"When dawn spreads its paintbrush on the plain, spilling purple... ," Songs of the Pioneers song from TV show "Wagon Train." Dawn on the mythic Santa Fe Trail, New Mexico, looking toward Raton from Cimarron. -- Clarkphoto. A curmudgeon's old-fashioned newspaper column, cross-breeding metaphors and journalism and art, for readers in 150 countries.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Mortality's face in August

When I turned around, I saw him lying on his back on the floor, his hand on his forehead.
A few minutes earlier I'd walked into Hobby Lobby to have two gift watercolors framed for grandchildren, and he'd been sitting in a chair beside the frame counter. I didn't pay any attention, figuring he was waiting on someone. I did hear him say something about his wife to one of the employees. I turned away, and then turned back to see him on the floor.
His wife arrived, and asked how he felt....he said something about the floor feeling cool. She asked what he wanted to do, and a couple of employees came up to ask about him. Finally, I asked if they wanted to call an ambulance. His wife asked him, but he didn't say much.
I called 911.
The operator got the info, contacted EMSA, as I told them what I knew. They started asking questions, with the ambulance on the way...pain, awake, age? I told them late 50s, and he said "66." A store employee trained as an EMT was talking to him and taking his pulse when the ambulance crew and firemen arrived.
His wife answered some questions, tried to call her daughter. The EMTs hooked up an IV, took an ekg, and did some other stuff, talking to him all the while, while someone else brought in a gurney. Apparently he didn't have  a heart attack but his bp was low. His wife, near tears, finally got their daughter and by that time they'd decided to take him to VA, rather than the heart hospital.
I walked over and patted her on the back, and told her he was in good hands, right where he needed to be. Before I could talk away, she hugged me.
5x7 watercolor
By that time one employee had finished my frames, and thanked me for calling 911. I told him that I knew if I was ever on the floor, I hoped someone would call an ambulance. As they wheeled him out the front door, I was checking out...thankful I'd come in that time, for several reasons, especially since I'm older than him.
Mortality stared me in the face earlier today too, as I sat in Starbucks, reading the New York Times, scanning my blog. Another man came in, neatly trimmed white mustache, about my age, need at table for his computer. I motioned him over and introduced myself after he sat down. We spent 30 minutes talking about everything--my teaching, his pharmacy, insurance, children, travel, young people, the state of the country, and more, including his wife surviving breast cancer the same year Blue Cross, in cahoots with big chains, robbed him of about $20,000 in income in an unjust audit .
"I'd rather some thief had come in and just taken it," he said. He is also close to my age, and wishes he could find something different. As he walked out the door to go to work, I hoped we'd get to visit again.
5x7 watercolor
Later, I took the two paintings to Pony Express to be wrapped and shipped, and got the same great service from the owners as usual, including conversations about children, and grand kids, spiced with humor and questions about UCO and journalism. Nothing like giving something to children and grandchildren in the face of mortality and love.
Then I went to Steve's Rib to play chess with John Lawton, a retired optometrist I've played with for 13 or so years now. He's a student of the game, and I just play. He usually wins. His conversations are about art and living and aging, having recovered a year ago, at age 80, from a close call after, at Susan's insistence, that I take him to the ER.
After a good prime rib sandwich, and ice tea, he wiped me off the board in the first game.  But an hour later, playing black, I outlasted him, advancing a pawn to a Queen, enabled to say "Checkmate." That term is a translation from Persian, where the game began centuries ago. It's a translation of "Shah mat,"--"the king is dead." More mortality in the fittingly termed "end game."
Home in the 113-degree heat of the first day of August to air conditioning, I notice the backyard birds--doves huddle on the ground in the shade, woodpeckers with their beaks open. Wrens and robins sipping out of the birdbath. Squirrels near the cool base of the tree.
For the second time today, I turn on the backyard sprinkler, to cool things off back there, to stave off mortality for other creatures.
It's a good day to be alive.

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