Adele was an old Russian Jewish woman staying with us at the hospice. I got the call that she was dying and came to her room to find her curled over in bed, gasping for breath. Her eyes were wide with fear. An attendant tried to reassure her: “You don’t have to be frightened.” Adele replied through her gasps, “If it was happening to you, you’d be frightened. Believe me.” The attendant began stroking her while she continued to heave. “You’re awfully cold,” the attendant said. And Adele, again between gasps, replied, “Of course I’m cold. I’m almost dead!”
And occasionally it came and lit on my shoulder, or croaked in my throat, or threw me to my knees in a bright moment of ecstatic union, the little bit becoming everything and then Pop! vanishing like the queen of hearts in a magician’s hand, or the special piece of chocolate you try to keep hidden from your family, the little square of heaven that you squirrel away behind the jar of rice when no one is looking. Who the hell took it this time?
The full-page ads by big corporations proclaim peace on earth, when all they really want is another piece of the earth. But what does peace mean, anyway, in a world with so many inequities? Is maintaining the status quo peaceful? Is marching in the street?
The daughter lives alone in a little white house in Durham, North Carolina, in a neighborhood without many trees. She waits tables on the breakfast shift at Honey’s, out by the interstate. Late one night, she gets a phone call from her sister: her father has had a stroke; they don’t know if he’s going to make it.
I never knew what people actually do in offices. I’ve been working here at the center for weeks and I still don’t know. But they’re keeping me busy filling out endless intake forms and filing them. (Will we ever see them again? Does anyone care?)
I’m not sure I like any of the three lines that always work for me. They’re all from the “Did you ever notice?” category of jokes, an overused category, but one with which even rookie comedians can kill the most sober of audiences. The first one is “Did you ever notice how men over thirty suddenly develop the ability to grow lush heads of hair on the backs of their necks?” The second: “Did you ever notice how, as you age, your sneezes begin to sound like your parents’?” The third: “Did you ever notice how your parents, when they tell you you’re a failure, always speak as if they were successful?”