“Good evening, folks. The time is 6:40. And now we’d like to play for you our next song entitled…” But Jim wasn’t listening to the radio anymore. He had to think. The man had said he would do it at 7:00, no mistake about it. Now it was 6:40: he had only minutes left before the dreaded moment. But Jim didn’t want to think about what would happen then. Better to remember happy memories than dwell on the only too present future.
Jim was a condemned man…and he had only twenty minutes left before 7:00.
Jim drew back the veil of the past and peered into the folds of time. His first memories made him want to laugh as he saw himself a little boy running to present a handful of flower petals to his mother on her birthday. He had pulled off all the petals of all the roses in the garden, thinking to give his mother a pleasant surprise. She playfully received his ill-calculated gift with thanks and never said a word to him about the rose garden until many years later.
And then, of course, there was his dad. They had done so many things together, especially when Jim was still very young. They would go camping and fishing. His dad taught him to shoot when he was only eight: dad would support the heavy rifle while Jim had all the fun of pulling the trigger. Yes, his dad had been both a friend and a role model, Jim’s hero.
The radio interrupted his thoughts: “The time is 6:44.” Jim was a condemned man… and he had only sixteen minutes left before 7:00.
But there was still time to remember. He saw his wife decked out in her bridal dress as if they had only been married the day before. What a smile she had on her face then! They had been happy, for the first months at least. But his wife became sullen and cold over the years, casting a shadow on their relationship. Then things grew strained once in a while. Buried beneath all her whims and changing criteria was a simple fact: she had loved him as a means of loving herself. He had tried to understand her, but she never bothered to take him seriously. As soon as he ceased to be a novelty for her, she put up with him rather than loved him. And when the test had come, she had betrayed him.
The radio again: “The time is 6:49.” Jim was a condemned man… and he had only eleven minutes left before seven.
Jim turned his thoughts to his daughter. She had filled his life with such joy. Kindness and understanding were scattered everywhere she went from her earliest years. And now she would visit Jim—unlike his wife. She would come and hold his hand and say over and over again that she loved him so much and would never stop loving him. She even brought his favorite music to play for him: Beethoven’s Fourth Symphony and Pachabel’s Canon in D. Those had been his most peaceful moments in these past months.
“The time is 6:54.” Jim was a condemned man… and he had only six minutes left before seven.
Jim wanted his daughter to return to him. If only she would come then everything would turn out all right. He wanted to feel her hand in his, hear her sing-song voice if only for one last time. He wished for his wife also, to tell her somehow that in spite of it all he would continue to love her.
Yes, life was beautiful in spite of all its hardships. Life was beautiful and Jim did not want to die. Not here, not now. How could his wife have betrayed him? Where was the justice in it all? And where was the mercy?
“The time is 6:59.” The announcer’s voice seemed to be mocking him. He had only one minute left—one minute left before seven.
Jim was frantic. Why? In his utter despair he turned to God: “I don’t know if you can hear me. I don’t even know if you exist. But please, please help me. It’s not my time to die. I don’t deserve this: I haven’t done anything. Please…”
At that moment the door to Jim’s room swung open. It was seven o’clock. There was no time left.
A man wearing a white mask strode into the room. Jim could hear his shoes clicking against the tile floor. The man said nothing. In his hand was a long thin syringe which he was flicking to prepare it for application: a lethal injection.
Jim was terrified. He tried with all his might to scream, but was unable.
The man came up to Jim’s side and jabbed the needle into Jim’s arm, meeting no resistance. The worst pain he had ever endured shot through Jim’s entire body as the poison coursed through his veins faster than quicksilver and within seconds reached his heart. Then everything stopped. For Jim it was all over.
Then, as if nothing extraordinary had happened, the masked angel of death left the corpse lying on the bed and went directly to the hospital’s waiting room. Jim’s wife was there, seated on one of the blue felt chairs. The doctor approached her and spoke, “Well, ma’am, it’s done. I admire your courage in choosing to put your husband in peace. When someone is relying on an external system to nourish him for several months and obviously is not going to come out of his coma, to withhold this act of mercy just prolongs the suffering of an organism that has long since ceased to be human.”
Br Eric Gilhooly, Lc studies for the priesthood with the Legionaries of Christ in New York.
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