“What do you want? Can’t you see that I’m in pain?”
Everett Temple was 86 years old and dying of cancer. It was late, after 2 a.m., and yet he had a visitor in his private hospital room.
“I want to help you, Everett. I want to ease your suffering. Why won’t you let me?”
Even in the semi-darkness, the old man could see she had the appearance of a young, very attractive woman. Short, raven black hair, piercing blue eyes, succulent ruby lips, elegant yet brief black gown. His body had long abandoned the ability to react to the erotic, but he remembered when he longed for a woman like her.
Yet for all her beauty and sexual allure, there was something about her he feared. He didn’t know her name but he knew who she was. He had been running from her for years, nearly a decade, and tonight, she had finally caught him.
“You? Ease my suffering? You are my worst enemy.”
He didn’t worry about how a person, a stranger, certainly not family or friends, could be in his hospital room at such a late hour, how she had eluded security, the nursing staff. He accepted that she was here and there was no escaping her.
“Yes, Everett. You especially I do not understand. Despite the medications, you are in constant pain. Cancer has spread to almost every vital organ in your body. There is no cure. Why do you insist on prolonging your nightmarish existence?
“Because I have always been a fighter, never a quitter. I’ll hang on to every second of life I can, no matter what the consequences. I owe it to my family, my children, their children, and their children.”
“I know they all love you, Everett. You have been the strength of four generations of your family. I don’t deny this in the slightest. I’m just saying that your time has ended. You’ve earned your rest.”
She was gentile, kind, mild, in spite of Everett’s obvious revulsion. She tried to stroke his forehead but he flinched at her touch.
“Please, Everett. Your family knows you don’t have long. They don’t want you to go, but they know you are suffering. They know you will never recover, not this time. You’ve made your peace with life. Now make your peace with me.”
“What do you know of life?” The words were laced with contempt.
“Why Everett, I know everything about life. I have all of the memories, the experiences of everyone I have ever visited. Some of them fear me, but most welcome me. I know the rich fullness of all their lives. When you are ready, I’ll know yours, too.
She shared with him the worlds of experience she had gained over the long years, the life of a 15-year-old sheppard girl cut short by Roman soldiers conquering her land. Her brief existence had been peaceful but abundant with the words of God her father taught her and her three brothers.
The young father of five whose joy was his children, whose footsteps were light as he walked each day to his textile store in the merchant’s district of Constantinople, who mourned for all of his family before he too was taken by the plague.
The 18-year-old boy from Boise, Idaho who had gladly volunteered to serve his country, who had always dreamed of glory and honor in the Army, the same Army in which his father and grandfather had proudly served. He was cut down by Nazi bullets less than three minutes after landing on Omaha beach.
She went on and on, telling the stories of many people from all over the world, who had lived so many different kinds of lives, heroes, thieves, scholars, merchants, all human, all with dreams and hopes, some lived short, others very long, and she knew and rejoiced in all of them.
“Now do you understand, Everett? Now do you see why you don’t have to be afraid? In a sense, you will never die, for I will always remember you, every second of your life, from the moment you were born until the instant of your death. You can fight. Hang on an hour, perhaps a day, but in the end, you will come with me, everyone comes with me.”
Everett Temple felt especially tired but he noticed that the pain was gone. He could hear the steady beep of the heart monitor, but then the sound became indistinct. Finally, it completely ceased, and yet Everett was still staring into the eyes of his dark companion.
She stood and extended her hand toward him. “Come with me, Everett.”
He stood or something did. His actual essence perhaps. The flesh and blood, now inert, remained behind. “I’m sorry I tried to run from you.”
She smiled. “You have nothing to be sorry about, Everett. I understand you now. I understand everything.”
Joyously Everett accompanied the Angel of Death on the next part of his journey.
Someone mentioned the film “Meet Joe Black” last night and I recognized it as the latest incarnation of the many remakes of the movie “Death Takes a Holiday,” where personified death ceases his duties in order to try to understand why people fear him. I tried my hand at a similar story earlier this month called Entering the Slow Dark, but that version of “death” was harsh and impatient. I decided that death might be better illustrated as a kinder, more gentile woman, in this case, actress Angelina Jolie.