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Funny Christian

Herb and Mr. Reaper


“Live everyday as if it were your last because someday you’re going to be right.”

-Muhammed Ali


Herb wished the end had come during the football season. He had little interest in the baseball games on TV, the news was always bad, he found little merit in today’s sitcoms, and he had seen his old favorites so many times he could predict nearly every line. He was no longer receptive to visits, having grown tired of the gushing, overly dramatic, even tearful visits from family and friends. Herb was in a sorry state.


At least he was at home, a more comfortable setting than the hospital even with its around the clock care. He liked being at home. He liked being on this earth. He didn’t want to leave either place.


The three knocks on the door didn’t startle him. The rhythm and force were familiar to him by now. It was just annoying.


“Oh, hey Grim.”


“Dammit, Herb, this is getting ridiculous. We should have been done with this months ago. Do you think you’re the only one I have to deal with? With all the crap going on in the world, I can hardly keep up. Are you ready or not?”


“I’m sorry, Grim, but I’ve never done this before. You gotta cut me some slack. This isn’t all that easy, you know. Come on in and sit down. Can I get you something to drink?”


“No, dammit. I don’t have time for any of that. And stop calling me Grim. It’s Mr. Reaper to you.”


“Okay, MISTER Reaper. Don’t get your undies in a bundle.”


“My undies are not in a bundle! Are you ready or not?!”


By nature Herb was not a confrontational person.


“Sorry, I take back the undies comment. For all I know you don’t even wear undies.”


“Let’s not go there, Herb. Look, it’s just better if you call me Mr. Reaper. I don’t ever want to get close to my clients. It’s better that way. So, are you finally ready?”


“Well, don’t be mad at me, but my nephew Freddie is on his way here from Colorado to see me one last time, and there’s a good John Wayne movie on TV tonight. I think I’ll need a few more days.”


“Oh for Christ’s sake. I know Freddie. He’s a little goof. Why would you want to see him? And you’ve seen True Grit like five times. You’re stalling.”


“Freddie’s a good kid. He sent me that nice birthday card.”


“That was like ten years ago.”


“It was still a nice card. And the Duke got an Oscar for that movie.”


“For goodness sake. you're going to be the death of me, Herb. Listen, I’ll be back in a week. You better be ready.”


Freddie’s car broke down in Nebraska, and he never made it. But Herb was able to smile as Rooster Cogburn once again mowed down the bad guys, reins in his teeth and both guns a-blazing.

----------

Herb wasn’t ready. Like most people, Herb had paid little attention to matters of life and death, the meaning of his existence, the universe, and God. Consumed by the day-to-day tasks, challenges, and pleasures of life, he now had a lot of cramming to do.


He reflected on his childhood, good by any measure. How did all the years pass by so quickly? He thought about his solid, hard working parents, dedicated to family and always doing the right thing. He still missed them and their simple, responsible approach to life. Why was he always wanting for more than whatever he had? Today Herb wasn’t wishing he had more stuff; he was wishing he had more time. He recalled a doctor once telling him that he never had a dying patient who wished he had more stuff. It was always about more time. Herb should have wanted and appreciated time more than stuff.


He knew Mr. Reaper would be back in a week. So little time. What does he do first? He needed to make the most of his time.


 Call his brothers, reminisce, get final updates on their kids? Invite some friends over, maybe down a few beers and trade insults and funny stories? No, too much of a chance the interactions could slip into sadness.


He didn’t need the company of other people to remember. He had all those photo albums his dear mother and his beloved wife had put together before Mr. Reaper had come calling for them. Reflections would be of his own choosing and on his own schedule.


It took Herb an entire evening just to find the albums and get it all organized by the segments of his life. He had mixed feelings about the endeavor. Memories can be sad and happy at the same time, happy to relive and remember the moments, sad to realize they will never return.


Herb cautiously opened the first album. He remembered the hallways at St. Mary’s, and he could still name most of the kids in the class pictures. He was so proud to get that first basketball team jersey in the fifth grade, and he smiled as he remembered his Dad’s frustrating coaching efforts and their consistent losing records. Though his memory was fading, he could still recall specific moments from those days, those wonderful carefree days. He wished he had appreciated it all more at the time, but who would think of such things as they are happening? What became of those nuns and all his classmates? They were all so important to him back then. Why didn’t he ever wonder what became of them? Why hadn’t he cared?


