Growing up in the Bayly home you knew it would be a bad day if it was planting day. Why? Because when Mud planted a piece of flora, she planted it for life. Every plant she planted was intended to live a full and fruitful existence. The bigger the plant, the more adamant Mud was that it get the right start.
And if you had the misfortune to be assigned a tree to plant, it would be a day you would remember the rest of your life. The proper hole for a tree, according to Mud, was an excavation at least twice the diameter of the rootball and a foot deeper. Nor was it enough merely to dig the hole. The soil from the hole had to be sifted for stones. Clods of clay had to be removed. Peat moss had to be added, along with fertilizer. Once the soil was prepared, the tree could be put in the hole. But even then, there was a mandatory and lengthy tamping process to the reinsertion of the fortified soil. And finally, lengthy, hours-long watering to cap the project.
There's a blue spruce by the front sidewalk of our childhood home that lingers bitter to this day in the memory of Tim who was forced to plant it in his teens. Mud's idea of a hole sufficient for a seven-foot rootballed blue spruce was an excavation project substantial enough to bury a 1974 Cadillac Eldorado. If that blue spruce ever dies, part of Tim goes with it....
So, as a seminarian in the early 80s who lived for reduced rent in a carriage house on the grounds of an estate in return for yard care, the last thing I wanted to do was plant trees. Yet that's precisely the job I was given one day by the owner. And not just one tree, but 20 evergreens with sticks in the ground around the yard marking the locations where the owner wanted them.
A two-day job, I thought in misery. But it was not so to prove. Tim's best friend, Mitch, was visiting from Boulder that weekend. We had planned a family trip into Boston on Saturday, but the evergreens were an obstacle to my going. I couldn't leave with that much work still undone in the yard. Mitch, however, was a horticulturist, the owner of a number of greenhouses, and he said, "Pshaw, you can come. I'll come over tomorrow morning and help you plant the trees."
And plant them we did--20 evergreens in well under two hours. When I told Mitch how Mud maintained trees should be planted he was disdainful: "Just dig a hole and throw them in," he said. "If one dies, buy another and replace it."
We had 20 trees in the ground faster than Mud would have planted one tree--and we enjoyed the rest of our day in Boston.
The difference, of course, between Mud and Mitch was that Mud plants trees only very occasionally, and then for a lifetime, while Mitch plants daily, many times daily, and then only to sell and plant again.
I've come to view the difference between those who deal daily with illness and death and the rest of mankind as akin to the difference between Mitch and Mud in the planting of trees.
Constant attendance upon the dying inures you to death. It changes your outlook on its horror. You tend to grow cavalier toward the value of suffering and the immensity of eternity. You are more willing to see death occur. Death becomes, in a sense, your currency.
Thus, it's inevitable as long as we have professions that specialize in the process of dying that those who work in such professions will be found at the cutting edge of society's acceptance of euthanasia. They become hardened to death. They come to view death as preferable to life with illness. Death is their business. It becomes a goal to them instead of a hated foe.
For this reason I increasingly question the value of the hospice movement and of medical specialties which deal primarily with palliative care for the dying. Death is an enemy, Scripture tells us. Those who love death hate God, Scripture warns.
But familiarity with death, constant immersion in death, changes us. At times, it leads young soldiers to do horrible things--things they would never have thought themselves capable of before becoming hardened to death. We recognize this and seek to deal with it in our training and post-combat care of soldiers. We understand that immersion in death can lead to insanity and atrocities. Why, then, do we assume that constant immersion in death is any less traumatic or harmful to hospice workers?
I'm increasingly convinced that death should be handled by those who don't live knee-deep in it all life long. It should be handled as my mother handles planting trees--as a major event, a traumatic event, an event done only once or twice in a lifetime.
By turning the process of death into businesses and professions, we have, I fear, created a monster. Take it back into the home. Take it out of the hands of the professionals. Treat it with the reverence and fear it deserves.