I know, because I keep reading about it, how “end of days” is supposed to work. This is when the good guys (not me or mine) will go wafting upward to heaven whilst the unshriven and/or non-religious, disbelievers, and the many who believe in “the wrong gods” are left behind in a world of Bad People. Or, at least not good enough to be drawn into heaven.
Eschatology is a part of theology concerned with the final events of history or the ultimate destiny of humanity. This concept is commonly referred to as the “end of the world” or “end times.” In Judaism, the end times are usually called the “end of days” (aḥarit ha – yamim, אחרית הימים).
If ever we’ve faced a genuine “end of days” for all of humankind — rather than for a specific group of people at who is one of the many current objects of local (but highly effective) genocide, it’s right now. This oncoming “change of climate” is no local holocaust on some “other” continent. This is the one that is going to hit everyone, though not everyone at the same time.
And there will be no gentle ascension into heaven for the praiseworthy and most righteous. To put it in musical terms, one more Tom Lehrer song for those who like a little humor with the “end of the world.”
Now, of course, we don’t expect to do it in one big flash-bang of bombs, though given one thing and another, that’s not entirely out of the picture … but this is still a good summary number.
Me being me, I never expected to go wafting up to heaven but I also didn’t think I would hit my 70s and wonder if the world was going to survive through my granddaughter’s midlife crisis.
I was driving along I-95 in Connecticut when I spotted the billboard for “Direct Cremation”.
Traffic was just slow enough for me to read a few lines of the pitch. It promised no fuss, no delays, no middlemen, red tape … and a money-back guarantee if unhappy with service. I wasn’t sure who’d get the money back.
I started laughing over Marty Robbins and “El Paso” playing on the oldies CD. I was still laughing when Marty’s gunfighter died in the arms of his young sweetheart. Instead of a tearful funeral and the strains of “Streets of Laredo,” maybe the gunfighter should have had a direct cremation. No muss, no fuss, no mournful boot hill goodbye.
Direct cremation may be the latest answer to a world of violence. Mob hits, drive-by killings, gang bang slayings with collateral damage. Stressed out serial killers and contract button men doing “jobs.” The bodies just keep piling up.
Medical Examiners are overworked. Cemeteries are running out of room. The U.S. government, in its infinite wisdom, only gives each citizen a whopping $242 per body.
What to do?
Speaking of overworked medical examiners, I’m reminded of a story I covered in Boston.
Goes back 40 plus years. The county medical examiner was “under the gun” with some of his findings. He didn’t look like Quincy, Ducky, or even the sexy Lacey from the “Castle” series. He was a sad, tired, bleary-eyed man in the autumn of his years.
Your intrepid reporter was on the scene. The M.E. was momentarily diverted so I could check the autopsy lab and the morgue. I found the controversial corpse and made a cursory examination. I confronted the M.E. about his findings on the case. He insisted the victim was stabbed to death. I asked him about the several large bullet holes I’d just found. He was speechless.
Direct cremation would have avoided a lot of controversy and embarrassing questions. It’s an idea whose time has come.
These are also known as “drive-through” cremations, I’m sure you can find more if you look. Google “drive through crematorium.” I’m sure every mobster should have these places on speed-dial.
I usually try to be funny or at least amusing when I write these blogs. Sadly, this will not be one of them. Yesterday, my furry grandson Banning crossed the Rainbow Bridge. He was a sweet, wonderful little guy. It was only a month or so ago that he officiated at his Mom and Dad’s wedding.
For those of you who have never had the soul-wrenching job of having to have your pet put to sleep, you may think the Rainbow Bridge is the bridge Thor uses to get from Earth to Asgard.
That’s not the one. Although I guess it could be if your dog is a Viking.
Anyone that has done it knows it refers to a card the vet gives you when your dog dies. It’s really quite beautiful and if for some strange reason you should ever find yourself feeling just too happy or in too good a mood and feel the need to cry your eyes out, just read it. Works every time. I got to thinking about this because there was a copy of it on the wall in the vet’s office.
I first experienced the Rainbow Bridge when my dog George had to be put down.
I’ve always found that term so odd. When you “put the baby down”, you put the baby to bed. But when you “put your pet down”, you put him to sleep. Forever. Never quite understood that.
Anyway, George was my first time going through this nightmare. I just couldn’t do it. To me, I was playing God. I had the power of life and death over another being. How arrogant was that? My then-wife and I agonized for days about when to do it and even if we could do it. We decided to take a ride around the block to clear our heads. When we came back, George was in a coma.
