No One Chooses

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September 15, 2010

A sudden medical problem nearly a decade ago made me afraid I was going to die on the spot. Inside a Costco of all places and near a woman cooking meat samples. Croaking at Costco wasn’t my idea of death with dignity, especially with shoppers rushing past to score the woman’s free food. They looked as if a corpse sprawled in the aisle wouldn’t deter them. Luckily the symptoms faded, and I finished my shopping trip.

Today, strolling through a nursery that supplies plants for my small but lush goldfish pond, I thought again of death. If everything ended now, this would be a fine and fitting place. A brief item in the newspaper would read: “Police said nursery workers at Hughes Water Gardens found him in a greenhouse, floating face down among giant tropical lilies. When they turned him over, he was smiling.”

Who wouldn’t prefer a last breath scented with the earthy smell of water alive with greenery rather than that of sizzling fat at Costco? Or see as a last sight the veined symmetry of Victoria lily pads rather than the meat cooker’s inadequate hairnet? Then again, no one gets to choose.

“It’s his time.” A doctor said this twenty-three days ago. He was speaking to my father’s wife and one of my two brothers. Down the hall in the emergency room, Dad was slipping away.

Gazing into still waters aglow with exotic plants and flowers, I wanted to see a reflection of his face, not mine. I wanted to go back fifty years, back to our lake, my brothers and I kids again, taking turns launching from Dad’s slippery shoulders. I wanted to see him looking skyward, squinting into the sun to follow my arc, the rise and fall that he began. But I felt only a memory. It was his skin that I remembered.