Remember Harry Houdini, the great entertainer. He put on shows around the world by freeing
himself from boxes submerged in water, from iron lined containers, glass enclosures filled with water, straight jackets, and who knows
what all. He was arguably the greatest magician/escape artist the world has ever known. Some say he may have prophesized his escape
from death, by saying that he would escape the clutches of the Grim Reaper if only he found a way. Apparently he didn't, or couldn't,
as he died in 1926, and along with Elvis hasn't verifiably been seen since. To paraphrase Emily Dickinson, if Harry couldn't stop
for Death, Death would kindly stop for him, and it looks like He did. The meaning and details of death are mysterious, and can be
misunderstood, if you stop and think about it.
In the retirement complex where I live I've
seen first hand where Death irretrievably stopped for passengers who never got off the bus. Sometimes I think the street I live on
could be re-named Death Row Ave., or Last Stop Street. Maybe Death Stops Here? I offer some examples of why.
One day not long ago my wife noticed that our next door neighbor, we'll call her Shirley, hadn't been seen for a few days. Shirley
always spent her mornings on the patio drinking coffee and puffing on a cigarette and going through the morning newspaper. So my wife,
who had a key to Shirley's condo, and a neighbor, a live one, knocked on the front door, and entered when no one answered. They found
Shirley stretched out on a bed, dead, wearing only her birthday suit. I guess smoking and drinking coffee didn't much agree with her?
Jim, a crotchety old guy from across the street, came out one morning to fetch the morning
paper, bent over, and slid down the driveway. The paramedics took him to the hospital where he refused any treatment, then proceeded
to die in bed. He never even got to read the headlines. He wasn't very kind to his wife, so no one missed Jim.
Tom, a feisty guy a few houses away from Jim's, was a great big fellow, weighing in at around 300 lbs. Tom had a bad temper. When
aroused to anger, which happened regularly, his beet-red face appeared as though it would explode, his eyes bulging out and his teeth
bared. One day his wife came home from a round of golf and found old Tom in the shower/bathtub, all hunched over, dead from a heart
attack. That ruined her day. It took the paramedics some time and energy to retrieve the big fella. A few days later, Tom's wife returned
home from shopping and found a hole in the skylight above the shower and a golf ball on the floor of the bath tub. Nobody knows just
what that means. Tom's wife hasn't played golf since, though.
One of the kindest men I
ever met, Fred, and his lovely wife, lived down and across the street from Tom. Fred would give you the shirt off his back if you
asked, and always gave you an upbeat smile and a good word. The paramedics and Police had to make another trip to the complex. It
seems good old Ed wasn't so happy after all. He shot his wife then turned the gun on himself. They buried Fred in his favorite shirt.
Down on the corner of my street, a slender, 6' 6" gentleman named John lived. I don't think John
weighed 170 lbs. No matter the time of day, or the weather, you could always find John going down the middle of the street, push broom
in hand, whistling, sweeping up the leaves that had dropped from the shedding trees along the curb. John always waved, had interesting
stories of his long ago business career, but somehow couldn't quite focus on his place in the Sun. John died, not in the street, but
peacefully, at home leaving a wonderful wife all alone to continue cleaning up the neighborhood, if she so chose.
I just found out that another friend, Bob, finding it hard to take a breath from his oxygen tank he carried with him wherever he went,
passed away from lung complications. One day he told me he was tired of lugging that paraphernalia around. He doesn't have to do that
And then there was Wendy, a young alcoholic, who was frequently caught two-timing
her husband in plain view at the local pub. She died of alcohol poisoning while her lover was working in the community bar. I guess
he gave her too many free drinks.
I often wonder how many of the residents in my walled
and gated community have moved here to die. It's a nice quiet place, close to a large hospital complex, out of the way of many of
the pressures and anxieties of the big city. I've asked many of my friends who live here if that's one of the reasons they moved here.
They usually grin, or look away, or get a little edgy. They don't want to talk about it mostly. Why I bring up that topic I don't
know. Maybe I secretly believe that's why I moved here. It's possible. But I do miss Shirley, Jim a little bit, and Tom, Ed, John,
even Bob. I really don't miss Wendy. Am I next on the list? When the Grim Reaper stop for me if I don't stop for Him? Maybe Harry
Houdini knows, somewhere. Don't forget the old saying that really living only happens when you know what the important things in your
life are. I suggest you find out what they are and take advantage of them while you can.