WHO AM I?
I’m Brian’s friend. Brian is dying. I know because he and I are in a cancer survivors’ support group. He is dying of colorectal cancer. He was diagnosed about a year ago. We are both the same age, born in 1949. He was born in San Francisco and is Chinese American. I was adopted at birth. Since I don’t know my birth mother or father, I told Brian I might be Chinese, too; and that maybe we’re related. He laughed because I have no Chinese features and was born in Texas. What we do have in common is a love for baseball cards. I have a nearly completed ’59 Topps set. And he has hundreds and hundreds of cards from the same vintage, too. But he loved my ’59 Willie Mays card. We got together a couple of times to look at our cards and tell stories about being 10 years old and about the players we admired. He used to wait tables in his grandpa’s restaurant in San Francisco so he could earn enough money to go watch the great Willie Mays play. Mays was his favorite player. Still is.
WHY AM I HERE?
Brian’s wife called me and told me that Brian was dying. He was pretty close. She said that if I wanted to come and say good-bye I should probably come now. Going to a friend’s death bed is an emotional thing. What will I say? What will we do? What does one do sitting at the death bed of a friend? I thought maybe he might want to say good-bye to Willie Mays, too; so I thought I’d take my ’59 Topps Mays card. Maybe the card would give us something to talk about. My God, I thought, he will be so sedated because of the pain, I thought a moment of joy might help. So I went to my card collection and took out my ’59 Mays. The ’59 Topps card is the one with the player photos in a circle. Mays’ card is a solid yellow background. Mine was in a thick plastic screw-together case. I slipped it into my pocket and drove to the hospital, just a few miles away.
WHAT DO I WANT?
I went to Brian’s room. His wife, Karen, greeted me, sobbing. I hugged her. She said that Brian was drifting in and out of consciousness but my being there would give her a moment to step out of the room. She clutched me and wept. I reached in my pocket and felt for Willie so that I could keep my composure. When she left, I walked to Brian’s bed side and took out Willie.
“Brian! It’s Jean,” I said softly several times.
There was no response.
Then I whispered, “I brought Willie Mays.”
There was a long pause and then he stirred. “...what?” he murmured softly from very far away.
I held up the card. “I brought my Willie Mays card.”
His eyes opened slightly.
“Willie Mays?” he whispered incredulously.
We went back and forth like this for a long time until he returned from the angelic realm and regained some earthly consciousness. Finally he pushed himself up on his pillow and asked, “Where’s my glasses?”
I handed him his glasses and he put them on and looked at the card. He gazed at it adoringly and then he looked over at me.
And then, as so frequently happens in loving relationships between friends and lovers, the Angelic Being of Humor spread his wings over us:
“Are you giving me your ’59 Willie Mays?” he said looking over at me.
“Are you kidding?” I asked. “Nice try. No way.”
“Okay.” He smiled. “I’ll just hold it.”
Then he talked about seeing the great Willie Mays until he got tired again and lay back down and went to sleep. The warmth of the Being of Humor stayed with us for the remaining time we had together. I made sure the card was in my pocket when I left.
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