I want to introduce you to the late Bobbie Sue. She was 87 years old, independent, bull-headed, and as Primitive Baptist as they come. She lived out on her late husband's ranch until the last day of her life. The setting was a Texas country wilderness – some 630 acres of it – and a 4,000 square-foot house, adjacent to a large tin roof garage, bordering on miles of open pasture. Despite the pleadings of her son and daughter and her grandchildren, she flatly refused to live in an assisted living townhouse like they wanted her to. No, she felt too independent for that. She decided to stay out at the ranch alone.
The little signs of mental deterioration were there…the occasional locking herself out of the house, those slight slips that left her face-first on the kitchen floor, the forgetfulness in conversations of names and events…they were all there. She just never listened to them. Now she's dead. A visiting granddaughter found bits of her mangled, ripped body some 110 yards from the house, right out by the trash-burning hole. She made it there. She just never made it back!
The remains were barely recognizable. This bloody, gruesome scene of torn flesh and dismemberment, of flies and maggots, of exposed entrails dragged in dirt next to piles of ashes and freshly burnt trash, told a grotesque and sad story. It told the story of what happened to an old woman, to a woman too shortsighted to know the folly of her false feelings of independence. I can only imagine what the last moments of this woman's life were like. Piecing the clues together, it isn't hard to see what transpired.
It was probably just another morning like any other. After coffee and folding clothes and listening to Billy Graham, it was time to take out the trash as normal. So out she goes, taking those hobbling, clumsy, unsure, "old person" steps en route to the trash-burning hole. With lighter fluid under one arm and a kitchen-sized Hefty bag held by both hands out in front of her, she heads out. She arrives and throws in the bag and lights the fire. Careful to make sure that all of the pieces of trash are consumed by the flames, she takes a stick and moves the perishables together under the budding flames.
Thinking of other tasks in the day, she momentarily loses sight of the many little pitfalls she dodged on the way out to where she stood. She dodges them everyday. She doesn't stop to think about them. She manages to step over every ant bed, every hole in the ground, every pile of brush and leaves, every fallen branch, every cow patty, and every uneven patch of stickery earth that she maneuvers past on her way out. But when you're 87, it only takes a momentary lapse in judgment to turn the smiling face of fortune into a menacing frown.
Turning around to head back inside, she loses her footing. To the ground she goes. A hard, bounce-less "thud" is all that could be heard if anyone was around to hear it. Now in pain and in shock from the fall, she takes a moment to comprehend what has happened. Wincing, she squirms, but not long before suspecting that her hip is broken again and she can't move. Every effort to twist, turn, or stand up results in terrible, jolting pain. She lies there a while, hoping the throbbing pain will subside. Then maybe she can hobble back to the house. But the pain doesn't subside; it gets worse, and she begins to perspire in the summer heat.
When she becomes accustomed to the heightened levels of adrenaline in her body, she glances down at the ground where she has fallen. As she does, she mentally connects with another pain—little stabbing feelings on her arms and legs. She realizes she has fallen on some stickers in the grass. These burs add to the pain of trying to move or reposition herself. And then she feels another pain; there is a tingling, a biting sensation on both legs. It's getting worse as the minutes pass, as the sun reddens her neck and arms, as she sweats profusely, still shaking in discomfort, wondering what she's going to do. She looks at her left leg and realizes her foot disturbed an ant bed when she fell. They are crawling up inside her pant-leg. She can barely reach down to slap some of them off that make it up on the outside to her buttocks. Because of the bites, she feels the painful burning and itching. She's getting more miserable by the second.
She tries harder to squirm, realizing that if she doesn't find it in her to move, it will soon be her end. The pain she is feeling is already intense. As she looks to her left and right, she panics as she notices the color red adorning the ground around her. She tore the tender, chicken-like skin on both arms and an elbow as she fell to the ground, and she has lost some blood. Hours pass now and she's getting weaker.
She's in pain, but her mind is wondering. She's thinking of how she's going to have a story to tell when this is all over. But it's been 4 hours now, and she's in the exact same place as before. She realizes that despite the pain, she had better start moving—and fast! Enduring the discomfort, she grabs the dirt and turns her body around. It takes a whole hour to move two-and-a-half feet. She stops every several inches wincing from the piercing pain. Little by little, in spurts, she's making progress, yelping like a dog ever so often.
It was 10 am when she started out there. The day passes. Now, it's 7 pm. She's made it a total of 12 feet towards the house in all that time. She passed out for a few minutes in between squirming to move. By now, she's so dehydrated and her lower body swollen – with a trail of dark blood streaking the earth behind her – that she begins to doubt whether she'll make it back or not. Then, another problem surfaces; she realizes she must cross a large patch of sand on the way to the house. She strove with all her might to crawl over stickers and over fallen mesquite tree branches and brush. But now, reaching ahead, her hands grab only sand. She can get no traction to go anywhere. Her head falls forward towards the sand. Her head lands on her left forearm. Sand covers her chin, along with bits of elm and broken, dried tree leaves that are pasted to her sweaty body. The mosquitoes and biting flies have been feasting on her already plump-swollen lower limbs. She is unable to reach down and swat them off her limp, enlarged ankles.
