[Note: The full version of this story is found in Nyerges' "Til Death Do Us Part?" book, available from Store at www.ChristopherNyerges.com or from Kindle.]
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.