On Dying

We found out today that one of our coworkers is dying. They were moving him to hospice tonight. I had known he was ill for the past few months—known only because he had a lot of doctor’s appointments, and missed a lot of work, not because he had said anything to me. It was only the last few weeks that he started to look really ill—gaunt and sallow. Still, I didn’t ask him about it. I figured if he wanted me to know, he’d tell me. And he never did.

It feels strange to be writing this, like a eulogy for someone who’s still alive, and who, quite frankly, I didn’t know very well. But still, he always stopped to say hello, and talk about the books he was reading. He was so chatty, I once told him to go fuck himself, because that’s the kind of co-worker I am. The last time I saw him, he was in the kitchen, in the middle of a conversation with two women I knew he did talk to, about his health, about his (how nice that we can possess it!) disease, so I didn’t want to interrupt. I made some comment about the weather and told him to keep warm, then left. He looked terrible, like my grandmother before she went. Maybe I was giving him space—and maybe I was running away.

It feels strange, too, to be on the periphery of such a tragedy. He’s 60, and his only son just graduated college, not even a month ago. He hadn’t gone to college himself, and he was over-the-moon proud. I want to be able to offer him something, but it isn’t my place. When your years on this earth have, quite suddenly, become days, you don’t want to waste them on barely-knew-you co-workers. Or at least, I wouldn’t. I would deny such callous, selfish souls entry into my tragedy—because it isn’t about them, or, in this case, about me.

So instead, I light a candle and pray a prayer. I don’t know his thoughts on death, and he doesn’t owe me any of them. I’ll pray the simplest prayer I can for him—for peace.

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Katydid

This morning two leaf grasshoppers, bright green, their bodies the perfect mimicry of spring leaves, of sunshine distilled into chlorophyll, adhered themselves to my driver’s side door. They didn’t let go when I got in, so I drove off, expecting them to leap to freedom at the first stop sign. They didn’t. One got blown off somewhere along the way, but the second made it the 30-minute drive to work, at speeds of 60 miles per hour. He was still there when I got back in my car to drive home for lunch. I didn’t see him until I was stopped at a stoplight, and he hauled his green body, on thread-thin legs like tiny pieces of green stitching, to the top of the side mirror. He hunkered down, face first into the wind, and I imagined him as if he were a dog, enjoying the air folding back his ears—erh, antennae. I became attached to him, somewhere on the drive home. He was cute, for an insect, and I could admire his perseverance. He made it home with me, somehow, improbably, and when I pulled into the drive I wished him well, expecting never to see him again.

A long lunch hour later, I got back in my car, headed back to the office. Again, I didn’t see him until it was too late, until I was on the highway, until he was climbing towards the top of the side mirror, but this time a gust of wind turned him, one thread-thin leg pulled up from the car, his wings ruffled, pushed back towards his face until I was sure they were broken, his illusion of a leaf stripped bare. I found myself slowing, watching the mirror instead of the cars around me. I didn’t want him to die. Finally, though it was stupid, and I was already late coming back from lunch, I pulled over, made a left into the entrance of a green, heavily landscaped subdivision, stopped, got out, shooed him off. He flew away. He could still fly.

It was going to be okay.

 

Yesterday, or the day before, or sometime recently, or sometime soon, a man walked into a bar—wait, there’s no joke! A man walked into a bar and killed 49 people. He didn’t know them. They had done nothing to him. Whatever rage, anger, hatred, burned him up, he had created it himself, out of thin air, out of malice and pain and conceit. He could have given life, but instead he gave death, and grieving, and loss. We let him do it. We gave his weakness weapons, and he turned them against innocent people.

That will never be okay.