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This morning I was driving to the funeral home, as I do every morning, listening to my Latino 96.3 bachata jams and weaving through the residential streets near my apartment.  As I rounded a corner, I saw an older gentleman with a cane step up onto the curb.  He swayed gently for a moment, and then collapsed backward, hitting the back of his head on the pavement.

My first thought, embarrassingly, was a line from comedian Katt Williams as he impersonates a cage of zoo tigers when a teenager climbs into their pen…”oohhhh n*@ga this is NOT A DRILL.”  I pulled over and put on my flashers.  I ran up to him, planning on helping him up.  He was not going to be getting up. He lay motionless in the gutter with his eyes rolled tightly to the top of his head, fluttering erratically, his lips pulled back over his teeth.

“Well shit.  This guy is dead.”   If not at that very moment, shortly.  He looked precorpsal.  Moving, but more like the gentlemen I see in the cooler at work than the gentlemen I see alive and well on the streets.  I called 911.  Turns out Droid phones do strange things like hangup and freeze other applications when you make an emergency call.  A young man had seen him fall from the body shop down the street.  He was a perfect yin to my yang in this situation, rerouting cars around the fallen man and explaining what had happened to curious passersby.

I sat in the gutter next to the man and held his hand, saying firmly that the ambulance was coming, that we were going to take care of him.  In retrospect, what is really fascinating about this was that I was calm.  The worst that could happen was that he died right there with me in the street.  No doubt it would be a horrible, unjust way to die.  But it would be a death.  A death I was not identified with.   That is to say, I did not fear what witnessing his death would do to me.  It was a trauma for his family, his friends, wherever they were. It wasn’t a trauma for me simply by virtue of it being a death.  I cannot imagine feeling that sense of acceptance four years ago.  It allowed me to be with him, not caught up in my own worry and despair.

Then, as I sat there with him in the street, he came back.  Not it a magical lightbeam angelic way, but in a biological way.  His eyes slowly returned to normal, color came to his face, he mumbled and feebly tried to get up.  “No sir, sir I want you to stay still.  You fell down sir.  We’ve got people coming to help you.”

You could tell he was starting to feel the pain.  He rolled his head on the street.  I put his cream newsboy cap gently behind his head, which stained it with blood but kept his head off the pavement.  I kept talking to him, and he kept asking if I was talking to him, a if he didn’t see himself at the man laying in the street.  I only sat with him for maybe 5-10 minutes, a credit to the swiftness of the ambulance and firetruck.  Men piled out and surrounded him.  At this point he became agitated.  He knew his name, but he kept saying he “knew where he was going.”  And that he hadn’t fallen down. “I don’t think this nice lady would lie, sir.”

I wanted to leave my card, to make sure he was alright.  But leaving a mortician’s card on an injured older man as he is taken away in an ambulance might be open to misinterpretation.

I share this because it is the other side of mortality than I usually deal with.  And I can’t tell you how wonderful it was not to be afraid to be with him, even if he was at the moment of death.  It was freedom.

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