On the first day of this year, I met my new hospice visitee, D., who is only 57. The first thing I noticed was how beautifully she’d decorated her room at the hospice, though she’d only been there a few days. It is full of art and gorgeous things to look at and framed photos, and she herself was dressed on that day as if she were going on a date, complete with sparkling jewelry.
I have since been struck by the contrast between us, how I will let the simplest thing go undone year after year because in a mere thirty years, give or take, I’m going to be dead and it won’t matter anymore, while D., who actually may die very soon, does every possible thing to make her living space and appearance just the way she wants them. So she can enjoy them today.
To be around her is suddenly to be surrounded by dogs and cats and people and gifts. Plans mutate from moment to moment and there is a certain excitement in the air.
Embarrassingly, D. is more at peace with her death than I am. The hospice volunteer is not supposed to say, “So, I gather you’re going to die.” But nor is the hospice volunteer supposed to pretend the patient is not going to die, and twice I have caught myself saying things that implied D. has a possibly long future.
One of them had to do with a hair appointment she wanted me to make for her at a famous salon. I pride myself somewhat on getting things done, but I was no match for this place. I absolutely could not get through to them. But when I started to apologize to D. on the phone for not having been able to make the appointment yet, she said, “Oh, don’t worry—I took care of it.”
I complimented her, “Next time I need help making something happen, I know who to turn to,” and she was pleased, but I probably oughtn’t to have said that, because she won’t be here to turn to for long, though I now have no doubt she’s going to do plenty of things while she is still here.
The next time I saw her, she made sure I understood that she is going to die. She told me she has paid for her cremation—she said it’s going to be X number of dollars, in contrast to that of a friend of hers, whose cremation was arranged after he had died, and cost 20 times that amount. Apparently, once there is a decomposing body in the picture, they have you by the short hairs. D. said as much, and that she wasn’t having that, and so she has already taken care of it, along with choosing the place for her memorial service and lining up a pastor to officiate.
She said she wants me to attend her service, and as we discussed it and I pictured us all there remembering her, I was afraid I might cry right then. I felt sad to think of her gone. In fact, I can hardly imagine it. She is so full of life.
The last time I saw her, our third time together, I took her by cab to visit her cat in her cat’s new home, and D. got in a fight with the cab driver. Normally that wouldn’t seem highly positive, but under the circumstances, I thought it was great.
My small meditation group met last week. Beforehand, I walked from work to Ananda Fuara for dinner, and then from there to the Zen Center. At Seventh and Market, a white homeless guy in a rage threw something at a black homeless guy. The thing—a banana—missed the intended target and hit me squarely on the same knee that got bashed in my bicycle accident on December 21, though just a tad above the area that still aches, fortunately.
Then the white guy threw something else at the black guy, missed him again, and hit my other leg! The banana left a welt, but I was just glad it wasn’t a rock, a bottle, or a broken bottle, and that it didn’t hit me in the face.
My apartment seems to have an ant on every possible surface. They are on the kitchen counters, the toilet seat, my pillow, the cat. They are walking up and down the clothes hanging in the closet. An ant is an increasingly unwelcome sight, but per my commitment to non-harming of these tiny creatures, most deaths have been accidental.
I spend some time each morning fishing ants out of Hammett’s water bowl and have even gotten to perform a more dramatic rescue or two, as when one fell into the tub just after I’d turned on the hot water.
I scooped it out of the water as fast as I could with a small piece of paper and set it on the window sill to recuperate, but it didn’t seem to be moving. It needed some life force, perhaps, so I picked up the piece of paper and held it on my hand. Sure enough, the ant feebly waved an arm or two and then suddenly sprang entirely back to life. I set the piece of paper back down and he or she stalked off in high dudgeon.
About a week after New Year’s Day, I met the grilling neighbor and his wife while doing laundry around the corner. The wife and I greeted each other, as always, but, for the first time in a mighty long time, more than a year, the husband also said something to me. I’m happy that now we can all at least say hello again.
A recent New Yorker had an article about the replacing of the venerable fountain at the Lincoln Center. The new fountain is by the world’s foremost water fountain guy, the fellow who did the incredible water show at the Bellagio in the Las Vegas, and the tallest water fountain in the world (it is in Dubai and sends water 500 feet into the air), and, yep, the water feature I like so much at the McNamara Terminal of the Detroit airport.
When I called my mother to draw this to her attention, I made the regrettable discovery that she pronounces McNamara incorrectly, though I was not able to persuade her of this. She seems to think the place is named for McNamara, the Vietnam guy, who was also a president of the Ford Motor Company, and that it’s pronounced MACKNamara, but I feel it is pronounced MICKNamara, since McDonald’s, the ubiquitous burger purveyor, is pronounced MICKDonald’s (isn’t it?).
Did you know McNamara’s middle name was Strange? His mother’s maiden name.
My mother sent me a follow-up email that ended with something like, “I used to be confused about many things when I was young, too (like about 47).”
She also had this good advice: “Be careful, the two things that you could say that will certainly result in a humiliatingly invasive search at the airport are: ‘bomb’ and ‘MICKNamara.’”