The Year of the Rat
I walked into the retirement home wondering if we would ever again be able to tell truth from lies, propaganda from news. These are dishonest, sleazy days. A rat is somebody who tells. But what they tell is the truth; or it wouldn’t warrant telling. So who is afraid of a rat? Who’s afraid of a Whistle-blower?
An acquaintance, Colleen, was dying upstairs on a mild Colorado winter evening at the start of the New Year. My wife Julie and I stopped for a visit.
Climbing the stairs I thought “what a horrible time to have to die”. Our democracy shrinking to the most corrupt and petty it has been in any of our lifetimes. The GOP still lying about the entire affair with Ukraine and covering up for this thug of a president. Truth has become a merely partisan trick; nothing to trust in an era of Fox news. The Chinese New Year brings frightening rodents scurrying across rain-glazed alleys. The fear and lack of integrity smears itself across every broadcast medium.
Her kids and I engaged in bedside small talk while Colleen slept and then I turned to recognize why we were all here: waiting for her to die. I didn’t want to overstay our warm welcome from these friends who were obviously emotionally spent. The hospice nurse had just recently departed after warning this could keep going for days. We were all a little teary.
I read Psalm 23 from my pocket bible; creativity and originality not being high values at deathbeds. The font is getting small for middle age eyes. I put a touch of scented oil on Colleen’s forehead. Her breathing had been ragged for a couple days and as I leaned in closer her grieving daughter claimed my touch seemed to calm her struggling mother.
I had us all pray out loud, holding hands around Colleen; feeling bad I was forcing my introvert wife into the position. I stumbled on the Lord’s Prayer. Like tripping going up a flight of familiar stairs I sometimes can’t tell where the rote words pouring out of my mouth are coming from. They don’t make typical sense on their way out; don’t pass the regular filters. They teased me as we stood and hugged, said our goodbyes and headed for the car.
The Rat in the new Chinese calendar represents fertility and wealth. As an American I have never felt more dishonored and barren; powerless to move on from the new level of filth in our democracy. These are not promising days ahead but actually I have been angry for years. I am forgetting what I used to be like.
“Oh my god, she’s gone…” Julie suddenly said a few minutes later as we were driving. She was staring from her phone text and looking over to me.
“She died right after we left.”
I’ve not known what I am doing. But for a few hours, and the next day, and even feeling grateful during the week as our New Year began, I knew why I was trying to do it.