“Here’s to Death”

Michael (aka Snaars) has asked for the story behind this photo.

Here's to Death

That’s me on the left and Gary, my brother-in-law, on the right. The occasion was Gary’s fiftieth birthday party.

Gary wasn’t expected to live to age 50. The men in his family have serious heart problems: multiple bypasses in one case, and a heart transplant in another.

Gary had a typical history for someone with a wonkety heart. He suffered angina and took some kind of medication when indicated. He had triple bypass surgery and was forced to retire from work. And, by the time this photo was taken, he had outlived his doctor’s gloomy prognosis.

My sister asked me to say a few words at the party, and I decided to share a story. The story is true … but hammed up just a little.

“I used to spend a lot of time with Kathy and Gary at the beach. They taught me how to water ski, and I skiied with them lots of times.

“One occasion stands out from all the others. Gary was skiing; Kathy was driving the boat; I was spotting. Kathy turned the boat around at a narrow point in the lake, and she took the turn too wide.

“Gary was scooting across the waves behind the boat, moving at a fast clip from left to right. He was headed for the shoreline, which was nothing but rocks.

“For a second I was scared. Then I realized that the situation was completely in Gary’s control. All he had to do was let go of the ski rope. If you’ve ever been water skiing, you know that the drag of the water brings you to a stop very quickly, and you sink gently into the waves.

“But not Gary! Oh no! Gary is of the James Dean, ‘Live hard, die young, leave a good looking corpse’ school of thought.

“With his right hand, Gary firmed up his grip on the ski rope. A wicked smile spread across his face. He raised his left arm, extended his middle finger, and over the roar of the outboard engine we heard him cry —

Here’s to Death!

“He held onto the ski rope until the last possible second, then smashed headlong into the rocks. We were sure he was dead.

“Kathy swung the boat toward shore and we jumped out in shallow water. To our great relief, Gary was still alive. (Obviously.)

“In fact, he was virtually unscathed. A few scrapes, a few bruises — and one broken bone.

“Which finger was, it, Gary?” [I turn toward him. He holds up the middle finger on his left hand.]

“That’s what I thought. I remember the splint you wore on that finger for weeks afterward.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Someone said, “I didn’t get a photo of you when you were telling the story. Can you do that ‘Here’s to Death!’ part again?” So I re-enacted that part of the story, and Gary hurried over to join me in a heartfelt salute to Death.

Gary died only a couple of years later. The irony is, it wasn’t the heart condition that got him. After years of living under the oppressive shadow of an inevitable heart attack, he died in an automobile accident.

In the end, Death always gives the finger to us. In the meantime, as long as the heart keeps ticking, it’s important to keep on living.

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8 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Michael (a.k.a. Snaars)
    Feb 08, 2007 @ 19:45:06

    Fantastic! 🙂 Thank you for sharing that story.

    Reply

  2. Peter
    Feb 09, 2007 @ 10:26:11

    Amen.

    Reply

  3. Ozymandias
    Feb 09, 2007 @ 15:30:02

    Love the story.

    Reply

  4. Dan
    Feb 10, 2007 @ 02:47:40

    Stephen!

    I didn’t know you were still blogging, so I’m happy that you provided a link with your last comment. This is a fantastic story, in so many ways. It reminds me of learning to face death in the company of my brothers (two of whom have undergone years of chronic illness/pain, and a few near death experiences).

    By the way, I’m speaking at a conference in Toronto on Mar 24 (the plenary speakers are Ron Sider, Jim Wallis, and Shane Claiborne) and, if you’re at all interested in coming down, we should get together for a beer.

    Grace and peace.

    Reply

  5. Stephen
    Feb 12, 2007 @ 19:50:29

    Dan:
    Here’s an irony for you: it looks like I’m going to BC the same week. I believe we’re aiming for a March 21 meeting with the folks in our Regional office, so maybe you’ll still be around at that time.

    Reply

  6. Dan
    Feb 13, 2007 @ 21:43:58

    Stephen,

    What the heck are the odds of that? I’m actually away on my honeymoon at that time, and won’t be getting back (to Toronto) until the night before the conference. We get back to Vancouver on the 27th, so if you’re still in town then, we should get together.

    Reply

  7. James Water Skiier
    Nov 14, 2007 @ 12:25:20

    Inspirational! Thanks for the article. 🙂

    Reply

  8. Stephen
    Nov 14, 2007 @ 13:06:09

    James Water Skiier:
    You’re welcome! Judging by your name, this is your kind of story.

    Reply

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