At the end of October, 2009, I spent the weekend in Columbus, Ohio, at the 63rd annual reunion of the Men of Easy Company. We held a book signing at a nearby Barnes & Noble, then enjoyed a banquet back at the hotel.
On the morning I was set to leave, I was down in the hotel atrium waiting for the shuttle bus to take me back to the airport. It was about 6 a.m., and one of the original E Co men, Paul “Hayseed” Rogers, then age 91, was already up and getting his exercise, walking laps in the lobby.
Paul approached me, and we shook hands to say goodbye. We spoke for a few minutes and he said, “You know, Marcus, this will be about the last of these reunions I ever attend. Maybe I’ve got one more in me, but probably by next year I’ll be gone.”
I was silent, not knowing how to answer. Then I asked the only thing I could think, “Are you ready, Paul? Are you ready to go?”
He thought for a moment, smiled, and said, “Yeah, I’ve had a good life. I have wonderful friends. I’m ready.”
The shuttle bus was leaving. It was time for me to go to the airport. That’s the last thing that was said between us.
As of this writing, Paul Rogers has bested his prediction. He’s still alive and smiling. Still, that question remains—for Paul, for me, for all of us. The question looms like a visit from the goon squad. We all need to face death sometime, somewhere, as best we know how.
My wife needed surgery this past summer. It wasn’t life-threatening, and she’s healed now. But we used that experience as a catalyst to get our house in order, so to speak. We redid our wills and updated our life insurance, all those practical death-oriented things you never want to take care of because it feels too morbid. Although once you do, you’re relieved. You feel like a responsible grownup. Certainly that’s part of how people answer the readiness question.
But, sure, the question involves more. Death doesn’t care how people classify themselves—spiritual, atheist, agnostic. Like a thief in a home invasion, death kicks through the front door and whacks us across the face. Surely the prospect of eternal existence lies at the core of this question. If God is real, are we ready to face him? Some spin the wheel and hope for the best. Others hold to nothingness—that it’s just a vast blackness of oblivion on the other side.
Sergeant Jim “Moe” Alley, another man from Easy Company, died in March, 2008, and I was honored to attend his funeral.
I guess Moe had always been a tough nut to crack when it came to thinking about death and the spiritual side of life. At the funeral, the minister told a story of how he’d visited Moe plenty of times, even when Moe was really sick toward the end. Continually, the minister asked Moe if he was ready to go, but Moe always indicated he was fighting God, not willing to give an inch.
Then one day, for reasons unexplained, Moe suddenly decided his fighting days were through. That day when the minister visited and asked Moe if he was ready to do business with God, Moe said yes. So Moe and God did business. Then, just a day or so after that, Moe died. There wasn’t any doubt, said the minister, that Moe was now at peace in the presence of God.
Are you ready?
How have you answered that question? Have you wrestled with it yet and found your peace?