After spending a better part of the day indoors, he decided an evening walk would do him good. He took a path less trodden and thereupon, heard an eerie tune. Initially, it was low and far off. Then it got louder and more melancholic. He turned around facing the direction whence it came. It was then that he saw its source-a group of women aboard a truck in a funeral procession. They sang in moan full tones and their faces expressed much pathos. Red ribbons dangled from the side mirrors telling the onlookers that someone had crossed the river. The question that lingered in their minds was, “who could it be?” Time stood still as the motorcade made its way to an unknown destination. Death is indeed the common foe to all: young and old, rich and poor, wise and foolish…six feet under, we would all be. Death is the maiden who wiles and beguiles the unwilling suitor. Death is the iron curtain that opens and closes, never to open again. A dark cloud of despair hung over all for a moment, then it disappeared with the passing of the procession. The few curious bystanders went their way, pondering over the businesses ahead. However, for Richard, what was to be a usual evening walk, turned out to be a soul-searching endeavour.
He had worked in a hospital before, and in spite of its high profile in provision of healthcare, death was a common occurrence. Eventually, Richard came to accept it as a way of life- we are born, we grow, we marry, we bear children then we die. He thought it the inescapable vicious cycle. Those who embraced it lived in serenity. Those who did not lived in quite desperation. However, what astounded Richard most was the response of patients to this age-old monster. There were those whose bodies exhibited a struggle. Their eyes popped out, their muscles were more tense than usual and their throats as dry as a bone. They looked as if they had just seen a ghost. Many struggled. Then there was the rarer kind, whose bodies exhibited grace and ease. Most had their eyes shut and those who did not gave the impression they had just seen an old friend. Their muscles were relaxed and their arms rested on their chests or peacefully on their sides. They seemed to have a smile on their faces. One could almost say they saw it coming…and embraced it.
As Richard pondered over these things, a theory on death was formulating in his mind. He thought it a portal into another realm. One realm that is of unending bliss and mystical mirth or the other, that is of untold suffering and perpetual pain. How one lives on this earth is a pre-cursor into either of the two realms. If he is good, then the former awaits him. If he is bad, then the latter is his inevitable destiny. Looking back over his shoulders, Richard thought himself a relatively good person. He lived at peace with most people (his mother-in-law tried him on this one). He had a stable marriage and educated his children to such levels that many esteemed him highly. He occasionally went to church and gave generously to its projects. “Yes” he thought to himself, “I am a pretty good bloke…but then, so was Francis.” They had gone through the University together and grew to be very good friends. Francis was a man of the people. His charisma was enviable-he had a way with people from all walks of life and oh, how contagious was his laugh. Half of his six-figure salary went to philanthropic projects within the community and beyond. In fact, several professors in the local university owed their distinguished positions to his generosity. His wife simply adored him. “A better husband and a loving father, I would never find,” she would often quip at the thought of him. His children looked up to him and strived to surpass his achievements. As for his peers, well, let us just say they thought him a genius of life. Many sought his counsel and put it to good use. You could say Francis was a lucky man. However, on that tragic day, hooked onto a dialysis machine, Francis was anything but lucky. His fingers dug deep into the sheets. His muscles tensed. His throat was parched. He had a look in his eyes that Richard would never forget. He was petrified, as one who had just seen a ghost. On that day, Francis died. On that day, good Francis struggled. Richard’s theory crumbled like a house of cards. It was at this point that the story of little Rodger (supposedly true) heard in one his sporadic visits to church, came to mind.
Roger’s father was an unusually godly man. Every day, it was his custom to gather the family after dinner and ask them ever so tenderly, “Are you still friends with Jesus? Have you hurt his feelings today or have you made him glad?” Each member of the family would then relate how they spent their day in reference to the question. On that day, little Rodger with a gleam in his eye and excitement in his voice, gave his account.
“Daddy, I took a nap after lunch and dreamt I went to heaven. There was this big angel with a big white book. He called out your name and you said, “present.” Then you entered heaven. He then called out Mummy’s name and she said, “Present” and followed you…finally, he called out my name and because I am so short he could not see me, I jumped up and down saying, “Here! Here!” The gates opened and I entered heaven where you were all waiting for me”
Rodger’s father laughed heartily as did the whole family. He then leaned over, pulled Rodger to his side and said triumphantly, “Jesus is smiling.” Several days later, Rodger was involved in a tragic accident. He went into a coma. Friends and family gathered at his bedside praying. From time to time, they would sing a hymn (to the comforting of other patients too) accompanied by the regular beeps of the clinical monitors. Suddenly, Rodger’s lips moved. He was mumbling something under his breath. His father moved closer and leaned his ears towards his mouth. “Here! Here!” Little Rodger whispered. The monitors stopped beeping. His eyes teary and a lump in his throat, Rodger’s father turned and smiled saying, “It seems Rodger would be the one waiting for us up yonder.”
It then dawned on Richard what he must do. The question is, did he?