Let’s Define Death

An acquaintance of mine and I–we live in the same cul-de-sac– both have cancer. Since cancer can so often be a terminal disease, the thought of death naturally  became a topic of our discussion. Sadly, my friend has since “graduated,” as he liked to put it, but the memory of our many discussions, especially about death, still lingers strong within my mind.

First, what is life? O.k., there are many philosophical opinions and definitions of what constitutes life, any of which can be correct wrong, or ill-defined and worthy of further discussion. But, one that had the most meaning to me was where I likened both life and death to an iPad, or Smart Phone. We all have one, so this makes an easy comparison.

The Smart Phone is a very powerful and useful tool in our lives that can perform some remarkable things like let one talk to your neighbor or a business acquaintance on the other side of the world, solve math problems or let you write letters, listen to music, and so on. But, what happens when you pull the energy source, the battery and memory card from your Smart Phone?

That’s death! Your Smart Phone has died! It still has the appearances of being whole, it still  looks like it did before: you give it a shake, “come on. Wake up!”–but something is missing: it’s missing its energy and its missing its memory. The thing is dead, completely lifeless! Without its battery (energy) and memory card (awareness), no matter how much you prod, shake or try to resuscitate it, your attempts are futile. It’s dead! You can throw it away–or bury it, like we humans like to do with our bodies.

And, in similitude, this is exactly what happens to a human when he dies: his energy, his battery–his soul–his Self– inseparable from his memory, has been ‘pulled’ from his body. An ‘Upper Room’ decision has been made to ‘upgrade’ the Self to a new realm, leaving a dead, lifeless body behind for the undertaker to dispose of.

The next question, of course, is, who, and what, exactly, is the Self? That part of us,  that decided to ‘pull’  itSelf–the energy and memory card from our ‘Smart Phone,’ that we were having so much fun with, and where does it go?

In humility, we must admit that we’re more like a computer, albeit a very sophisticated computer, than we sometimes care to admit.

First Arrest

I don’t know who authored this thought that, on their death bed, wished they had spent more time at the office, rather than with their wife and kids, but I feel there’s a lot of truth here. Unfortunately, there are still too many of us out there who have to learn this lesson the hard way.

     Angus Layton gave a furtive glance down the hallway, confirming that he was alone, then paused in front of the solid maple door leading into his office on the top floor of the tallest building in Calgary and proudly read:

Angus Layton

Chief Executive Officer

Layton Investment & Holdings Inc.

He mused: “Five years! It took me five years to reach this pinnacle, but, YES, I made it!” Almost reverently, he ran his fingers across the words, Chief Executive Officer of Layton Investment & Holdings Inc. The three-dimensional letters were personally crafted out of 10 karat gold by one of Europe’s renowned jewellers. “This door leading to my office is my statement to the world that I, Angus Layton, made it to the top! No one in my field of expertise is better than I am! No one is richer than I am!

But, it was time to get to work. Still feeling high on self-worth, he stepped through the doorway and into his office

“Good morning, Mr. Layton,” Miss Langstaff, his personal assistant, cheerfully greeted him

“Good Morning,” Angus responded. Two years ago he had placed an ad in several major business newspapers of the world, searching for the most reliable and responsible personal secretary that the world had to offer. Only the best would do! Miss Langstaff was a British import. She was the best!

His spacious, expensive, impressive executive suite occupied the entire top floor of the tower, offering a spectacular view of the Rocky Mountains. Life could not be better!

“What’s my schedule for today?”

“You have only one appointment scheduled for today, sir. At two o’clock this afternoon you are to attend your son’s graduation from the Edmonton Police Academy. I’m surprised that you even came in at all this morning—“

Devon! … Good grief, I completely forgot! When’s the next flight out of Calgary to Edmonton?”

“Not until one this afternoon, sir. That’s too late—“

“Train! Bus! Taxi! Anything that will get me there on time.”

 He had lost his wife because of his obsessive struggle to reach the top—didn’t matter. Turned out she wasn’t his type anyway: she was more of a down-home rural type of girl, but he could not lose Devon. He loved Devon. Devon meant the world to him.

 “Think of something. Think! Think! Think!” He paced the floor in front of Miss Langstaff’s desk. “I’ve got to get to Edmonton on time for his Police graduation. Devon warned me that he’d give me only one more chance to make it up to him, and this is it. If I fail to attend this afternoon, I’ve had it with him!”       

“All I can find is the Brewster Rail Line out of Calgary, sir,” Miss Langstaff methodically flipped through a drawer full of well organized travel brochures and schedules.

I can’t lose Devon! We have to think of something!”

 Miss Langstaff didn’t respond. Frantically, she was opening desk drawers, and then slamming them shut: she was failing her boss! Finally, she concluded, “Unfortunately, it looks like not even Brewster has anything scheduled to leave for Edmonton today, sir.”

 “Taxi? … Get me a taxi! Tell them it’s urgent. I need one right away!”

 “Uh—I don’t think I can arrange that, sir. Remember your feud with the Taxi Union. They banned you from ever using one of Calgary’s cabs again.”

 “Oh yeah … bloody little dictator!”

“You know, you could drive up to Edmonton in your own car, sir. It’s only eight-thirty in the morning, and it’s just a three hour drive.”

Devon slapped his forehead as a sign of his own stupidity. “Great idea, except this morning I decided to take the bus. Earth Day, you know … never mind.” He grabbed his suit jacket and headed for the door. “I’ll think of something. Take the day off, if you wish.”

