Sharp Edges

Jim Taylor is an Okanagan Centre author and freelance journalist. He can be reached at rewrite@shaw.ca.

Another school classmate died last week. David Scott died in Washington, D.C., on Aug. 5.

It’s not as if we had been bosom pals all our lives. David and I went through our first six grades together at a school in the foothills of the Himalayas.

Then we lost touch.

I left India with my parents, and have only been back briefly. David spent most of his working life in India — four decades with the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries. He was professor of history of religions in theological colleges, a chaplain, and a study-centre director.

I didn’t get to know David again until I attended a school reunion some 40 years later.

Other classmates were much closer to him, so I don’t write this column deep in grief. I write it because David’s death brings into sharp focus the harsh reality of growing older. We lose friends.

I’ve lost half a dozen friends and associates over the last year or so. Some of those deaths hurt. Really hurt. Other deaths were more ho-hum.

But they all made me aware of a smaller and smaller cohort of fellow travellers heading down the highway of life.

Writing to one of David's best friends, I imagined life as a marathon. We all start out together, full of vim and vinegar, confident, enthusiastic, ready to tackle anything we encounter along the way. Gradually, our ranks thin out. Until we find ourselves, a few lonely stragglers, hobbling down a highway of increasing decrepitude.

Not a pretty picture.

A former Moderator of The United Church of Canada, Dr. Bob McClure, used to describe visits to seniors’ centres as “an organ recital.” Not the musical organ. Rather, a recital of the malfunctions of people’s kidneys, hearts, livers, lungs, colons, eyes, hips, ears…

At our age, the mid-eighties, hardly anyone still runs on all their original equipment.

One friend has had both hips and both knees replaced. Another has had a double-lung transplant. Several have either had heart surgery or have electronic aids to keep their hearts pumping properly. Or have had sections of their intestines removed. Or had their vertebrae fused.

To say nothing of false teeth, glasses, and hearing aids.

I am, I like to think, in exceptionally good health. But I too have an artificial elbow.

When, I wonder, does a person become more a technological marvel than a human being?

Some of you will remember a TV program from the 1970s, “The Six-Million Dollar Man.” It presumed that an astronaut horribly mutilated in a crash could be rebuilt with artificial components.

With his enhancements, Lee Majors could outrun a speeding car, leap over high fences, and fall from great heights without hurting himself.

To visualize these abilities, TV turned them into slow motion.

Ironic, isn’t it, that most recipients of artificial joints today also move in slow motion?

But back to David Scott.

In many ways, David personified the qualities that the class of ’52 would like to attribute to the class as a whole. He was open-minded. Literate. Generous. Gentle. Patient. Perhaps above all, wise.

Granted, not all of us would claim all of those qualities. But we saw them in David, and hoped to see them in ourselves.

Just weeks before David’s death, he took part in another school reunion — a virtual reunion, because of COVID-19 restrictions. He was bright, lively, penetrating. He was, in other words, his usual self.

But those who knew him well knew he was having some troubles with his health. His wife Corinne took him to hospital. Three days later, he was gone.

You may have noticed that I don’t speak of him “passing away,” “passing on,” or — ugh! — “safe in the arms of Jesus.” That’s both a linguistic and a theological scruple of mine. Whatever I happen to believe — or not believe — about life after death is irrelevant.

The Bible is not much help here.

It has lots of deaths. The six double-books of Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles are largely a record of who killed whom, and why. But only a limited number of verses support the idea of life after death.

And only one book, Ecclesiastes, devotes itself to the inevitability of death as the end of life.

So I cannot know what has become of the person I knew as David Scott. I only know that he is no longer alive in this world.

As a classmate’s son observed, “He leaves a hole in the world.”

Jim Taylor is an Okanagan Centre author and freelance journalist. He can be reached at: rewrite@shaw.ca. This column appears regularly in weekend editions.