On the Day I Die
One of life’s great blessings is that not one of us knows the exact day we will die. Well, at least I think so. I could not imagine being a teenager and knowing how many years I would live or the date of my death. That would take away the fun and great advantage of being young; the perception of being immortal. We have all experienced that.
Being young is for looking down the road that never ends. When you’re young you can’t even see around the next bend let alone the end of the road. You certainly don’t know where and when that road will end – but then no matter how old you are – you don’t know when or where it will end. You just know the end of the road is a hell of a lot closer than it used to be. Better then to be young and think the road is infinitely long and death more like a scientific theory than a matter of fact.
Unfortunately, the shimmering optimism and smugness of my youth faded as I grew older; Death has become less of a concept and more of a reality – sometimes too real.
I must admit when this realization first visited me, I tried to brush it off as I would a gnat away from the back of my hand. But it was never that easy. I sometimes could put it out of my mind for hours, even days, but it was always there just swirling around somewhere in the dark elusive depths of my brain.
Another unfortunate fact is that I will keep getting older until death prevents me from having any more birthdays – which, I am quite sure, won’t really matter much to me then.
And I hope you’re not one of those old, stooped, wrinkled people who is going to tell me you are enjoying your twilight years and the wisdom that has come with age much more than you did the stupidity of your youth. If that’s how you think you are one of the many who can’t face the wrinkled-up gnarly face in the mirror. Time to grow up and admit you’re old and that your days are numbered.
I’m not a happy old person. I don’t even know the man in the mirror. Who is that old prune-face? If I could, I would trade all my wisdom for the craziness and foolishness of youth.
Or would I?
That’s a ponderous thought. And, for some reason, it brings to mind a line from a Rod Stewart song “If I knew then what I know now – when I was younger…”
Life is not fair – it’s not fair to expect it to be. Why should it be?
If you’re old and sane I ask you — wouldn’t you love to go back to being 20 knowing what you know at let’s say 70? I don’t know about you, but I’d sure do a lot of things differently.
C’est la vie
It just so happens that on a day when these kinds of thoughts were coursing through my brain like some river of gray matter, a visitor came to my door. I was dozing in my recliner, a book dangling precariously from my hand, when I heard someone knocking… no, it was more like a heavy pounding, on my door.
I struggled to lift my aging body from the tattered, well-worn but cozy, old recliner and shuffled to the door with the gait of an old man – which I reluctantly admit to you I am.
Opening the door, I saw a man dressed in an expensive black suit, white shirt, red tie, and shiny, expensive-looking shoes. He was wearing a fedora and for some reason, I found that funny. Who wears a fedora these days?
“Have you got a minute?” he sang – well he didn’t really sing but his voice was one of those voices I often hear in restaurants from waitresses I know don’t give a damn about how my day is going or how I am, yet they come bouncing over to my table acting like I was one of their long-lost sweethearts.
Sing-songy. If there is such a word, there must be a hyphen in it.
I asked the man in the black suit who sang when he talked, what he wanted. I told him bluntly that didn’t have any money to buy anything because I’m currently on the public dole — that’s what I call Social Security — to which he replied, softly in that annoying, sing-songy voice, “I am not here to sell you anything, but my assignment today, one could say, is a matter of life and death.”.
He smiled when he said it, and I swear I heard a slight laugh pop out of his mouth. Matter of life and death – ha!
“I don’t have time for whatever you’re selling and I’m already a member of a church. I don’t proselytize and I don’t have the time or patience for those who do.” I said this feeling my blood pressure rising and anger welling up inside me.
I can always tell when my blood pressure shoots up – I can feel it in my neck. My doctor – one of the many I call “My doctor” – said that is a myth – that I could not feel my blood pressure rising. What does he know? He doesn’t have my neck.
If he knew what was wrong with me then I’d be cured. He now has me where he wants me — in that endless medical loop from which there is no escape. I know it and everyone else who is older and in the medical loop knows what I mean. Once the doctors and hospitals get you in their Medicare-grifting clutches, one is in for an endless cycle of new maladies, pills, tests, treatments, and procedures — procedures being the current euphemism for operations. Once you fall into that medical black hole, you will never get out. They won’t ever let you go – until death do you part.
Anyway, the stranger in the black suit said somberly, “You better invite me in because what I have to tell you is a matter of life and death. To be specific, YOUR life and death. Even more specifically…YOUR death.” Suddenly, a realization came to me as I looked into his brown, sallow, and startlingly sad eyes.
Right then, I knew what he was and what he was up to and said, “I’m going to be cremated within 24 hours of my death – in this state that means I don’t have to be embalmed. I won’t need a coffin. I won’t need a hearse. I won’t need to lie in state your funeral home being ogled by people who never liked me anyway. I am not…NOT interested in burial plots, coffins, embalming, services, hearses, or anything else you and your ilk pander to the sick, old, and grieving. I will leave it up to my children to have me cremated per my wishes. I won’t even need an urn from you – the woods behind my house will be my urn. So, save yourself a lot of time and trouble and turn around and walk away. I’m not interested in what you’re selling. Now go away I tell you!”
He addressed me by name in a tone of voice that suggested he knew me well — as if he were a friend of mine — but I had never seen this man in my life. “My visit is not to sell you anything; my visit is a matter of life and death. You may not want to hear what I have to say, but you will hear it all the same.”
Sing-songy. Sing-songy. Sing-songy.
He pushed his way through the door. For reasons I don’t understand, I felt weak and powerless and let him pass unhindered. He looked around the room and sat on my green, sad, and threadbare couch. I never saw the need to spend money on furniture – what I already owned was enough – it served my purposes. I never entertained anyone here, I had no visitors, and frankly, I don’t give a damn what anyone thinks of my furniture, my house, my clothes, me, or anything else.
