So here it ended - on an island. The castle was in ruins. The trees
were ancient and tired, and so was I. The long grass which was bending
with the wind earlier in the day was trampled flat in the night by
those who had come to hear the music. But it would rise up again. And
so would I. Some didn't know that this was my last rock band concert,
until I told them - and even then some might have thought that I was
making a kind of joke. If I am so unwell, why am I trying to do a
concert? I think I can survive it, is one reason. The sponsers will
lose a lot of money if I don't and they are not doing this concert as
a business - they want their community to hear the gospel. It's not
seem to be an especially prestigious concert to end with, on my
journey down the long hard road. But it is special to me. My son is
with me. I have great joy inside. I know exactly where I am - secure
in the centre of God's Hand. My voice feels faded and weak. I am
having a little trouble breathing. When I try to sing "One Foot Toward
The Grave" I start to run out of energy, so I sing as much as I can. I
decide to sing one last solo song, "Goodbye Farewell," and then I
invite the band to come up on the stage and plug in.
Is this rhythm and blues or is it, perhaps, post-modern "death rock?"
I am dressed in black and my face is ghostly pale, but then - it always is.
The irony is lost on me more than those who have read about my latest
hospitalization because I feel very full of life - but recently I can't
convince my body to keep up with me. Mike walks up stage with the band. He has
planned to sing only the first song with me - but then decides to stay on and
help me sing all of the songs. He's tired and sleepy but this is an unusual moment
in time and I'm so happy he's here to share it with me.
The band members can't hear each other so everyone plays with the beat as it reaches them, but that's a lot more satisfying to me than having some note-perfect, jazz-type Toto-clone to share my last rock and roll concert. I try to keep my energy up but the stage is built a little to high and it seems harder to make a connection with the audience. I talk a bit too loudly and sing forcefully trying to make sure that each word comes across clearly. The people in the crowd are trying to translate each rush of words without getting too far behind and I am trying to enunciate without insulting them by speaking too slowly. Many or maybe most of these people are not Christians, I am told. And that was the purpose of this concert. Mattias wanted me to come to this slightly remote part of Sweeden to make some kind of dent in the reluctant emotions of the unchurched and unconvinced. I have a lot of love for these people, these strangers. I watched as they slowly approach the island across the footbridge and I talked and joked with some of them before the concert began. I've been to Sweeden many times and understand the logical resistance they have formed against a legalistic state church. They are not impressed by religious people. They are watching the Christians around them to see if any of them are real - to see if there is any liberation in the Christian life, or just more of the typical, frustrated human syndrome: nervous anxiety, repressive guilt, fears of inadequacy.
Before I flew to Sweeden, I stopped for several days in Oslo, Norway, to see the Bendixen family. There are several doctors in this one family and after dinner they consulted with me on various procedures that no doctor in America or Holland has yet talked to me about. When I asked them why it seemed like my doctors have been so uninformative they explain that some doctors think they must be totally in control so that their patients don't get too worried, or "too involved in the decision making."
I explained that I did not have a typical cholesterol heart attack - that the lab tests showed that my blood pressure, cholesterol count, everything, was completely normal - and how in the intensive care unit my parents were told that my body was in excellent health except that a blood clot had destroyed 40% of my heart tissue and that I was only expected to live a few more days. I explained to them about my doctor - the one I call "Doctor Death" - who had insisted that I only had a severe case of indigestion; how he had misdiagnosed me for two days and then intervened at the emergency ward so that I didn't receive anti-coagulants which would have thinned my blod and prevented my heart attack. The Benidixens say that even receiving asprin could have acted as an effective "clot buster" and saved me from heart tissue damage. I shake my head in dismay.
The Bendixen consortium of medical minds around this unified table agree that I have a right to know what lies down the road and what various medical procedures are available. They also explain to me how much this latest heart attack has put me "at risk" because ventricular arrhythmia can lead to instant cardiac arrest - death within a few minutes - something else which has not been explained to me by any doctor. Again, I am shocked at how little information I have been given. I make a small, prosaic comment about understanding why medicine is called a "practice."
I ask them if they feel it is safe for me to do one last band concert. Jan has already examined me two days earlier in his office. They encourage me to perform in Sweeden but not to dance on stage, not to sing too many hard songs in a row, not allow any smoke machines, and to drink a lot of water - before, during, and after the concert - to avoid dehydration.
After dinner Astrid the artist, and Michael who has become very fond of her, play badminton for awhile and then throw the frisbee to each other while the rest of the children run around outside the house hollering and laughing. I sit with the doctors on the patio and smile at the energy of the young ones.
Astrid drops me and Michael off outside the SAS Hotel and I say goodbye. She looks like she is thinking of all the years behind us. This is the last time we shall see each other. My sadness is mixed with great joy and peace. I do not live in fear because Death is not the end. Whenever my breath stops, however my life on earth ends - I will be reunited with my brothers and sisters in the Lord, wakened from my sleep on The Day of Resurrection. Meanwhile I want to live and watch my son grow up and my Father knows this well. "Give the boys a hug from Michael and me and to Jan for always being such a good friend," I tell Astrid. We stand and watch her drive away.