Herb studied the Easter Sunday picture. He looked like a devout Christian in his altar boy cassock, so serious about his faith. His friends joked they could have made a Holy Card out of that photo. Was he really believing back then? Herb couldn’t remember. It had been such a long time since he even thought about whether he believed or not. What does he do now, call a priest and ask him to drop by for lunch and quickly convince him there is a God, and that an afterlife awaits him? It might be a little late for that, Herb.

----------

Knock, knock, knock.


Knock, knock, knock.


Knock, knock, knock.


“Dammit, Herb! I know you’re in there! Answer the door!”


KNOCK, KNOCK, KNOCK!


“Oh, hi Gr…, oops, I’m sorry, Mr. Reaper. I didn’t hear you knocking.”


“Yeah, right. You can’t hide from me, Herb. You should know that.”


“I do. I know. I just…”


“No justs or buts or what ifs. Are you ready?”


“You’re going to be mad at me…”


“ What is it now, Herb, a rerun of Jaws or Rocky?”


“Well…the Badgers’ first game is just two weeks off. What do you think about me sticking around for it? You know my Dad played for the Badgers. It would mean a lot to me.”


“Are you freaking kidding me?! A football game? That’s not how this stuff works, Herb.”


“You know, you could come over and watch the game with me. It would be fun. I do get a little lonely sometimes, and you’ve been showing up so often I feel like there’s a little bonding going on here.”


“Herb, have you completely lost your mind?! You and I will never be BFF’s, so no, I won’t be watching any games with you.”


“They’re opening at home against Michigan, and it…”


“Stop it, Herb! I am so sick of your whining, your constant peeing and moaning, your God damn refusal to cooperate, and I’ve got so many other calls to make, that I’m going to give you your stupid game…for right now. But this could change, Herb. You know I’ve been known to make surprise visits. Enjoy the game.”

----------

Another photo album. High School, his first car, football games, Homecoming and Prom. He had the best friends. The school play. He had one line, and he flubbed it. Painful then, but he laughed about it now. His Confirmation. He hated the classes and begged his parents to let him out of it. He went through the motions, rejected Satan and reconfirmed his faith. Herb wished he had given it more thought, taken it all more seriously as he looked at the picture of him standing on the steps in front of St. Mary’s. How could he not have revisited these topics over all these years? He didn’t need to; now he did. But so little time to sort it all out.


Herb wore one of his Badger T-Shirts for the game and put a picture of his Dad in his football uniform on the coffee table. He stood and mouthed the words to “Varsity” at half time. He thought of being in the stands with his Dad as he waved to imaginary people across his living room and softly sang “U-rah-rah Wisconsin”. Herb teared up as he wondered why such times had to end.

----------

“I see your stupid Badgers lost.”


“That was low, Mr. Reaper, I know you don’t have a job where you can be all warm and fuzzy, but you don’t have to be rude about it.”


“Sorry, I guess that was uncalled for. I’m just having a bad day. Too many terrible things going on in the world. I’m way too busy, and I get no help. I’m a one man operation, you know. Are you ready?”


“Uh…”


“Uh what?”


“I was just thinking…”


“Oh no, thinking what?”


“Well, I haven’t been to church for such a long time. I should maybe go to church, do a little praying, ask for forgiveness, you know, to get ready for something like this.”


“And you’re thinking about this now? Do you think you should have been on this a long time ago, like for your entire life? I run into this crap all the time. What the hell is wrong with you people?”


A troubling thought occurred to Herb. He had many encounters with religion throughout his life, but he couldn't recall a single one with God.


“I’m sorry. I should have. I know that. But I just feel so uneasy about this whole thing. I’m not ready. I’m sorry, but I can’t.”


“I’ve never run into someone like you, Herb. You are one tough customer. I’m not used to this kind of resistance. I’m not happy about all the trouble you’re causing me, but I guess I have to respect the effort. You’ve got me stymied at the moment. You know I’ll win out in the end.”


“I know.”

----------

The toga party in the Fraternity House. Herb couldn’t believe he ever did things like that. Drinking to excess, pulling all nighters, road trips. His Mom and Dad looked so proud standing beside him at graduation. He had “misled” (lied to) his parents about attending Mass while he was away at school. He probably wouldn’t have even been able to find the Catholic Chapel on campus. Maybe he should have shifted some of his bar time in the direction of matters of the soul.