We rushed him to the vet realizing we had waited way too long. We were both total basket cases. And then the oddest thing happened. The doctor who took care of us was a doctor we had never seen before. We had been going to the same vet for years. I didn’t think much about it at the time. New doctors come and go.
I was also too much of wreck to even think about it until later. But here’s the thing. He was beautiful. Not just handsome, beautiful. My ex even said at the time “that’s the most beautiful man I’ve ever seen.”
He did what he had to do. He was incredibly nice and kind to us. We didn’t really notice until later because we were so devastated. We went home, cried for about a week and then as it does, life moved on. One of the only cures for the grief of losing a loved one is time.
So, fast forward about a month or so. One day I get a bill in the mail from the vet. All the bill says is “George – $50.” I look at it and go ‘what’? I was pretty sure I had paid all my vet bills, so I called the vet and asked what the bill was for.
There was a really long pause and the lady at the other end of the phone finally said in a quiet whisper, “It’s for… George.”
I said “Yes I know that. It says so right here on the bill. But what is it for?”
In an even quieter whisper, she said, “It’s for… George. You asked for him to be cremated.”
Apparently, we’d been asked at the time if we wanted George to be cremated and we said yes. I have no memory whatsoever of doing that, I was such a mess at the time. But I had to chuckle. Enough time had gone by that I could see the humor in the whole thing. So, I laughed and then asked her why she was whispering.
She explained most people get very emotional all over again when they are informed of the cremation, so they try to be as gentle and kind as possible. I said that made sense and that was very nice of them. She then said, “And by the way… George is ready.” I said, “Ready for what?”
Again, the whisper came back “He’s ready. He’s here. You wanted to keep the ashes.” Again, no memory of asking for that either. I laughed again and spent a few minutes consoling her because she seemed more upset about this than I was. I said I’d be right over.
So, chuckling at the whole incident and sort of happy that enough time had passed that I could see the humor in the whole thing, I went to pick up George. I entered the office and said I was here to pick up George. Instantly everyone got very quiet and out came the whispers again. I reassured them I was OK, and I paid the bill. Then the nice lady behind the counter looked furtively to the left and the right and reached down under counter and handed me a plain brown paper bag. Sort of like a drug deal. I smiled to myself. For some reason this was just getting funnier, they were all so sweet.
As I was leaving, I asked if the doctor was around so I could thank him for his kindness. I didn’t remember his name. I described him and they looked at me puzzled. No doctor of that description worked there. They hadn’t hired a new doctor in years. True story, swear to God. As the theme to the Twilight Zone played in my head, I left with my paper bag and got in the car. I looked in the bag and there were two things. One, a very plain white box. George. And then I pulled out this postcard with the Rainbow Bridge on it. I read it and burst out in tears and cried my eyes out all the way home.
I’ve helped many more of my furry family to that bridge since then and I will do so again. I didn’t have to make the choice in Banning’s case. His Mom and Dad, David and Katie did. But it didn’t make it one bit less gut-wrenching. They did what they had to do.
The ultimate act of kindness. I’m proud of them.
Keanu Reeves was on Colbert a while back and for some reason, Colbert asked him what happens after you die. He paused for a second and said.
“You will be missed by the people that loved you.”
There was stunned silence in the audience and Colbert who was literally speechless. He just said. “Wow.”
For the last few days, I’ve been waking up to the realization that I’m probably going to die of heart problems. Now, being as I’m already 72 — and I recognize that I and everyone else is going to die of something eventually — this isn’t shocking or surprising. Once I finally understood that this heart thing wasn’t an attack or a disease, but a genetic problem, a lot of things made more sense.
The cardiologist was very good about explaining the nature of the problem and how in families that have it, one out of every two children will have the condition. That was when I realized the surgery I’d had was not a cure but a temporary fix.
It was (is) an interim solution, although I’m beginning to think that life is an interim solution to eternity.
How temporary? No one knows. At my age, everything — even my heart — grows slowly. It might take 20 years, by which time I could have been run down by a crazed FedEx driver or been done in by something else. Or it could be next year.
What I was told is that “So far, your heart is still pumping a reasonable amount of blood and you have an adequate number of red blood cells where they need to be. But the heart is growing. Again.” The implication was they will not repeat the surgery. The heart could last — even overgrown and thickened — decades, but the surgery might easily kill me. Or, as that old joke goes: “The surgery was a success, but the patient died.”
