by David P. Stern

   Tomorow I am 77. There was a time when this day seemed impossibly far--not so long ago Bob Stone turned 67 and I thought, wow, what a guy, still working hard at his age--but time marches on and fatigue drapes around you like a dense fog.

   I had this fantasy about sitting in the waiting room of an airport and the guy next to me, in a smart gray suit, sports a strange pin in his lapel--a silver scythe, delicately fashioned. I ask him and he says: "Oh that. It means I am an angel of death."

   I smile nervously--not that I believe him, no way--and say, "Aren't you supposed to be invisible to everyone except... well, you know, whoever gets your message?"

   "Relax--I am not here for you. Just passing through. Yes, we can become invisible, and we often have to--imagine the commotion if I arrived like this in a hospital hallway. But no one wants to be an invisible ghost, and at a busy airport everyone is invisible, so there is no need. By the way, I do know you, though I am not here for you."

   And he rattles off my name, address and date of birth, even my military paybook number from 1948.

   I try to smile--"How much time do you leave me?"

   "That we never know for sure. We get emergency pickups all the time, you know, accidents, strokes and so on. The Almighty often rolls dice for an extra element of chance, and deliberately avoids controlling them.

   "But if we forget about pure chance--how long?"

   "That I can tell you. You are a good man, too shy to be malicious, creative enough to want to leave a good mark on the world--and unaware how quickly that mark will disappear. So you are one of those with no set expiration date. Of course, that does not stop the wear and tear of old age, and one day you may find yourself whittled down to where you no longer care much about living. Like your aunt in Israel, a good woman too.

   On that day you will be coming to me, not me to you. You will say: "I am too old, too tired, and have seen enough of this world. Audrey and I are grateful to God for a good run through life, but enough is enough." And then--only then--shall I say: "All right, you can come with me."

   "Come with you--where?"

   "That I may not tell. But what difference does it make? Even if it is just darkness--like the world before you were born, which you never experienced. Even if you knew that was all, you would still tell me, enough, let me go. Or were you expecting a harp and wings?"

   A bell rang, a brassy voice announced "Flight 1402 for Dallas-Fort Worth, now boarding at gate 15A" My companion stood up, grabbed a polished black briefcase and a black raincoat, turned to me and said "That's my flight. See you when you are ready."

   No, I am not ready yet. But the day is drawing closer.


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Author and Curator:   Dr. David P. Stern
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Last updated 17 December 2008