“I was just sitting here thinking about what would be on my mind if I were in your place, facing my imminent death. I suppose I would be thinking about immortality, not in any conventional sense of that word, but more in terms of my legacy. I guess I’m really self-conscious, or maybe it’s vanity, I don’t know, but I think I’d be wondering about my contribution to this wounded world.”
My good friend Kim called me out of the blue. She asked if I would be available to consult with a couple of her friends, James and Rebecca. James is dying.
I didn’t know Rebecca or James personally, but I had heard a lot about them from my friend Kim. I talked to Rebecca briefly by phone and accepted an invitation to visit with them the very next day. When I arrived at their home, I found James very close to death. The scene was calm and, at first glance, everything seemed to be in order, but the tranquility was deceptive.
“I don’t know. I can’t put my finger on it exactly. James has been actively dying for weeks. Why is it taking so long? We’ve prepared for the end in the best way that each of us knows how, both psychologically and physically. Everyone has been extremely helpful. Hospice has been wonderful. But we never thought it would turn out to be such a marathon. We’ve been waiting and waiting for what seems like forever for the end but it doesn’t happen.”
She went on to say, “Don’t misunderstand, I’m not impatient for James to die, but there’s something unnerving about all of this that has us both on edge. It’s like standing at the airport fully packed for a long trip waiting to board a flight that never arrives. It’s been exhausting for the both of us. I can’t help but think we’ve overlooked something. I’ve quizzed James about it, but he doesn’t know what it could be either. That’s when Kim suggested we talk to you. We’re both afraid that our impatience and anxiety is going to disrupt the tranquility we’ve worked so hard to achieve. Can you help us?”
James confirmed what Rebecca told me. “Look at me! There’s nothing left that works, I can barely see anymore. It’s pathetic. I should have been dead by now. Even my hospice people are surprised that I’m lingering. I think I’ve been extremely patient so far, but this is ridiculous. I want this to be over, damnit. I don’t know how much more of this I can take.”
There was a blockage, no doubt about it. I could feel it all around me. Had they overlooked something important? I thought I’d better try and find out.
“Yeah, months ago. I’m satisfied that we’ve taken care of every last legal detail. I’ve even had two different lawyers sign off on the deal.”
“How about family; any unfinished business there?
“No, my parents are here, sisters and brothers have all been through here at one time or another. I’m feeling real good about all of my relationships.”
I was stumped. They appeared to have thought of everything. Nothing seemed out of place. So why did we all feel on edge? We sat quietly for a while and then I said, “You know, James, maybe it’s something metaphysical.”
“You mean like God and heaven and that sort of thing?”
“Yeah, in a roundabout sort of way. I was just sitting here thinking about what would be on my mind if I were in your place, facing my imminent death. I suppose I would be thinking about immortality, not in any conventional sense of that word, but more in terms of my legacy. I guess I’m really self-conscious, or maybe it’s vanity, I don’t know, but I think I’d be wondering about my contribution to this wounded world. Since I think about this a lot and I’m not sick, I’m sure that I’d be concerned about it as I lay dying. We’re not such different people, you and I. Do you ever wonder about the impact you’ve had on your world? Is any of this even making any sense?”
Silence. Then tears pooled in his eyes.
“You know, I’ve been a foodie all my life. When I moved to the Bay Area thirty years plus ago it was because it’s the center of the food world. All the world’s greatest cuisines come together here. It’s the culinary Mecca. This town really appreciates the creativity and art involved in cooking. I’ve had the good fortune to work with the best chefs in the world and, in turn, they’ve shared my table. I was good; I mean I was real good. And now that I’m dying, no one has asked me for my recipes. Was it all for nothing?”
“Sweetheart, your friends would never think to ask you for your recipes. They all secretly covet them, of course, but asking for them would be out of the question. It would be kind of ghoulish, don’t you think? Like vultures hovering, waiting to pick over a carcass. And you have to admit that you haven’t been particularly forthcoming about any of this yourself.”
“Yeah, I know, but I’m dying. It’s different now. It’s my legacy, just like Richard said.”
Two days later a simple but elegant ritual had been prepared. Champagne was chilled, a couple of friends were called, and James directed Rebecca to fetch his treasure. Choking back tears of gratitude, he blessed us all.
“Thanks for making this such a great ride, you guys.”
As he said this, he handed each of us a memory stick, which held the booty. James entrusted us with his cookbook manuscript in the hopes that we would have it published after his death. He insisted that the title be: Food to Die For. We promised that we would do our best and thanked him for his trust and friendship.
I guess that took care of that, because seven hours later James was dead.
A New Year Greeting
by W H Auden
On this day tradition allots
to taking stock of our lives,
my greetings to all of you, Yeasts,
Aerobics and Anaerobics:
A Very Happy New Year
to all for whom my ectoderm
is as Middle-Earth to me.
For creatures your size I offer
a free choice of habitat,
so settle yourselves in the zone
that suits you best, in the pools
of my pores or the tropical
forests of arm-pit and crotch,
in the deserts of my fore-arms,
or the cool woods of my scalp.
Build colonies: I will supply
adequate warmth and moisture,
the sebum and lipids you need,
on condition you never
do me annoy with your presence,
but behave as good guests should,
not rioting into acne
or athlete’s-foot or a boil.
Does my inner weather affect
the surfaces where you live?
Do unpredictable changes
record my rocketing plunge
from fairs when the mind is in tift
and relevant thoughts occur
to fouls when nothing will happen
and no one calls and it rains.
I should like to think that I make
a not impossible world,
but an Eden it cannot be:
my games, my purposive acts,
may turn to catastrophes there.
If you were religious folk,
how would your dramas justifyunmerited suffering?
By what myths would your priests account
for the hurricanes that come
twice every twenty-four hours,
each time I dress or undress,
when, clinging to keratin rafts,
whole cities are swept away
to perish in space, or the Flood
that scalds to death when I bathe?
Then, sooner or later, will dawn
a Day of Apocalypse,
when my mantle suddenly turns
too cold, too rancid, for you,
appetizing to predators
of a fiercer sort, and I
am stripped of excuse and nimbus,
a Past, subject to Judgement.