Sunday morning, before leaving for church, I sat on the couch and thought about the past few weeks. It has been a painful time for the Riley family.
Just a few weeks ago my Dad fell and fractured his pelvis in multiple places. The orthopedic surgeon told us that it was so shattered that he could not do surgery. After several days, Dad’s personal physician told us that Dad would not survive his injuries. Hospice was called.
Years ago, Dad made me promise that I would not allow him to be kept alive with artificial life support. He was confident in his relationship with God. He had no fear of death.
He understood that there were times when life could be worse than death. He faced death without anger; without fear.
As I sat there, thinking about Dad, in the background I could hear an episode of the old TV show “The Twilight Zone” starting. It was an episode from their very first season. I wasn’t really paying much attention until I hard Rod Serling’s voice.
“There is a fifth dimension beyond that which is known to man. It is a dimension as vast as space and as timeless as infinity. It is the middle ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition, and it lies between the pit of man’s fears and the summit of his knowledge. This is the dimension of imagination. It is an area which we call the Twilight Zone.”
The episode was entitled “One for the Angels.”
A sidewalk pitchman, Lou Bookman (played to perfection by Ed Wynn), had set his display case filled with ties, toys and knick-knacks on a small wooden stand. It was the sidewalk of any major city. He was talking nonstop, trying to get the attention of the busy people walking past him on the bustling city sidewalk.
No one stopped. No one listened except a man standing behind him; standing alone in the background. Viewers soon discovered that the stranger in the background, the stranger in the dark suit, was … Death.
Death had come to claim the life of the salesman.
Lou, ever the pitchman, tried to make a deal with Death. He finally convinced Death to allow him to live long enough to make one more deal – to make the pitch-of-a-lifetime. Lou explained that after he made the pitch-of-a-lifetime, his life would be complete, and he would gladly accompany Death.
Death agrees to the deal, but then tells Lou that someone had to die that day. It was a rule. Someone had to go with him before midnight. Out on the street, you hear car tires squeal. You hear a crash. Lou discovers that a young girl, a girl who has been his friend, had just been struck down by a car.
Death is determined to take the girl. Lou Bookman then starts making the pitch-of-a-lifetime. “Take me instead. Take me. Leave the girl and take me.”
Death isn’t interested in Lou’s deal. He’s going to take the girl. By midnight, she would be his.
Lou has little time to make his final deal, but he’s not about to stop. He gets Death’s attention and talks nonstop. It becomes Lou’s pitch-of-a-lifetime.
Death becomes distracted by Lou’s sales pitch. The girl’s life is saved. Then, Lou Bookman meets his own death. Lou Bookman then becomes “One for the Angels.”
Rod Serling wrote and directed this episode in 1959. He cast veteran actor Ed Wynn as Lou Bookman. By 1959, Wynn was coming to the end of a long career. He was best known for comedy and for playing a clown.
However, in this episode, he brought honesty, sincerity and a little bit of humor to a deadly serious topic. Only Ed Wynn could have played the character of Lou Bookman to such perfection. He was flawless.
For several days before he died, Dad lay unresponsive in his bed. He no longer spoke. He no longer responded to family. He no longer reached for our hands or responded to the kisses on his forehead.
He just breathed and breathed until he breathed his last.
Dad was prepared. He was ready for his meeting with Death. Over 60 years earlier, Dad had left his fears in a small church in Germantown, Ohio.
When Death arrived for Charles Riley, there was no need for bargaining. Dad had already heard God’s pitch-of-a-lifetime. His deal had already been made. He had already been accepted as a child of God’s.
With no fear, with no bargaining, Dad walked with Death into that new dimension; into the light of a better place. One more angel had arrived.
God Bless you Dad.
Randy Riley is former Mayor of Wilmington and former Clinton County Commissioner.