I will put aside, at least for the moment, the eternal debate, which some might correctly suggest is unwinnable, regarding the existence of God—particularly that much-depicted God with the white beard, the flowing robe; that cloud-dwelling father figure, that great and powerful authority who some might say sounds a little like the Wizard of Oz. No matter what anyone claims, regardless of how loudly or vociferously they stake those claims, I remain a skeptic. I simply don’t know—not with any real certainty. But this is good, for isn’t this a fundamental aspect of Faith, at least for those claim to have it, this very not knowing? For the sake of this discussion, however, I will stipulate, on behalf of Christians and Muslims, Buddhists and Jews, Ojibwas and Hindus—and even atheists, for we are no more or less certain than anyone else—that God, in one form or another, be it a man on a cloud or a natural spirit, does indeed exist, and then I will press on to the more essential issue. That is, that God does not love Dick Cheney.
Yes, that Dick Cheney, God’s own Energizer Bunny from the Ninth Ring of Hell. The man who just won’t die. Dick Cheney the puppet master nonpareil. Dick Cheney the war criminal—or so it has been widely suggested, not only by me. Dick Cheney the sure-as-shootin’ devil incarnate, a man with whom you do not want to go hunting. A poll of his enemies might well expand this list. Exponentially.
Richard Bruce “Dick” Cheney ascended to his greatest political influence as the 46th Vice-President of the United States. Those who suggest he simultaneously served as the de facto 43rd President, with the 21st Century’s own version of Mortimer Snerd perched ever-grinning on his lap, may be engaging in extreme cynicism, to which I would say only, “No, I’m not.”
Even more interesting—and disturbing—is the fact that Mr. Cheney has endured more near-death experiences than a battalion of wartime soldiers—which he himself has never actually been. Good Lord, how is the man still alive? What deal did he make?
Since the age of 37, an age when most of us are in the prime of our physical lives, Cheney has had more heart attacks than Joe the Plumber had wrenches, though none have managed to “do the job.” That is to say, prove fatal. Or, if you prefer, “Git ‘er done.” He has, at taxpayer expense, undergone countless major and minor cardiac procedures to fix a mechanism that some might claim does not even exist: i.e., his heart. Luckily for him, the Dark Prince has had full access to the kind of comprehensive health care the vast majority of American citizens are still economically precluded from securing. Not so long ago, prior to receiving a full transplant at the age of 71, the man was implanted with a device specifically designed to both create as well as maintain what amounts to an artificial heartbeat, a device beyond the classic “pacemaker,” something more akin to an ersatz heart, as if the most fundamental function—a heart beat—was inexorably beyond the capacity of this alleged human being. That particular device—cost unknown—kept him alive for more than a year, essentially without a pulse.
Let me be clear about one thing: I do not wish Cheney dead (at least not publicly). Openly wishing him dead—for that matter, wishing any other human being dead—would be both heartless (how ironic) as well as a somewhat grotesque affront to my own humanness. I prefer to leave this sort of hyperbolic ranting to the lunatics who regularly call, and even pray, in the name of their own god, for the damnation of their countless enemies—the kind of ranting and raving you hear from those placard-bearing crazies who congregate outside abortion clinics to decry the murder of the unborn before heading to the local prison to cheer and roast marshmallows as yet another death row prisoner is brutally dispatched. As a civilized, if somewhat curmudgeonly individual, I don’t typically engage in this sort of hateful rhetoric. Certainly, wishing a man like Dick Cheney dead might be seen as a kind of crass expression of inhumanity—an expression not protected under any particular constitutional amendment. The eavesdropping agents of Cheney’s most diabolic creation, the Department of Homeland Security may be listening and I don’t relish an indefinite Cuban vacation for simply spouting off.