Herb fought back the tears when he flipped the page to his wedding pictures. Every day with Maggie was special, wonderful. What did he ever do to deserve her? Most importantly, where is she now? Will those special moments return? How could you not know, Herb? How can you not even have an opinion?!

----------

Herb hadn’t been to St. Mary’s since Maggie died. The creaking of the heavy wooden door broke a solemn silence as Herb entered. His every footstep echoed throughout the church, and reflections of candles eerily danced along the walls as Herb made his way to the front of the church. He figured he’d get a little closer to God that way…if there was one.


“Good evening.”


Great. His last-ditch efforts to verify the existence of God interrupted. He worried the priest might think he was the perpetrator of some heinous crime and was now in need of emergency absolution. But as long as they were both here in this setting, Herb thought he’d ask. He figured this guy would know.


“Father, can I ask you something?”


“Of course.”


“Father, are you sure there’s a God, I mean like really sure?”


The elderly priest smiled.


“You know what I’m going to say. Asking a priest if there is a God would be a little like asking Wimpy if he liked hamburgers. It’s not what I believe. It’s what you believe.”


Herb liked the Wimpy reference. This guy seemed different from the priests he had encountered along the way. Maybe going to church wouldn’t have been so bad. And it might have helped.


“I can’t talk you into it at this stage of the game. You have to figure that one out yourself. Perhaps that’s why you are here this evening?”


“Maybe, Father.”


“I pray the Spirit will touch you. If you need anything, I’ll be in the rectory.”


Herb’s mind shot back to doing his grade school math homework. His mother would gently prod him to first try to solve the problem himself. It seemed the priest had the same approach. He would have preferred the easy way now even more than he did back then. The stakes were so much higher this time.


The priest left, and it all went silent again. Herb sat in the pew, not thinking but just sitting. He smiled as he remembered the poster his Dad put up in their basement rec room. It was a drawing of an old fishermen sitting on a log with the caption “Sometimes me sits here and thinks, and sometimes me just sits here.” It was an epiphany. The old fisherman had a point. Maybe you don’t think these things through. You can’t reason out the existence, or nonexistence, of God. Maybe you just sit.


Herb sat. He was overwhelmed with the quiet, enveloped in the peace he found in the cavernous, dimly lit church. He was as relaxed as he had ever been in his entire life. The figures in the stained glass windows came alive, moving ever so slightly, ever so slowly, in the shifting glow of the candles, and seemed to welcome him with an offer of comfort and hope. He sat motionless, sapped of energy, barely breathing, his mind clear of thought, his heart free of emotion. At that moment, in this place, Herb only existed, no more, no less, the perfect receptacle should the Spirit arrive.

----------

Knock, knock, knock.


“Hello, Mr. Reaper.”


Mr. Reaper sensed the change, and for the first time in the history of his unsavory career, he smiled.


“Hello, Herb. Why don’t you call me Grim?”


“I’m ready, Grim.”


“I know.”


“Listen, I’m sorry I caused you so much trouble.”


“Don’t worry about it. I’d feel the same way if I were you.”


“Can you tell me where we’re going? I mean, all this heaven stuff, I know it’s real, but is that where I’m headed?


“That’s one thing I can’t tell you. You’ll know soon enough.”


Mr. Reaper read the worry on Herb’s face.


“But I can tell you that you won’t be disappointed.”


Herb smiled and then wiped away a tear.


“Don’t be going all weepy on me. I can’t stand the crying.”


“Grim, I can’t say much for your profession, but you’re a good man, or a good whatever you are.”


“You have been a royal pain in the butt, Herb, one of the worst cases I’ve ever had, but in a way I’m going to miss you.”


Herb took one final look at the living room he had known for thirty years. He imagined himself sitting on the sofa with Maggie next to the fireplace. He could almost hear the crackling of the fire and feel its warmth. He wasn’t sure there would be fireplaces where he was going, but he knew Maggie was there waiting.


“Let’s do this.”


Grim put his hand on Herb’s shoulder and led him away.






























September 12, 2022 23:15

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1 comment

Kathleen Fine
21:21 Sep 21, 2022

Great job making a “grim” topic humorous:) I found myself liking both Herb and the Grim Reaper and was happy Mr. Reaper gave him a few days to look back on his life.

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