[Note: The full version of this story is found in Nyerges' "Til Death Do Us Part?" book, available from Store at www.ChristopherNyerges.com.]
It was Memorial Day 1998, and I had scheduled to conduct a wild food outing at Pasadena’s Hahamongna Watershed Park. Since it was Memorial Day, my topic for a short discussion at the end of the outing was “death.”
I have always liked the grandeur and openness of this park. When I grew up, this was a short bicycle ride away, and I regarded it as my extended back yard.
Among the half-dozen participants who showed up for the outing was Martin Kruse, a bearded, burly bear of a man who looked like he’d be more at home in the 19th century. He introduced himself and told me that he’d long wanted to meet me, that we both wrote for many of the same publications and had many friends in common, such as Ron Hood. Martin and I chatted as the other outing participants listened, and he told me about his work with archery and primitive bow-making.
We walked down in the flat area of the large expanse of the park, where the wet mud had hardened, capturing countless animal tracks. Martin told us how to differentiate between coyote and dog tracks. He identified crow and other birds, showed us how to recognize the tracks of squirrel and rabbit. He’d obviously done a lot of tracking during his time hunting with a bow.
When we saw the deer tracks, Martin showed us how the deer’s hind foot had stepped into its own track just laid by its front foot. Martin said that only the female walks this way, that the male’s gait is different. He told us that the size of the hoof print meant it was a female deer about a year and a half old. I could tell that Martin enjoyed telling us all about the track.
After walking into the middle depths of the wash, we headed back to the picnic area, with me leading.
Within seconds, someone in the rear called out. Martin had fallen. I first thought it was a joke, and ran to him. It was no joke. His face already looked purple. The man who had been walking with him said he’d not tripped -- he just fell. I tried to rouse him, but it was quickly obvious that he was “out.”
Since I was the only one who knew the area -- I ran to a phone to call 911. Within 10 minutes, before I even got back to the group and Martin’s flat body -- paramedics from the City of Pasadena were on the scene, attempting to revive him. They carried him into the ambulance and took him away.
We discussed whether we thought Martin would revive or not. The paramedics had been fairly tight-lipped. Still, we all knew it was serious. So there we stood in the cool afternoon breeze, contemplating death in the most sobering manner possible. I explained to everyone my death lesson -- which hardly seemed appropriate now.
Someone had just died in our midst. We had to deal with it. We talked about how important it is to live each moment with intent, with joy, with soberness. We talked about how Martin may have wanted to say things to those he loved, but no longer could
Each person commented how “coincidental” it was that the lecture topic that I’d chosen for the day, and listed on the schedule, was “Death.” We kept reflecting on Martin. At that moment, none of us knew yet that Martin would not recover, that he had in fact died, and that he died in a place he loved. Nor had we known that Martin had a heart pacer, and an artery to his heart that was narrow. We were aware that he’d had surgery -- probably to the heart -- because we opened his shirt and saw the scar.
What had really brought Martin there on that day? I felt goose bumps at first, thinking that on some level he wanted to be with me, enjoying the natural world, meeting as two souls in the place he loved, near the old Indian burial ground, on his final day.
A German woman who’d been on the outing, Walti, told me that we should not feel sad. “It was quick,” she told me later. “What better place to die.” I could not help but agree with her.
Though I barely knew him, I felt closer to him in death.
Of course, I told Dolores about this when I got home. In fact, it was not until late that night that I learned the name of who had died on my outing. Yes, he’d told me his name when he arrived, but so did a dozen other people who’d I’d just met that day. By calling around to the fire department and to the hospital, I learned Martin’s identity, and I managed to figure out his family phone number through process of elimination in my phone log.
A few days later, Dolores and I and a few others were discussing this incident, and wondering about the series of choices that brought Martin to me on his last day.
Dolores seemed very thoughtful about all this, and said that possibly Martin’s Doer (his spiritual Self) knew that his body was going to die. Coming to my outdoor outing brought him into contact with my Doer, my spiritual Self, which could have been a final uplifting act, whether or not each of us realized it.
Dolores was never one who engaged in flattery, and she always kept me humble. She knew that we were not perfect and that we had a long way to go. Yet, we continued to work at and struggle on the Spiritual Path of perfection and evolution. It was always “fall down seven times, get up eight times.” In our perspective of a morally-bankrupt, and spiritually dark world, we did feel that we (including our “spiritual family”) represented a light in the darkness. Yes, often a flickering, barely noticeable light, but a light nevertheless. It is to that Light that Dolores believed Martin was coming to, and it was with that desire that he took his final breath. And that was good for Martin.