The Buddhists, proponents of something they call loving kindness, say that we may achieve a good and meaningful death by living a good and meaningful life. Buddhists, who not only embrace death as a natural part of the here-and-now life cycle, who see it as a moment of transcendence, but who also believe that it is only by living well—another one of those pesky here-and-now deals—that can we hope to achieve that miraculous goal of dying well. Which, sad to say, includes…yup, dying. Americans—indeed, most Westerners, even those hedging bets on getting into this place they call Heaven—do not embrace death easily or gracefully. Collectively, the “after-lifers” who can’t be sure whether heaven or hell awaits them treat death with a toxic blend of fear and loathing—the kind of fear and loathing, ironically, that has been shown by scientists to speed-up the actual dying process. They tend to treat the inescapable certainty of death with the same vigorous anxiety as Cheney’s administration might have treated a manufactured al Qaeda terrorist plot—Threat Level Red!—expending untold resources to fend it off, refusing—until we have no other choice—to understand if not accept its inevitability. The idea of embracing death as a natural stage in the Life Cycle is culturally anathema to most, unless it’s the death of some clearly identified Enemy of the State, some outlaw hoodlum, some underprivileged voiceless plebeian—that is, a criminal or a minority. For the most part, however, we abhor the very thought of death touching our lives in any closer proximity than, say, the nearest 42-inch plasma-screen HDTV set on which Law & Order or reruns of Dexter might be playing.
According to a variety of self-proclaimed experts on the subject, God alone is in charge of who lives and who dies. Well, God and the aforementioned serial murderer, Dexter.
If God needs a new guitar player for the house band at St. Peter’s Bar & Grill, then Jimi Hendrix, or Jerry Garcia, or Stevie Ray Vaughan may well be snatched away from us under the most rueful circumstances—e.g., drug overdoses, heart disease, helicopter crashes. We’ve seen it happen. We lament our earthly loss and say, “God took him.” And for some reason we feel better. Same when children die. When little Sally Q. Public develops leukemia or is crushed to death beneath the wheels of the school bus delivering her home from kindergarten, we hear, “It was God’s will.” Of course, this approach is far easier and less time consuming than checking into the multinational corporation that runs that toxic waste dump two blocks from little Sally’s house, or asking why the school bus company still hires drivers whose finest quality is their capacity to pile up moving violations. “It’s God’s will,” we say and change the channel away from the news and back to re-runs of Friends where—curiously and somewhat disappointingly—nobody ever dies.
So why hasn’t God taken Dick Cheney?
The man has spent much of his adult life—when he wasn’t busy plotting the deaths of countless thousands of others—trying to die. His own body has rejected him—not once, but several times. Yet he remains among us, haunting us like some unearthly phantasm. The reason seems obvious.
God, in his infinite wisdom, doesn’t love Dick Cheney.
We must take God’s word for it, for where do we send our letters of inquiry?
The Vatican and Fox News tell us unequivocally what their particular version of God wants from us, what that God of their creation expects from us, how we will be rewarded in the hereafter for living, essentially, in a state of constant fear and obedience (wait a minute, that sounds like Cheney’s administration). How, if we meekly comply with The Golden Rule and all its sub-statutes, we may dodge the one-way trip to Satan’s Club Med that awaits us as a default post-mortem locale for having been born with what they call Original Sin. You can’t make this stuff up, folks. Well, actually, you can.
I still recall with some horror that a man like Jack Kevorkian was sentenced to a prison term—in his late seventies no less, call it Threat Level Gray—for taking steps to assuage the agony of difficult and painful deaths. Instead of being recognized for his efforts to preserve the last vestiges of personal dignity, he was condemned for thumbing his nose at institutionalized medicine, which routinely strips dignity from patients like piranhas tearing meat from the bones of a corpse. We are asked to forsake quality of life for mere quantity of life, as if more is always better. News flash: more isn’t always better. More Dick Cheney has not proven to be a good thing. We keep him drawing breath even when achieving room temperature seems to be the goal of even his own failing flesh and blood.
Dick Cheney—at least his physical body—is trying to die. Has been for years. His soul surely committed Hara-kiri decades ago. But the great and powerful medical community, hiding behind its own mysterious curtain, remains hell-bent on trotting out its most expensive and revolutionary toys to keep him kicking. They know the joke: what’s the difference between God and a doctor? God doesn’t think he’s a doctor. They know the joke but they don’t see the humor. You could even say that these very practitioners are essentially thumbing their noses at God, behaving as if they know better. For God to allow this kind of tampering to go on—particularly in Cheney’s case—suggests only one thing: the almighty, omnipotent, all-loving, all-forgiving God of our universe, in whatever shape He (or She) takes, wants no part of Dick Cheney. Which, I guess, means we’re stuck with him, at least until God makes room for him in His (or Her) heavenly heart—or Cheney learns to play the guitar like Stevie Ray Vaughan.
St. Paul, MN