So I’m not going through an “Oh I’m going to die” crisis. More like doing a mental calculation about how long I’ve reasonably got. A few years? A decade? Two decades? More? No one has a measurement, so in the end, I’m still dealing with the same thing I was dealing with before: something will kill me. Probably my heart but give me a little time and who knows what else could pop up?
Given my family history, I figure cancer or heart. Both run on both sides of the family, but aside from my mother, most people on both sides also manage to live a pretty long life, DNA notwithstanding.
It was at that moment that the phone rang. It nearly jarred me right out of bed. I swear it’s louder sometimes than others and this was a really loud morning.
I’m not kidding. It was the “Death Insurance” saleswoman. Alive, not recorded.
“How are you?” she said.
“Fine,” I rasped.
“As you probably know,” she began, “the price of funeral arrangements is exorbitant. So, we are selling … ”
“No!” I choked and hung up. Gee WHIZ!
Seriously. Did I need that particular call as my first call of the week? It’s bad enough to get all this crap on television.
Recently, there was a question in some list of Q & A: “Why is beauty associated with mortality?”
My answer was that being alive was generally more attractive than being dead. Maybe I watch too many crime shows (we are currently re-watching all 20 years of “Midsomer Murders” again), but I always think of CDI (I think) Barnaby asking the coroner “when did he/she/they die” and being told “You know I can’t answer you until after the post-mortem.” Or the same question on NCIS, except then it’s an autopsy rather than a post-mortem.
Either way, corpses are not generally regarded as lovely to look at.
My theory is that the whole “post-mortem” thing doesn’t make me think about beauty. I’m sure there are some very strange folks who think dead is delightful (funeral home directors?) (serial killers?) (taxidermists?), but I am not one of them. I don’t even like dead flowers and always put off throwing away withered bouquets until they are past withered and have become dried (but nonetheless withered) flowers.
Thus I am always glad I’m alive since dead is less attractive and less entertaining. The only movie I can think of where a corpse made me laugh was “S.O.B.” Otherwise, the non-alive are usual the subjects of a murder investigation.
Just saying. I value aliveness. The older I get, the more I value it. Besides, dying is expensive in America.
Most of the stuff I buy online are necessities that are cheaper online or not available (locally) offline. Dog food. Dog biscuits. Over-the-counter medications like generic Tylenol and generic allergy meds.
I buy very little clothing because I don’t wear much and feel I have more than enough probably for the rest of my life. I haven’t bought a pair of shoes in about 4 years. Once a year, I buy underwear for me and Garry. Maybe it’s my imagination, but I swear it wears out faster than it used to. Cheaper fabric?
Every now and again, I buy a couple of new tunics tops and loose pants for summer — or yoga pants for winter. When it’s Garry’s birthday, I get him whatever he is currently yearning for. This year, it was Marine Corps garb but that’s only because we’ve run out of NCIS clothing.
Any place from which I’ve ever bought anything sends me advertisements for their sales including cameras, clothing, computers, furniture, cell phones, and phone carriers. Streaming TV stations, shoe stores, LL Bean, and Land’s End. J Jill and Coldwater Creek.
Every single advertisement assures me this is my absolute last chance, my final opportunity to get 40% off, 50% off (with free shipping for purchases over $100 or $75) or cash in on their two for one sale. Don’t forget, if you rope in a friend, he or she will also get a fabulous discount, too.
Every sale is my final opportunity to acquire something. The most annoying thing is even if I want something, they don’t have what I want. Wrong size, wrong model. Too big, too small, too something. Or it’s in some strange color like lime green or delicate baby pink. If I really need it, it’s the one that isn’t on sale.
These final chances to save money never end. I have concluded that the “last chance” will never arrive. Before I have time to delete yesterday’s “last chances,” there is an entirely new set of last chances in my inbox. I remember thinking I got way too much snail mail. I still get way too much snail mail, but the amount of email is catastrophic and overwhelming.
It takes me hours to delete all my final chances to get whatever is on sale at a gigantic, huge, monstrous, final last chance opportunity.
My conclusion from all of this? There is no such thing as a final sale unless the company is really going out of business.
A lot of “going out of business” sales are also endless. I remember when I was growing up in Queens, there were stores that had been going out of business for years. Eventually, a law was passed that you could only go out of business for six months. After that, you were either back IN business, or you had to close your doors.
