the dying, letting it get to me in ways I never have so far, or not since the beginning when I "took it home with me" or, worried about work at home. This is not recommended in a careerpath in human care. It would be easier to think of it as "back when I gave a crap," but that would be untrue, and unfair to a life spent in the service of madness and old age. Back then -- say 1973-4-5 ish-- I hadn't yet learned how to give a crap and survive, how to show up, give that heartfelt percentage of between 75 and 120 % depending , in those days, on the quality of speed I was shooting and amount of whiskey it took to make me sleep with with someone I didn't love, and go home unscathed.
I'm not going to take the time to discuss the continuum of scathing. So.
But my family is one of veterans. My father was in Korea and WWII, one brother left his mind in a rice paddy in the demilitarized zone somewhere between north and south Viet Nam, one did his time in the Navy until he painted his CO's face with deck paint in a moment of frustration. Not his last.
So today, my workplace put on a big deal for veteran's day. I have a new boss and she's really American, and midwestern and nice, but she says "uff-da" alot, and plays the trumpet professionally and she's really good, but she plays patriotic music and wears red white and blue and it is really loud and so very American. And I'm American also, and consider myself patriotic, just more of the rust, creme and robin's egg variety.
So that's what was happening on the living side of the building. You'll remember, perhaps, that I'm in charge of the other side. That place where "those people go" and nobody ever comes back.
So one of my guys is FTD, in the words of his sweet loving daughter: "Fixin' to Die." And the family is doing the death watch thing. And they get it. They know they only get one shot at it. That dad's only gonna die once, and they're partying for him and around him, the way they think he would want. The daughter's not sleeping and is emotionally unstrung. Families, in this most intimate of settings, tell you things they wouldn't ordinarily tell you.
So this guy, this tiny little leftover of a great man, a Leiutenant-Colonel in the US Army, a decorated Veteran of WWII, Grand Marshall in every 4th of July parade in his little town, was dying. His daughter told me, "He's waiting for Veteran's day. 11 11 11." I gave her comment due respect. I don't know that much anymore and have no podium from which to argue. So, fine, I say. V day it is. People know things. But at that point on Monday morning, he didn't look like he had 24 left in him let alone five days.
So the guy who's speaking at the Veteran's Day Bash on the other side, a retired Army Chaplin, now a hospice chaplin, is giving out little flag pins to all of the vets. "So," my new boss asks, "do ya think Herbie would like the recognition?" I tell her sure. His family is up for it. You betcha.
The chaplin arrives, we give him the scoop about Herbie, and I escort him to the bedside where the party is still on, people still in thier jammies, beer cans and half empty gin bottles. Herb is covered with a red,white and blue quilt made by his mother. His mother. His Army uniform hangs where he can see it. The chaplin kneels down to honor Herbie with the little pin, and he says some really nice stuff. Then he asks the family if he can pray with Herbie. They say, "Sure. Go for it."
So he goes for it. He prays a pretty long prayer by my standards, then goes into the 23rd Psalm, which always gets me with the "valley of the shadow of death" part. In closing, he begins the Lord's Prayer. Our Father, who art in heaven.... and we all join him, and he says, "Amen."
And at the moment, at the instant the Chaplain said "Amen," Herbie opened his eyes, closed them, and released a long, last breath.
And that was that. What Herbie needed was a final salute to find his way through the portal.