A boyhood memory surfaced today, a memory that every once in a while pops up, I guess, to remind me that all is grass.
I think I got the first inkling of the finality of life (I haven’t been dead yet, nor do I know any who have been), from an old man on a reservation (how I hate that word and what it means to the Native Americans), one of the two where I grew up as a non-Native American.
I think I remember his name, but I’m not sure. It would be much more fitting if I did.
He scared the bejeebers out of me one fine Southwest U.S. day. My chore was to haul the burnables out to an old boiler we used as a fire barrel. On this particular day, I finished poking around in the flames and ashes and turned around to head back to the house.
The he was, the old man.
It looked like he was pointing a firearm at me.
I spooked and tore off back to the house, rounding the garages, banging through the yard gate, through the back door and pounded up the stairs to our upper story.
I’m sure my parents thought I’d seen a ghost.
I stammered out what I thought I saw, and dad headed out to check.
The old guy was just pointing his cane at me, and my imagination supplied the rest. He was inebriated, my dad thought (and he ought to know… he and mom were teetotalers after seeing what the demon alcohol has done to people they served).
I got over the fright (although, maybe not).
That’s not the end of the story, though. I don’t recall meeting the old fellow again, until my dad gently led me to the back of the church several years later, where the shell of the old man lay in one of those pauper’s caskets (I don’t know why that sticks with me), no longer among the living.
I don’t think I spoke. All the questions that the sight raised with me came much later.
Now, that I’m well into the second half of the hundred years I have (I hope), I expect those images to intrude more often.
I wonder. Did my fleet retreat make the old guy grin? I wonder. Does he know he was my introduction to the mystery at the end of this life? He gave me a gift in those memories, memories that will forever tilt me off balance and bring to mind the road ahead.