Also, you couldn’t have a continuous sale. If it lasted past a certain interval (I forget what it was, but something like six weeks), they became your regular prices.
I suspect when any of us really get our final opportunity — our true last chance — it won’t be via email. It won’t even be through snail mail. You or someone will discover someone dead.
As he was nearing the end of his life, Mr. Fine often reflected on the past. He could not help but do so. As for his health, he had good days and bad. Sometimes he felt as if nothing was wrong. On other days he could just feel that his body was wearing out, and the illness was doing him in. He tried to keep the situation as a private matter between his wife, his doctor and his lawyer. Before it would be too late, his wife knew there were others to tell.
Mr. Fine’s contemplations were mostly about his son. He wondered if he should have done anything differently. Should he have been more strict? Less? Should he have pushed him into certain sports? Music? Something else? Should he have made him work harder? Perhaps he should have been less demanding regarding work. He just could not decide if his parenting decisions were correct.
When Samuel Fine was young he seemed to enjoy watching his father work. He would follow him around and stare at the things Mr. Fine was doing. At times, he just seemed to be “under foot” but Mr. Fine tried to be patient with this.
“Now just stand over there son so you will be out of the way, and I will tell you what I am doing.” At that Mr. Fine would explain the work. He would explain each step of his painting projects. He would give detailed explanations of how he was fixing anything mechanical or electrical. He wanted his son to understand the importance of maintenance and the value of repair rather than throwing something away. Mr. Fine was under the impression that his son was learning from all this.
When Sam was a little older, Mr. Fine had determined that the boy was big enough to assist with his projects so he invited the boy to partake in whatever he was doing.
“Sam, do you want to help with this painting project? Today we will prepare the front porch and stairs for a new coat of paint.”
“Not now, dad. I have to meet the guys, we are going to play a game at the park.”
“OK, son. Maybe next time we can work together.”
The next time, however, Sam would have something else to do. In fact, every “next time” Sam would have something to do. Every request for help by the father was met with “Not now, dad.”
For Sam, life was too busy for dad. He had a game, a school event, a meeting with the guys, whatever that meant. He had homework to do or he just did not feel well.
“Son, can you cut the grass today? I am feeling rather ill and the weather is nice.”
“Not now, dad. I am not feeling too good either.”
For many years, this was the way of things. Mr Fine would ask for assistance and Sam had a reason not to help. Sometimes the father would gently try to push, even insist, that Sam help around the house. Sam would push back, then go off to do whatever he thought was more important.
When Sam was done with college, he left home for an apartment with friends. After a few years, he got married and had a family of his own. He had a nice job, a nice home and children who were expected to do their chores.
Sam would come around to visit his parents, but usually picked a time when his father would not be home. He just did not want to face his dad. He could not explain the feeling, but it was something that he knew went back to his youth.
“Sam, why don’t you come around when your father is here” Mrs. Fine would say.
“Oh mom, he will just want me to help with some project that I have no time for. I just hate to have to say no and see that look on his face.”
“What look is that?”
“You know, mom, that wounded look.”
“That disappointment look you mean, don’t you, Sam?” Mrs. Fine responded. Sam had no answer. He said his good bye and went on his way.
When his doctor advised there may be just a few months left for the father, Mrs. Fine disobeyed her husband’s request and told Sam of the situation. She had hoped they would end on a better note than in recent years when Sam rarely saw his father.
One afternoon Mrs. Fine found her husband staring out the window. “Mort, what are you doing?” He looked around as if he was in great pain and could barely turn his head.
“I was just thinking that tomorrow I will cut the grass. It looks like it’s time.” Mrs. Fine just shook her head.
After a few moments, the doorbell broke the silence in the room. Sam had arrived to see what he could do. He did not want to give up his mom’s confidence so he carefully chose his words.
“Hi, dad. I heard you might not be feeling too good today so I thought maybe I could help with something.”
Mr. Fine just stared at Sam as if he must be kidding. It was an odd sort of look that Sam had not seen before. At first, he did not know what to say and the two spent a few moments just staring at one another.
“Perhaps I could mow the grass or something,” Sam tried out on his father.
Mort Fine stared at the man before him. He was assessing what his son had become. He flashed back through the years of Sam’s life. He remembered the good things and the bad. He remembered his school days, his friends, his activities. He remembered his dreams and his goals. The memories of Sam washed over him like the ocean tide in a storm. Finally, Mort Fine knew just what to respond to Sam’s offer.
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