“And God came to me.”, he half-whispered, the fading sun glinting in his eyes. He leaned up a little in his bed to share this secret with me. This “secret” he had shared with each member of the care team who had worked with him in the preceding days. Everyone told me their version and everyone was completely enthralled with this scientist. This adorable, likeable, tough, old, dying man who couldn’t be cured and who would die in this hospital sometime very soon. His pain was well-managed, so he was low on my long list, but one of my colleagues shot me a puckish smile as she leaned over, circled his name on my paper and drew an arrow up to the top of my list.
He was androgynous like I’ve seen people get as they get close to death. Upright, in a suit or in a labcoat, it was clear he would appear quite manly and even unfriendly and serious. Today, his small face was etched with life, but soft and childlike. His eyes danced as words fell from his lips in a mottled east European accent that forced me to lean in and focus all sensory attention on my eyes and ears. Notes from pastoral care and social works visits had painted a vivid picture of a life without a single dusty corner. Cutting edge science, Cold War imprisonment, 70+ years of marriage to a woman who was still living and, doubtless, just as alive as he. Walking many miles a day, every day near his suburban home until this hospitalization, but he was ready to go. He didn’t want to go, but he was ready.
He believed, his whole life, only in things he could touch, explain or examine between the stage clips of a microscope, but he saw God and didn’t doubt it for a second.
“He appeared to me”, he said, as surprised now as he must have been in sleep, “and he was real.” He held one hand up, circling the pad of his thumb on the pads of his first two fingers like he was feeling God between his fingertips. The amusement, the joy, the sheer revelation of it found him chuckling as he spoke, his head nodding as if to convince me.
“He put his arm around me and we walked. He smiled with love and said, ‘I know you don’t believe in me. It’s okay. I can’t be understood with your mind.’ and then he made me this offer.” He held up his manicured hands, a lone saline line hanging from his arm, to show that the offer would have a “this or that” option to it and he nodded his head once quickly as if to say, “Yes? You see?” By now though he wasn’t even telling me the story, he was there with God. His eyes closed, I could see him walking with my own image of God as God would appear in a dream like this.
“God told me that I could go with him just then and I would save myself ‘a lot of trouble’, but it was my choice.” He paused, reviewing the decision again without regret. His lower lip subtly jutted out as the corners of his mouth turned down. “But I didn’t want to die. I wanted to go back to my wife and to living. To the adventure.” His face crinkled. He wondered how it was possible that God wouldn’t know that living this life was so good; that God would think he would be even vaguely tempted by an early, trouble-free exit from the rich, textured path he had walked for the last 92 years.
His eyes opened slowly and God faded from both of our minds as he lamented, “The next day?…I got a speeding ticket. And then?…a few months later, I got cancer and now here I am…for a few more days, maybe.” He shrugged as if to say, “This isn’t such bad trouble.”