He did not comment on the state of my living conditions, nor the state of my old ratty and soiled furniture.
He was a tall man with a long face that reeked of sadness and gloom. When he smiled it looked forced like the smile you put on when someone tells you to smile for a photograph. When he took the fedora off his head, I could see his hair was shiny black – jet black – and it was combed neatly with a sharp part on his left. His skin exuded pallor and reminded me of the waxy looking flesh of dead people lying in repose in satin-lined coffins.
He looked at me and his gaze, for some reason, mesmerized me. I wanted to leave. I wanted him to leave. I felt powerless and weak and I didn’t know why.
I just could not force myself to look away.
He flashed that fake smile and pulled a folded sheet of yellow paper from the inside pocket of his suit coat. He read my name and said he needed to verify that I was the person named. I managed a weak “yes” but could not say more, I felt like something was stuck in my throat.
When addressed me by name, his face turned sour when said “I have some information for you that you will not want to hear – no one ever does – and fortunately, most won’t ever have to hear the news I bring you. I simply cannot visit everyone.”
Then asked me if I wanted to know the exact date and time of my death. I wanted to ask him if I had a choice, but I could not speak.
I must admit it was an almost irresistible temptation that overrode my intellect with salient, primal urges. I tried to speak again, but no sound came from my mouth, but it didn’t matter anyway. He was not giving me a choice. He read somberly from the yellow paper as if reading from an affidavit or some formal court document. He told me the date and time of my death. I was paralyzed at that moment, unable to move and barely able to breathe.
The man stood up. He loomed over me like a cloud about ready to burst with rain. I would not say he seemed threatening, he seemed more foreboding and more melancholy than anything.
It was then that he touched my shoulder and expressed to me that this had not been pleasant for him either, but only a few people were as privileged as me — as if you could call knowing the exact time and date of your own death a privilege.
He began walking toward the door and I noticed his gait looked practiced and unnatural. The closest I can come to describing it would be zombie-like. His arms hung stiff at his sides as he walked – they remained motionless. His eyes darted right and left, but I noticed he never turned his head.
He turned around without turning his head and looked at me. He didn’t need to say anything, I somehow knew what he was going to say as he said his parting words.
“I will see you again soon; I am the keeper of the gate.”
He left and disappeared into the distance walking east away from my house. A cat meowed in the bushes and a dog howled in the distance.
The sky was cloudy, and it looked like rain. The day had an ethereal feeling to it. And I stood in the doorway for a long moment, moving as if guided by someone who was controlling my movements with a remote controller.
My legs and arms felt heavy, my head was buzzing – I could hardly focus my eyes. I felt faint yet I was unable to fall.
I felt as if the world was spiraling out of control.
The book fell out of my hand and hit the floor with a thud and woke me.
It took me a few minutes to gather my thoughts and a few more for me to realize that all this was just a disturbing dream. Just a dream and nothing more.
Still, the date and time of my death were burned deep into my soul. And though I now realized it had all been a dream, that date and time loomed imminent – not too far away but far enough away.
Though I’m a cynic, it’s still hard to completely discount the supernatural; it is often difficult to intellectualize away all the things that cannot be explained. Cynical though I am, I must admit there are things that I can’t explain away with brains and logic. Things that are and are not – ephemeral, fleeting, enigmatic in-between things. Not so much ghosts and specters, but things like Deja vu — like where was I two hundred years ago? Are there more dimensions we can’t experience? Are there more dimensions than we know? Can we, sometimes, somehow inexplicably know the unknowable like when we feel that someone we love is in danger and is?
The date written in my soul by the man in the black suit can’t be erased. I can’t wash or scrub it away – it is forever there, indelible and gnawing. I wonder what will happen when that date and time do come. Is it the unknowable reaching out again into reality, thus something to be taken into account? Or is it just a dream, a conjured-up tale from the dark and labyrinthine depths of my own subconscious?
There aren’t that many days between today and the day of my impending death. What if it weren’t a dream? What if it really is the exact date and time of my death?
What would I do?
I could waste the remaining days of my life fretting and worrying – paralyzed with fear. I could sit in my recliner and stare into the abyss of nothingness feeling sorry for myself until someone found my body, still and waxen, alone in my chair.
Or I could try to make every minute count trying not to waste one single minute of one single day that is left to me. Isn’t that the way I should have always lived anyway?
I have wasted so much time on trivial pursuits.
If the date and time of my death given to me by the man in my dream, what will I do? I think I would rather make every single day count. Even if it were just a dream and the date of my death just a fantastical and silly idea dredged up from my subconscious during an old man’s nap, I could make it a lesson well learned.
Time spent can’t be put back in the bank. I can’t earn more time and I can’t spend less time and I can’t really save time — that just doesn’t seem fair does it? But you cannot put time in a bottle and save it for another day.
“A coward dies a thousand deaths; a hero dies but one.”
I think what I will do is take that troubling dream seriously and take seriously the lesson it may be trying to teach me. So, what harm will it do if l consider it prescient and an accurate prediction of my own demise? So, I will believe that the date and time revealed to me in the dream will be the accurate date and time of my death.
And knowing the date and time of my death I will make the most of each minute, each hour, each day, and each week left to me. A harbinger of the future has come to visit me though it may only be a dream. Dream or not I will take it as fact, and I will believe in it and live the rest of the days I have remaining to me believing it – believing the date and the hour of my death were foretold to me.
And if that day comes and goes and I find that I’m still alive, then I haven’t lost anything, and I’ve learned so much.
And whether or not I die on the appointed day and at the appointed hour, will be of no concern. Today isn’t the day but I know I have no time left to waste. From now on, every minute counts, every hour counts every single day counts, and every week counts.
I have no time at all to waste.
And now I realize I never did.