Friday, September 12, 2008


Earlier this spring, Tim had come across an interesting ad on the internet. An elderly couple was selling their house. They'd done a lot of updating and replacing only to discover that the home had a black mold problem in the basement. They now live in a mobile home right next to the house, and are selling the house, piece by piece. Need interior doors...they had just installed new ones. How about replacement windows? All new thermal windows. We bought the Trane furnace/air conditioner last spring. Tim and brother-in-law Dave had gone down to pick it up. This time, we were going down to get the bathroom. It was a new bathroom, scarcely used before they had to leave the house. We were also buying a pile of oak trim board. We're in the process of putting a house back together, and Tim just closed the deal on yet another house yesterday. We stockpile home improvement stuff.
This was the first time that I met Merlyn and Margaret. I already felt kind of bad for them. They were in a pickle with that house. All that work, and for what? They had to move out. But Merlyn was just as cheerful as he could be. In fact, he had actually uninstalled the bathroom for us, saving us quite a lot of time. Being the weisenheimer that I am, I quipped, "What? You wanted rid of us that badly?" Oh, he thought that was funny, and next thing you know, we're blabbing away like we'd known each other forever (I may not have mentioned it, but I am a talker. So was Merlyn). And we kept on talking, while we were loading the truck. I commented that it was hard to believe that summer was over already, and we looked around. "Yup," he said, "I have that big old travel trailer out back and we never used it this summer. Not one time." I said that it really had not been a very nice summer for camping. We'd had so much rain. "Well," says Merlyn matter of factly, "I had big plans. I finished my chemotherapy in the spring, and figured that Margaret and I would take the summer for ourselves. Then they decided to do radiation and I went 40 rounds with that." Not sure what to say, I finally decided to be as matter of fact as he had been. "So did they get it?" "Oh, hell, all they were doing was trying to buy me a little more time. Cancer will kill me. It's in my lymph nodes." Awkwardly, I allowed that I was sorry to hear that. "Yeah," was all he said, and then off he went telling me stories about being a soldier in WWII. He'd started out in the Navy, but they tossed him out, but the Army liked him just fine, and sent him off to see Europe, all expenses paid. And we were laughing and working together in the fall afternoon, surrounded by autumn gold.
I thought of Merlyn as we headed home in our loaded truck. Had to leave his home. Looking death square in the eye. Despite all that, just the happiest charactor you ever want to meet. Earlier this week, I'd compiled a mental list of the things that make me joyful, and was surprised to find that not one of those things was unattainable. All of it, already present in my life, just waiting for me to seize onto it. I thought of Merlyn's merry chuckle. Today I learned another thing about joy. It is not dependent on your circumstances.
Joy is a choice. A conscious choice.


Scotty said...

Sounds like he's in the final stage of the grieving process regarding dying. I remember being so angry when my Mum got to that stage but back then I didn't know about these 'stages' that people go through therefore I didn't cope with it very well (I was only 22 at the time) - I'm glad to hear you had a good day with Merlyn (what a great name too, don't you think?) - I'm sure he enjoyed your company as much as you enjoyed his.

Paloma said...

Oh my goodness. That is bravery - that's how I want to approach life! What a lovely story.

Mary Paddock said...

I hope I am that brave when it's my turn to face that inevitable point in life. The fact that he's still making plans to use what time he has left to his advantage is huge. He's clearly found a vantage point above his circumstance.

Many years ago, before my husband was my husband, he went into counseling for depression. One of the things the counselor hammered home was that happiness is a choice, not something that happens to you. We try to remember that around here.

Debby said...

I saw my father the day before he died. He would not look or speak to me. He died the next day. There was no time to process steps. It just was what it was.

Bienvenido, Paloma. He was such a lively, interesting charactor that I was actually quite sorry to leave. I love to hear people's stories. The thing was Margaret; she was obviously having a much harder time with this than he was.

Mary, the thing that I kept marveling over was this. He had completely ripped out that bathroom for us, so that we could load it up and go. I did not ask him how long he had to live or anything crass like that, but the thing that kept crossing my mind was this: if I were measuring my remaining days one at a time, would I be selfless enough to spend one of them (at least) ripping out a bathroom for a total stranger? Whenever I think of unselfishness, of generosity of spirit, his face will come to my mind.

Scotty said...

if I were measuring my remaining days one at a time, would I be selfless enough to spend one of them (at least) ripping out a bathroom for a total stranger?

It's an awesome question to ask, isn't it, Debby? I'm not sure what I'd do, to be honest, but I do know this; I like what Merlyn did and that (for me anyway) epitomises the selfless and giving nature that I wish all humans possessed.

If we were being tested by gods or aliens? I'd say that he was a credit to our species and I hope he finds the peace that he believes in.

Debby said...

The world would be a far easier place. I meant to say, earlier, this is only the second Merlin that I've met, although I've encountered the name before on customer lists when I worked for a mail order company. It must have had a brief period of popularity. This was the first time that I'd seen the name spelled with a y.

Pencil Writer said...

My step-father was like Merlyn. He'd been plagued with multiple serious health problems--almost as long as he and my Mom were married. Yet, as troubling as his health problems, he was always calm and serene and and one of the most wonderful smiles I've ever known.

On Dec 28, 2008, we'll be ten years' missing him. He and his perspective on life--and trials--was saintly. Those who know and love him are grateful for the privilege.

Thanks for sharing that insightful experience with the rest of us. We need more Merlyns.

I hope his wife can find similar strength and choose to live with peace as Merlyn has.

jeanie said...

I love the "choosing happiness" concept - I am putting THAT up in a prominent spot somewhere.

Lavinia said...

Three cheers for Merlyn. Bless his soul!

Mikey said...

I like that last part. Life IS what you make it, and it's nice that he isn't wasting precious time being angry about the inevitable. He sounds like a wonderful human being. I'm betting you feel blessed to have spent the time you did with him. Beautiful story