It's now past 8 'o clock and she's only moved another foot. The crickets and bugs sing their songs of another nightfall in the country. It would be a beautiful night to admire, were it not for the circumstances. She realizes her predicament—it's nightfall and she's a bleeding, wounded animal! Her resolve on the verge of failing, she cries out, her voice shaking: "Help! Help! Help! Somebody, please help!!!" "Can somebody hear me??!!" Time shows her the futility of the effort. She's too far from the main road and no one lives close by in the country. She's on her own. Her soon hoarse voice becomes weaker and scratchier. Intermittent yells are replaced by nearly inaudible sobbing.
She's been praying since the ordeal began. She's been confident that though this would prove to be a trial, the good Lord would somehow get her through it. He always did before. This has got to be another one of those times! But why then does she find herself preparing to meet her maker? Would her prayers be ignored by the almighty? If ever she needs him, she needs him now! But heaven is silent, so maybe it's her time to go. There is no one to drop in and see how she's doing, no neighbor to providentially be moved to stop in to check on her. She's alone, all alone. She starts to be alarmed at the now more-focused-on thought that she has been fighting away for hours—that maybe this is "her time" after all!
A second wind of strength hits her, but the pain is too great. It fades away like background music. After a few more breath-holding struggles, she'll find confirmation of her conviction that this is truly "it." It is time to prepare to die. So she just lays there, dehydrated and becoming delirious of her circumstance. The agony has her crying out loudly, at least for a few times. Most of the time she just tries to cry out, but no sound comes out at all. When it does, anyone who knew Bobbie Sue and was around to hear her would start crying because crying is not a thing Bobbie Sue is accustomed to doing. But now, she's making up for all the crying she never did. They are the kind of cries where you can't always tell whether she's laughing or crying unless you know the circumstance she's in. Those who know her would say that she sounds so not like herself. She's lost her dignity. Pretty soon, she can only be silent and pant like a sick dog.
This morning, the smell of sycamore and honeysuckle do not call out to her, imploring her to bask in the verdant glories of the countryside. The floating scent of onion grass is no pleasant reminder of nature. Bails of hay in the distance and graceful stalks of corn slightly swaying with a faint southeast breeze do not invite. There is no welcome here anymore. She has overstayed her welcome. She must leave.
And now at last they come! Howling and baying at the moon, they can be heard in the distance. They are the wolves. They are out there, not far away. They are hungry. And when the howling and the baying cease, she is more scared than before because she knows that they must be getting close. There comes a rustling in the bushes, very soft and hard to hear, but it's there. Careful as any hunters, the wolves draw closer, taking cover and approaching the wounded prey. They are watching, closely watching, making sure this one is clear and unclaimed. Their mouths water. It's mealtime!
They move in for the kill, and that's when the real nightmare begins. She thinks she's shooing them away, swatting at them, yelling at them, throwing leaves and branches at them to keep them away, but it's only in her mind. She is motionless and mostly unconscious. She catches some glimpses of what's going on, but she is awakened when she is bitten. The pack surrounds her. She can only stare at them, breathing hard. She lays there, she pants, but she found another burst of energy. So she swats, but her face and arms fall back to the ground afterwards.
They begin with the legs; she screams and tries to hit them, but they stay down at her legs. It's no good. When they do relent, it's only for a moment. They come back in, nibbling and biting, pulling and chewing, biting the buttocks and the thighs and the calves, twisting off chunks of flesh. Every nerve is torn, every muscle sliced. It won't be until the early morning hours when the wolves will be done with her, having had their fill. As soon as she turns over, enabling them to move in for the neck, it's all over except for one last, long glimpse up at a nearly brightening blue sky. Then she closes her eyes in death.
I wonder what Bobbie was thinking about in those last few seconds of her life? Was she thinking about how grave a mistake she had made in not taking the advice of her family and moving into an assisted living facility? Or did she imagine herself inside the cool ranch house again, lying in her soft, cozy, clean bed with quilted blankets, or perhaps with the family, enjoying a honey-glazed ham and eggnog at Christmas time? We will never know.
But we do know that with all the cruelty man is capable of inflicting on his fellow man, he is no match for Mother Nature and time. A callous man can torture; an evil man can cause pain; he can strap a poor bastard down and peal back, layer by layer, the tissue of a toe or a finger; he can slit open the pupils of a young girl while she tries to blink and shake her head in horror. He can inflict great pain, but he can't mix the pain with joy, douse it with promises and expectations of happiness to come, build up the greatest of hopes, and then dash those hopes to pieces over time like life can. No, only time and living can do that.
The serial murderer can rob a man or woman of a life of promise and envy, but he can never master the irony with which life takes away and gives back a sense of meaning and purpose before finally taking it all away permanently. The ironies of life and experience, the cruelty of cold causality, the universal and degrading unfairness of time and the changes it makes and the unflattering unfolding of history manufactures pain that is beyond man's ability to inflict or accept. Only a cruel and godless universe, directed by no intelligent causes, could have brought about such misery as we see around us. The magnanimity of it is incalculable.