In his rush to get to the street he pressed the elevator ‘basement’ button instead of ‘main floor. Another delayed frustration. Angus was starting to sweat. After what seemed an eternity, the elevator door painfully opened unto the basement. He was about to press the elevator’s ‘close’ button when he noticed two teenagers in an older model Toyota Camry parked in his empty company’s parking stall. The nerve of the punks!

The teens laughed and thought it great fun as they gunned the car’s engine to near explosive force. Punks! Don’t they know they could blow the rods on the motor?  A thought: he’d buy the car from them and use it to drive to Edmonton.

He tapped on the car window. Instantly the roar of the motor stopped and the teen’s laughing faces morphed into panic, but only for a moment. Their boldness of the moment took over. The teen driving the car rolled down his window.

 “Yeah?”

“I want to buy your car.”

The two teens looked at each other, holding back a grin. “Well, sir, I don’t know—”  the driver snickered.

“I’d say your car is worth six hundred dollars, tops. Am I right?”

 “Yeah, at least that—“

“I’m really in a hurry. Tell you what: I’ll give you eight hundred bucks—that’s two hundred more than it’s worth.”

 “Uh, I don’t know—“

“Cash!” Angus reached into his pocket and pulled out a bulging money clip and peeled off eight one hundred dollar bills from it and flashed the money in the face of the teen driver.

“Well—if you insist.” Angus paid no attention to the teen’s amused grins they shared with each other. Punks!  He was in a hurry, and this was no time for minutiae.         

“You do own the vehicle, don’t you? It’s not your dad’s or mom’s is it?”

The driver shook his head. “No, it’s not my dad’s car.”

“Nor my mom’s,” the other added.

“Good! Then I’ll assume that one of you own this car. Can I see the vehicle registration?”

“I guess it’s in here someplace.” The kids began rummaging through the glove compartment.        

            “Never mind! I’m in a hurry. Here, sign this.” Angus tore a blank page from his Day-Timer and scribbled on it: This vehicle, Alberta license number YAA-198, was sold, by me, its owner, to Angus Layton, as is, on this date.

            “Here, both of you sign it!” He shoved the paper over to them. “One of you can be witness to the signature of whoever owns the vehicle.”

————-

            Angus glanced at his watch: nine-forty-five. He was driving north on the Queen E2, heading towards Edmonton, on a bright and clear morning. The car seemed to handle well for an older model and there was still time to make it to Devon’s graduation. He relaxed. However, with all his previous speeding tickets and warnings, Angus kept his eye on the speedometer, making sure to stay within the speed limit. No need to cause further delay by being stopped for speeding. Gradually, he became even more at ease, allowing his mind to drift back to his tempestuous relationship with Devon.

            Admittedly, he and Devon had not exactly enjoyed an ideal father and son relationship and now, with his wife suing for divorce, Devon had chosen to live with his mother. That angered him. Devon could have had anything he wanted, including a full partnership in his successful business. What was with this kid? He rejected being an instant millionaire. He could have had money, fame, power—Angus had laid the world at his feet! Instead, he wanted to be a cop. Just a plain, simple, stupid cop!

            Reluctantly, Angus had learned to live with Devon’s choice, but why couldn’t he at least be a cop in Calgary where it would be easier to visit him? Why Edmonton? Must be something in his wife’s genes that made Devon reject the good life, certainly not in his genes!

            Highway signs began to indicate that Angus was approaching Edmonton city limits. He glanced at his watch: almost twelve-thirty. He dared not be late! Should he speed?  Angus depressed the accelerator. One hundred and fifteen  … one hundred and twenty-five …

            Then, suddenly, “Oh Lord, why?”  In his rear view mirror appeared the familiar flashing blue and red lights of a police highway patrol cruiser. The urge was there to try and outrun the cruiser, but common sense prevailed. Cursing himself for being so stupid to have given in to speeding, he grudgingly pulled over and waited for the cop.

            Three minutes. Five minutes. What was taking so long? A thought: maybe he could bribe the cop to just let him go—just this once because he was in a hurry… no, that wouldn’t work. He had tried that before with Calgary cops and highway patrol sheriffs and the whole bunch of them were just too damn eager to hand out tickets!

            Finally, the police officer left his vehicle and approached Angus. Angus closed his eyes, anticipating the worst.

            “May I see your driver’s license, sir?”

            Angus opened his eyes and looked up into the police officer’s face. “Officer, I don’t have a vehicle regis—“Devon!”

            The police officer likewise looked startled. “Well, well, dad, you really did it this time!”

            “But—but, I thought you were just graduating today … I was on my way to your graduation … how could you be out on patrol already?”

            “Well, dad, as usual, it was never important enough in your life for you to take the time and confirm an appointment with me. Money and business first, right? Well, my graduation was last Friday.”

            “Oh my, oh my lord, I’m so sorry, Devon! Is there anything that I can do to make it up to you, son? Anything at all. Just name it, Devon. I’m so sorry. Really! I’m really sorry!”

            “You’ve omitted all the previous chances that mom and I gave you, dad,” Devon replied coldly. “Remember, I give you one last chance to put me and Mom before business. You couldn’t even do that much for us—for me. Now, I have to ask you to get out of the car and place your hands behind your back. You’re under arrest.”         

            “Under arrest …? But, I was only speeding—“

            “This car was reported stolen, sir. You’re driving a stolen vehicle. Now, please get out of the car as instructed, or I’ll have to lay further charges of resisting arrest against you.”

            Surreally, Angus complied.

            “By the way, sir—uh, dad, do you know that you’re my first arrest since I graduated from Police Collage?”