An Immortal Mission
By Web Ruble
Web writes: "A retired newspaper reporter and now well past 70, the modern world allows things to happen that go against the grain. However, my faith sustains me."
It wasn’t what I was there for, but one of the three women sitting at a table near mine, was flashing great legs. She had a comely face and a cheerful countenance.
Ahhh. This might not be so bad after all, I thought.
Wait a minute!
What kind of lustful thinking this? Perhaps it was a diversion from deadly doomsville. Rather, I was there for the grim task of talking to Dennis Waterton, a retired science teacher who had just lost his wife.
Not only did his wife -- until recently, at least, a devout Christian -- die three weeks ago, but she enlisted assistance in ending her life . You see, Betty had incurable, terminal cancer. The agony, despair and resultant lack of dignity were beyond what she felt she could endure.
Betty and I had been good friends. Moreover, her husband Dennis was also a friend, but I didn’t know him as well. Betty and I had been compatriot reporters for a daily newspaper. She was a sort of a common-sense, bright, Betty-come-lately to the staff, and her work proved her to be a good addition.
She was just about the only other reporter on the staff who was an announced Christian. Because of that and because we worked out of the same suburban office, we did a lot of sharing.
I retired in May, and we fell out of contact. A short time later -- perhaps a year -- I heard off the retirees’ underground telegraph that Betty was gravely ill . . . perhaps dying. Her cancer which had been in remission, now was back.
She and her husband had taken an early September vacation to Arizona, and on the trip she began feeling lousy. After a few days of trying to determine what was going on, they came home. Physicians took one look at her and immediately plopped her in the hospital.
There she languished. Through her suffering and subsequent dissatisfaction with her pastor, I am told, she left her mainline Presbyterian church to which she had belonged for many years, and joined another. It was smaller, its pastor rather off-beat, and it was in another suburban community. Her new pastor apparently was more supportive of what she was considering.
After several weeks, her oncologists and care givers allowed her to go home for her final days. I am not certain, but I think hospice had been notified. She was deteriorating rapidly. Whether hospice ever arrived at her home to perform care, I don’t know.
Now, Oregon was one of a handful of states that legally allowed a person to “die with dignity” -- with the aid of a designated doctor -- when physicians universally agreed that the patient was certain to die soon.
That’s what the circumstances were. Although I didn’t know it at the time. Oh, I had heard that she was dying and the end was near, but I didn’t know the rest of it.
I went to the east suburban news office to check on it, and to make sure I had the right dope. I did, but I was a day late. She had just died, news bureau folk with grim faces told me.
My mind was a swirl. I felt physically ill. Dizzily I left the office chastising myself for not staying on top of developments. Oh, I had the right idea, but things had moved too fast and I had fallen too far behind. Why hadn’t I been more caring and diligent?
I had two feelings about it: sad, because I was convinced the world needed Betty (the news business needed her attitude toward God and humanity), and relieved because her suffering was over.
I turned it over and over in my mind and finally, 80 percent of my soul supported the latter. She had “gone home” to be free of earthly pain and to be with Jesus her Savior, and God.
A few weeks later, though, I got the shocker -- she had enlisted the aid of one of Jack Kevorkian’s disciples, to end her own life. (Her reasoning, I am told, was that she was rail thin and near the end anyway. And she wanted to go out with a modicum of dignity.) ‘Tis a noble notion if you’re not a Christian, and maybe even if you are.
However, committing suicide is against God’s law, as I understand it. And here this diligent and loving Christian had gone ahead and done it. Awful!
I found myself asking the most serious questions -- would God deny Betty entrance to heaven? Would all of her good deeds and top drawer attitude toward her fellow man be ignored in view of this one final deed? What would happen to her soul? Surely, she would not burn in Sheol. I had liked her a lot and could not visualize such a wonderful person languishing forever in that bad place.
This was disturbing. It shook my faith. You see, I had not only admired her attitude, but had tried to emulate it. In a way, even though considerably younger, she had become my emotional and spiritual example in the face of adversity. We had both been through emotionally debilitating times, but from different time frames and perspectives. She had been a correspondent for more than a dozen years with the editors refusing to elevate her to staff status. She did finally make it, however, but it took almost a revolution to do it. But let’s not get into all of that here. Suffice it to say that the process took many turns and put me in harm’s way -- on the margin.
