The doctorís death sentence is still painfully on my heart as I retrieve my mail this December morning. For 40 years Iíve walked to this old mailbox, now that is about to end. The week after Christmas I will check into an assisted living facility, from there to a nursing home, and finally the hospices center. What a queer sensation when one knows how the last mile or so of his lifeís journey will end.
I have come to grips with my death. I have even left strict instructions for a simple funeral. No need to waste a lot of money on these old bones. I know where my soul is headed and that is all that is important.
My family will throw a fit when they hear my plan. My daughter will sob that the doctors donít know what they are talking about. Within a day or so she will consent to what must happen. Actually she will be relieved that I have chosen this path. There may be a slight guilt that lingers after my demise. We often berate ourselves with things we could have done differently, still time heals all wounds.
My old mailbox and I have a lot in common. We both have come to the end of our usefulness. Itís cancer is rust and mine is melanoma. I peer inside and retrieve the power bill, a reminder from my dentist to have my teeth cleaned and a circular from a local dealership. Lying at the bottom of the pile is a solitary Christmas card.
My daughterís family planned a vacation in Denver and begged me to tag alone. I declined for my own reasons. One, she did not need her daddy there to bring back memories of all the Christmases spent with her mother. Also I was too old to take up skiing.
After 20 minutes on the computer, I had a flight, a room, and a ticket for a play. The only thing holding me back was the bookstore that I owned. The young girl that helped me had asked for Christmas week off. I finally decided that I would just shut it down for a week. After all I was selling books not vegetables. They would certainly be there when I returned. The store was my idea in the beginning. It was to be something for me to do when I retired. Within weeks of its opening it had become Maryís pride and joy and up to her death I was only a visitor.
On the way to the airport and throughout the trip, Christmas had loomed like a dark cloud on my mind. As I sat on the plane I knew that the tree I had taken down after Thanksgiving the year before would be the last one that would ever adorn our house again. The reason for the season had escaped me. I still attended church but something there was missing also. I had been hardened to this most holy of all seasons.
As I sat enjoying the play for a short time the thoughts of Christmas, funerals and even huge empty places in my house and heart faded. I became one with the characters on the stage. Theater was something Mary and I had both enjoyed. With the exception of two Broadway plays, our theatre outings were limited to a local playhouse.]Even then we wrestled with thoughts of spending too much money on ourselves.
When the last act came to a tearful end and the dead had rose and took their bow I got up and made my way to the street. The frigid wind and blowing snow seemed to have brought a new jolt of life to my body. I hadn't felt so alive since the past spring. Just being from the south causes one to become childlike when one sees snow. I decided at that point not to hail a cab but walk back to the hotel.
I had walked three blocks when I came upon an alley. I heard an unusual sound just beyond my site. Now if I had known anything about big cities I would have understood that curiosity truly did kill the cat. I took a couple of steps into the alleyway when to my surprise, bent over a garbage container, was either a young female or male with long and nasty hair eating out of a can.
With his toughest voice he asked what I was staring at.
I smiled. "I'm looking at a very hungry young man.Ē If you give me a couple of bucks that would solve the problem.
I offered to share a meal at my hotel with this total stranger. I turned back toward the brightly-lit street and moved toward the safety of light. Speaking over my shoulder I reminded him that after all tomorrow was Christmas. He fixed his eyes on me as if to ask what was the catch, then decided he had nothing to loose. As he caught up I tried to decide what smelled worse-he or the garbage can.
Without thinking I ordered him to follow me. He seemed to move by instinct following me to my suite. When we were behind closed doors, I informed him it was best he took a shower before we went to dinner. I even offered him the use of my razor. He shrugged and began to literally peel off his clothes as he made his way to the bathroom door.
After I heard the shower running I picked up his grimy shirt and pants, and looked for the tab that showed the size. I knew he had either lost weight or had found something close to his size in the goodwill store. I jotted the sizes down taking two numbers off and then I went to the bathroom door. I shouted over the roar of the shower that I would be back in a few minutes.
On the way back up I asked myself, "Are you going mad?" I was scared to answer. When I returned, the boy was finally turning off the shower. I am sure it was the first time in awhile that he had the luxury of unlimited hot water. I knocked on the bathroom door, he opened it with an eerie look on his face. I told him Santa had left the clothes. He returned my gesture of Christianity with a look as to ask if I was gay. I returned the glare with a laugh and informed him he had nothing I was interested in. I reasoned that was how people in big cities reacted to kindness.
After we finished our meal and began to sip our coffee Adam finished breaking my stony heart. He confessed that he had asked Jesus to send him an angel for Christmas that very morning, who would take him away from this hell, he was living in.
I donít claim to be an angel but the next day Adam and I flew home. He earned his GED and five years later graduated from college and joined the army. The last letter I received from him had been in early October. He explained about being stationed in Greenland. He then went into detail about his wife of five years and their three-year-old son. There was even a promise of a visit next year when his tour was up. At the bottom of the letter was a "PS" that simply read. Thank you Angel.
A tear replaced the smile for a second when I realized that by the time Adamís tour was up, mine would be just beginning..
Gary ... I'm overwhelmed. I guess the question on the top of the list is whether or not this is actually happening to you, or whether it is fiction. If it's happening to you, then I'm even more overwhelmed. If it's fictional, then you have hit all the right buttons. Very, very moving. In case it is true, I'm praying right now. With love, Deb