Never let it be said that we Floridians fail to appreciate the true meaning of other people's suffering. Of all the comments I've heard in the past few weeks about the Terri Schiavo case, none has been more prevalent than this: "This whole mess has really made me see that I need to make out a living will as soon as possible."
Now that's the hayseed self-interest I know and love. At a time when Tallahassee was exploding in an ideological range war, how reassuring it was to know that Greater Orlando was preoccupied with more pressing matters, like who gets the Star Wars juice glasses when Cousin Keith can't enjoy them anymore.
Selfish is as selfish does, but still I was set to thinking: Have I done everything in my power to make my own wishes in this area clear? Have I drawn up a proper road map for my loved ones and the courts to follow in case I ever lose the brain function required for me to act as a healthy, fully competent member of society or even to write for Orlando Weekly?
The answer, I think you can predict by now, was a resounding "no." And that's why I'm taking this space to lay out my own version of a living will a list of procedures you'll all have to heed if I end up stuck in a hospital bed, insensate, with strangers clucking their tongues about how hale and handsome I used to be in my ambulatory days.
(Will you allow me this one fantasy, please??!!)
1) First of all and this will probably shock a lot of you right out of the gate DO NOT terminate my life support. Ever. At any time. For any reason. Yes, I'm aware that this directive flies in the face of every opinion I've ever expressed about the Schiavo case and euthanasia in general. I still firmly believe that the sanctity of life is relative, and that the right to end one's misery is something no church or legislative body should obstruct. At this moment in time, instructing the state to pull the plug on my existence should it ever become hopelessly subhuman seems both logical and merciful. But intense reflection has made me realize that I honestly don't trust myself with the decision. How do I know that it wouldn't merely be the latest in a long string of deeply flawed choices I've made, like spending good money on parachute pants and majoring in communications? Had a gaggle of hysterical fundamentalist protesters been around to cry foul the last six times I wheezed out the words "I love you" in a darkened motel room, I might be in an entirely different tax bracket by now. So promise to save me from myself, and keep that feeding tube hooked up until it spot-welds itself to my esophagus.
2) With prolonged life comes the responsibility of daily care, and I have some definite ideas about how mine should be performed. I call for regular sponge baths to be administered by Mr. and Mrs. Smith star Angelina Jolie, attired for the purpose in an authentic nurse's outfit to be procured from Allied Costumes over on Fairbanks. (Try to get the charity rate.) Please advise the former Mrs. Thornton that she is to throw her entire body into the effort, rubbing it against that of the patient in a lateral motion that leaves no contact point unburnished. As my skin is notoriously sensitive, she should use only the finest aromatherapy oils (ylang-ylang whenever possible, but nothing less than bergamot in a pinch). In addition, the process is to be videotaped in every instance, should I one day come around and find myself in need of concrete reassurance that all those months (years?) of dumb passivity were worth it. Speaking of which …
3) At some point, you may find yourself in need of videotaped footage of me and me alone, which you can run on local news programs to stir up sympathy for my sad situation. I know you'll want images of me looking good and pathetic, but please, DO NOT take them at my bedside after the effects of my accident have begun to take hold. Even I think that's beyond the pale, and I throw the word "retard" around like it's my ZIP code. If you want something that'll scream "pitiless universe," just flash my high-school graduation picture on the screen and hold it here for an excruciating three to four minutes. Or contact my old schoolmate, Norman, and have him hook you up with snapshots from our June 1982 trip to the Jersey shore. There's bound to be a shot of me puking off an amusement pier, and what's more wretched than that? (I know, I know: puking in Philadelphia.)
4) In case some quandary crops up that's not covered by this list, you'll probably need to consult one or more of my relatives for guidance. This, as we've all seen recently, is a big honkin' hornet's nest of trouble. My relations can't agree on which of us was conceived within wedlock, much less make lifestyle decisions for a vegetable. To hash out a problem-solving pecking order, consult my personal Christmas-card records. A relative who's dropped me a line over the last four Yuletides or more gets to make important dietary choices on my behalf; three, and you're allowed to change the channel on my bedside TV from Comedy Central to Toon Disney without written permission. More than five cards mailed, and you can smother my ass with a pillow any time you like, no questions asked. Note: DO NOT use a list of Christmas cards I have SENT, or else we'll all be waiting until Doomsday for a sign that it's OK to fix me up with fresh jammies.
5) With new advances coming every day in the field of cryogenic suspension, society may one day be tempted to put my case on indefinite hold. For reasons touched upon in item No. 1, that's fine and dandy by me. Just don't stow my refrigerated body on Magic Kingdom property, which allegedly has its share of Good Humor-ized stiffs already. Instead, find someplace original to stash my carcass, like the beer cooler at Will's or behind an ice sculpture at the Orlando Museum of Art during the Festival of Trees. I know that there may be some confusion over when it's safe to bring me out of my subzero state. To that end, it is my wish that I be frozen wearing a novelty fishing hat that will clearly read, "Wake me only for sex or golf."
6) Before following any of the above strictures, make sure that a qualified seamstress is retained to sew laces into my spine, and that Emmitt Smith is flown in to place his signature across my sternum. I'll rest easier knowing that I'm totally ready for my new life as a political football.