Coffee with Death

Coffee with Death October 11, 2022






James Ishmael Ford

Death and I are old friends. Okay, maybe not friends.

Or, only in our contemporary sense that has become so attenuated that it has little practical meaning. We’re more acquaintances, a sturdy term, for that much larger circle of people we know, but aren’t friends in the increasingly intimate sense that word should be reserved for.

I don’t recall when we first met. As I think of it I believe we first set eyes on each other the night my father hung himself. That’s a different story than this one, so I’ll only say it was an attempted suicide, not a completed one. But, I’m pretty sure I saw Death at the doorway, watching.

We first came to speaking terms when I was an on call chaplain at a hospital when a ten year old girl had a massive heart attack. My words were harsh. Death responded that we all have work to do. And Death’s was to midwife people between the worlds. I muttered how that other world was also the end of the person, the singular person, in this case a ten year old girl. Who should have had so much more to experience, to encounter, to be. “Should?” Death laughed. Should didn’t seem to be a part of Death’s world.

Our paths have continued to cross over the years and decades.

This last time yesterday, at the airport. Jan & I were flying home to California from Boston. And, I’d walked over to the Starbucks to get a latte. And there was Death. Just standing there, a cup in hand, looking a bit confused.

I said to Death, “I hope this has nothing to do with my flight.”

“No, no,” Death said. Looking a bit chagrined. “What?” I asked.

“Well, you see, I have this appointment with a man for this evening.” “Yes? I replied.”

“We’re supposed to meet in Dallas. But, here he was, just arriving at Logan Airport.”

“Maybe he’s going to miss that appointment,” I suggested.

“Actually, he saw me as he deplaned. A funny word, deplaned, don’t you think?”

“Yes, deplaned is a funny word, I replied. But. So?”

Death sighed. “He immediately went down to the ticket counter and purchased a return ticket to Dallas. He’s that guy over there, sitting down, nervously glancing at us.”

Death smiled slightly. “Thinks he’s going to dodge our meeting…”

As I walked back to the waiting area, I found myself thinking about that. Actually a cascade of thoughts tumbled from my heart. Life. Death. And how they’re really not two things. Of course, they’re not one thing, either.

More notes in a melody rather larger than human comprehension.

So rage if we want. Another note or two. Or, bow to it. Another note.

Or, pause to take a sip of my coffee, and watch my flight pull up to the gate.

Another note…


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