Thursday, April 27, 2006

Do Not Resuscitate

On this totally standard library morning I helped a grandmother find dinosaur books for her grandchildren, an aging hippie dude needed information about how to develop film, and I applied some of my amateur photocopier repair skills (which mostly involved punching it in various tender spots the way The Fonz worked Al's jukebox). I also caught myself daydreaming about watching the very last episode of the morbidly great "Six Feet Under" later that night if the trained monkeys who work in the Netflix shipping department got it to my mailbox on time.

Just as I was furiously wrapping stacks of books to be sent to other branches, I was interrupted by an extremely elderly Asian gentleman who struggled to communicate with the very few English words in his vocabulary. Now, my morning book-wrapping routine involves mostly mindless but incredibly satisfying and almost hypnotically repetitive tasks: scan, print, wrap, box, repeat. I've turned it into an amazingly obsessive zen ritual where I try to achieve flawless right angles with exactly same-sized materials which must fit into their corresponding shipping boxes like perfect puzzle pieces. I can trust no one else here to perform this critical function with the maniacal perfectionism I demand, so I guard the stacks of books to be wrapped and routed like a vicious mother wolverine defending her cubs.

The Asian gentleman uncomfortably roused me from the combination of obsessive book-manipulating and "Six Feet Under"-inspired morbid daydreams when he kind of quizically waved a stack of papers at me. I've become fairly adept at communicating with non-English speakers with my combination of expressive hand gestures and confused facial expressions, but it took a while for me to understand what this wizened old fellow required of me. When I started looking through his stack of paperwork, my eyes almost immediately glazed over, which is pretty much my default response to any legal- or insurance-looking document. I became even more frustrated at having to interrupt my meditative book-wrapping flow to deal with this impossible explanatory excercise.

It was the boldly printed, ALL CAPS term, "DO NOT RESUSCITATE" that snapped me out of my solipsistic morning haze. I concentrated a little more closely on the mountain of forms he was un-shuffling for me, and I finally caught on that he was trying to fill out a living will. When we got to the section where he would fill in contact information, I learned that he didn't have any family or friends to contact. He did, however, insist on filling out every last form to ensure that every possible organ he had could be donated to whomever might need it. That made me think a little about the extended networks of family and friends who will benefit from this lonely Buddhist wanderer's meticulous form-filling, and it made me double-check my own driver's license to make sure my own organs won't just be planted in a casket.

For whatever reason I was just a little less excited about watching the family funeral home drama of "Six Feet Under" later that night. I just kept wondering what kind of journey brought this solitary old man through eighty-some years of life to this library with a stack of paperwork in a foreign language and no one else to help him fill it out.


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