About 25 years ago, I heard farmer/storyteller Mike Cotter of Austin, Minn., tell about having to put down Davy, the family dog who was in poor health due to his old age.
The story circulated in my head for several days, and I decided to retell his story in verse form. This is what I wrote:
The farmer looked across the yard at his dog lying in the sun.
Davy was now very old. He knew what must be done.
He remembered the day that dog arrived when Davy was a pup.
And how through all the years Davy helped his kids grow up.
He felt his heart begin to sink as he chambered that shell.
He worried about the days to come and the kids he'd have to tell.
Wouldn't these kids understand that Davy's days were done?
His howls were from arthritis now. He lifted up his gun.
The bullet never reached its mark is what I'd like to say.
But the farmer's aim was true, and compassion ruled that day.
"Old Davy never knew what hit him," was how I heard it told.
And there is a moral here for the time when I am old.
I hope that when God looks down upon me over the years that I have lived,
He will treat me with compassion the way that farmer did.
It has been years since I thought of this story until a couple weeks ago when on a Saturday afternoon, my wife and I attended two separate memorial services for people we knew.
The first one was for Norma, who died of a heart attack at 83. She was active up to her final minutes. She had breakfast and was gone by lunch.
Then we drove to a memorial gathering for my high school classmate, John.
Unlike Norma, John's death was not a surprise. He'd been suffering from an infection for around five years that destroyed his kidneys. He had been on dialysis for the last four years and then received a kidney transplant last June.
But late last year a low-grade virus that was in the kidney and normally not a problem became a problem because the anti-rejection medicine destroys all germs, including the good ones that protect.
John had been hospitalized since late last year and in the end, I believe he wasted away.
When I wrote that poem 25 years ago, I asked for compassion when the time of my demise was imminent. I am now about 25 years closer to my eventual demise, and reality is a lot closer now than it was those many years ago.
Certainly, Norma received the compassion we would want to have with her life ending in only minutes after being active for all her years.
Then I wondered if John got the compassion I hoped he would receive since he was hospitalized for several months and at 67 (my age), seemed like his life was cut short.
I knew John since the third grade when he arrived as the new kid in school. In high school, we rode the school bus together as we were on the same route so we started and ended our school day together for several years.
In the years since high school, John lived 10 miles away. Our visits were when we would cross paths usually about twice a year.
A visit with John was always fun because he kept his sense of humor close and would conclude a discussion with some offbeat comment that reflected his wry sense of humor. He could tell of what he was doing almost with a sense of detachment.
John was a car nut and putting his head under the hood of a car was where he was most comfortable. His passion was drag racing, something he did on weekends for many years. He raced one car, a 1964 Chrysler 300 that he named Never Ready.
He kept improving his quarter-mile passes until he got that unlikely drag car first under 13-second passes and then less than 12 seconds.
That is like a farmer that, after growing 200-bushel corn and 60-bushel soybeans, goes on to grow 250 and 70 bushels, respectively.
I was troubled by the thought that John passed away too soon after months of hospitalization. Where was the compassion?
Then I remembered that at Norma's memorial, how her friends and family were sad because she passed away so quickly, there were no goodbyes.
John's passing was no surprise and there was time for goodbyes.
As a drag racer, John knew wins and losses. At the end of each quarter mile, whether he won or not, John knew he had given it all he had.
After that thought, I could see John with his characteristic half-smile saying, "You can't win them all."
John knew he had run life's race with all he had. I believe that was John's compassion.
And I am left repeating the words when my life is ending, that "I will be treated with compassion the way that farmer did."
Clayton Rye is a Farm News staff writer and farmer from Hanlontown.