By Dr. Jim Ferguson

My friend always said she wanted to stop traffic on Kingston Pike, and last week she did. Not only did Chris stop traffic in West Knoxville, she caused people to pause in reverence as her horse drawn hearse left Mann’s Heritage Chapel and traveled down Kingston Pike with a motorcycle police escort. Even workers at Krispy Kreme lined the sidewalk to witness something that hasn’t been seen in a century.

I never know where my stories will come from, but they always arrive. When my kids were young we often watched a movie called The Neverending Story. Sometimes that’s what I imagine as another story presents itself to me. Perhaps someday all my stories will be told, but it hasn’t happened yet.

I love Christmas movies and one of my favorites is A Christmas Carol starring Patrick Stewart of Star Trek fame. This rendition begins with an 1840s funeral procession replete with a horse drawn black carriage just like we experienced on Kingston Pike.

Funerals are for the living. We gather to pay respect to the deceased, but more importantly to support the deceased’s family – and each other. When I hosted a book signing for my novel, “Epiphany,” I was astounded that so many people showed up out of love and respect rather than for my prose. As I greeted each of them and signed books, I imagined what a funeral might be like for me.

John Donne, in his poem “For Whom the Bell Tolls,” once said, “Any man’s death diminishes me.” While that may be true, some deaths might seem as a release from suffering or the end of a hopeless persistence. However, it seems that the death of a child is different and confounds our human sense of fairness.

A tragedy recently occurred in our family when one of my daughter’s students was killed by a reckless driver. I didn’t know Fallon, but I felt empathy through my daughter’s pain. In trying to make sense of the seemingly senseless, my daughter lamented, “Children expand our hearts and in so doing leave them wide open to breaking.” I believe to be fully human we must love and be loved, even if it makes us vulnerable to pain. The philosophy of the song “I Am a Rock” by Simon and Garfunkel is not an option.

Perhaps the oldest story in the Bible is the book of Job. No one knows the author of this wisdom writing or when it was written. I suspect the story originated in a predominantly aural society millennia before Christ, and was finally recorded in  Hebrew scripture around 500 BC. It deals with the suffering of a righteous man and explores the “theodicy question,” of Divine justice.

We still struggle with life’s seeming unfairness. Perhaps the Greek philosopher Epicurus read of Job’s ordeal in the 4th century BC when he asked how an omniscient, omnipotent and omnipresent God could allow evil to occur. Later, in the 5th century AD, Augustine would ask, “If there is no God, why is there so much good?”

Charles Templeton was a contemporary of Billy Graham. Templeton was flummoxed by what he considered tragic injustice and this led to a crisis of faith. He ultimately renounced God and died a demented broken man. Graham surrendered his life to trusting in God just like the Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoevsky who said, “If anyone prove to me that Christ was outside the truth, then I would choose to remain with Christ rather than the truth.” Is this blind faith or the choice of a better way to approach life?

Words often pop into my mind for no explicable reason. Most would find this odd; my wife does. The ancients thought that dreams were a conveyance for communications from the eternal. I’m not so sure because dreams seem so haphazard to me. I once dreamed I was elected Pope and Becky was “Pope-ette!” Like I said, dreams are odd, and I believe occur as the mind sorts through events of the day, culls most thoughts and stores some experiences alongside other memories. Perhaps the words that pop into my mind are like the memory associations of dreams.

As my friend was placed respectfully in the carriage by pall bearers, the word caisson came to me. I first heard this word in the march “and the caissons go rolling along.” A caisson is a two-wheeled cart designed to carry ammunition. Later, as I studied medicine, I discovered a caisson is also “a watertight chamber used in underwater construction.” Workers building the Brooklyn Bridge labored on the foundation deep beneath the East River inside a watertight compartment after high pressure had forced the water out. Unfortunately, the high pressure caused excessive nitrogen to be dissolved into the worker’s circulation. Then, when they came up from their labors the nitrogen bubbled out of their blood stream causing strokes, rupturing lungs and causing severe abdominal pain known as the bends. The same phenomena can occur in scuba diving unless one is aware of the physics of decompression and avoid prolonged time under water at excessive depths.

My friend and patient was a nurse whose lifelong passion was caring for others. She epitomized the way her profession is remembered, before the new order relegated so much of medicine to new definitions of “care.” Her “joie de vie” (joy of life) never left her though her health waned as infirmities gained on her through the years. In the end she did not linger, and that is a blessing. The same can’t be said for the young lady named, Fallon, taken too young by any human calculation.

I have no explanation for why some die young and others drink deeply from the draft of life. Nor do I have an explanation why the life force continues into debility and beyond medical cure. What I have learned is that the universe is majestic and life is tenuous and precious. It is our job to love and be thankful for each day we’re granted. This is the meaning of life and the only way we can make any sense of the otherwise inexplicable.


(If you liked this essay, perhaps you’d like my book of essays entitled, Well…What Did the Doctor Say?” The book is available online at Amazon as well as Barnes& A great Christmas gift or stocking stuffer!)