Me? The last 2-3 years on the newspaper I found myself pushed aside as too old and of the wrong political persuasion, and I had grown into a malcontent. Her attitudinal example kept me from going off the deep end.
Now this. Gaaaaa!
Well, the only thing I could do was say that God forever is in control. Let it go at that. The only act I could do was pray.
= = =
Now I am on Old Highway 99 -- just north of Vancouver, Wash. -- and I am going to meet Betty’s widower Dennis for lunch at the Elderberry Inn at Hazel Dell. I had promised Betty-and-Dennis’ two sons (at that moment intellectuals at Ivy League colleges in the East) that I would stay in touch.
Well, I hadn’t. I had lost their addresses . Now, I am told they live in New York. Dennis would be sure to let them know I still intended to connect. He would fill me in with new addresses.
As I enter the café, I go to the far end and sit near that trio of young women. I get my leg flash.
I am thoroughly disgusted with myself. It is but a few minutes when Dennis enters and comes to the table at the room’s north end. After the usual greetings, back slapping and hurrahs, we plunge into menus and make our selections. Being older and diabetic, I order a veggie salad and a tuna sandwich. Dennis, being somewhat heartier and relatively free from serious caloric concerns, orders a cheeseburger with bumper fries -- no doubt what I would’ve ordered a few years ago. We pass on the martinis we had talked about earlier when we set this meeting.
Moments later we are talking about “the boys” in New York. Yes. They both graduated from college – one from Brown and the other from Columbia. No. They don’t live together in a Greenwich Village flat. However, they live within a few blocks of one another not too far from Greenwich Village. Both have jobs and are doing reasonably well. However, they’ll soon have to move from such expensive living quarters. Yattita yattita.
We exchange addresses, including the boys’.
“Well,” I said. “Knowing those boys and the thorough up-bringin’ you and Betty gave ‘em, you won’t have to worry much about what they are doing, and what troubles may lurk in the shadows.”
“Oh, I don’t worry and wonder too much,” Dennis says. “Randy and Roy can take care of themselves. They both have girlfriends. They work hard. Don’t carouse much. Who knows? Maybe they’ll both marry soon.”
“I hope so . . . What church did they end up going to?”
“Who cares?” Dennis says. “I don’t believe in all of that hocus pocus anyway. You have to understand that as a scientist -- well, okay, I am a retired science teacher -- I only believe in what can be proven to me by scientific experiment. You know, here are the results. What do you make of it? That sort of thing.”
‘Yeah. All of that fistic mystic stuff is for people who don’t think, are misguided, or have weak minds.”
“But . . .your wife . . .she . . .”
“Oh, Betty had her beliefs. I thought they were so much bunk. She believed all of that stuff. But where’s the proof? Science and her death make a mockery of it.”
By this time I am shaken. I am dazed and don’t remember much more about our lunch which went by in a new fog. So disappointed am I that I can barely sit there and believe my ears. Did he really say that? Or am I getting so old that I am imagining things? No. Let’s face it. I heard it. Obviously, all of that strong love-of-God conviction that had been issuing from Betty’s mouth, aura and countenance for years, has had little effect on her husband. It’s a wonder they stayed together all these years.
But I must consider this -- in our world, a Christian wife is to stay with her husband, even though he is not yet Christian, or at least has yet to professes being one. She should keep trying to convert him, however. Because someday, all of that persuasive talk may finally bear grapes that issue a fine vintage wine.
With a double dagger in my heart (first Betty’s and now Dennis’), I drive back to Portland and I paraphrase that old quote of English-Welsh poet John Donne of the early 17th century -- “ No use sending to know for whom the bell tolls. It tolls for thee.” Then I add, though I am involved in mankind, I have to realize that God is in charge. Not me.
But can I help?
Yes. Pray constantly. Then I should consider that Mother Jones sign that once graced the desk of one of our female reporters -- “Pray for the dead and fight like (the dickens) for the living.”
(© 2012 Web Ruble – All rights reserved. Written material may not be duplicated without permission.)