Albert was all suited up. He had a parachute tied to his aging, small body. He was ready to jump out of the plane and land somewhere in a field a few miles from the city limits of Ashleyville, Ohio. The plane was still on the ground waiting for take-off. It was enough time for Albert to change his mind. But why should he? After all, this was the culmination of a long process.
The process began years before when Albert would tell his students all the ways he wouldn't die. He did this for fun, and he hoped the students thought he was being funny. Yes, he would list the ways he would not die: bungee jumping (whatever that was), snorkeling, spelunking, riding a motorcycle, running the bulls at Pamplona, and parachuting from an airplane, which a student informed him was called skydiving, at least when it was a sport. The student wasn't sure what it was called when waging war.
Albert liked his students, and they liked him. He taught English at Ashleyville High School for the required number of years before retiring. He lived by himself, with Buddy, his mutt of a dog.
And then everything changed. He wasn't feeling great, so Albert went to the doctor. He had the usual tests and blood work, and within a few days he was called back to the doctor's office.
Dr. Irene Scucimarra entered the examining room after the nurse had done the usual stuff: temperature, blood pressure, and whatever it was they checked by putting that little device around his middle finger. That never happened when he was a child.
Dr. Scucimarra sat down on the stool by the counter. "Albert, I have bad news."
"I'm afraid you have cancer. It's in an advanced stage. Leukemia. We can put you through chemo. It may give you some more time."
The two of them sat in silence. Albert stared at the doctor, then at the charts on the wall, then at the ceiling.
"Well, Albert? What do you think?"
Albert seemed to be thinking. Dr. Scucimarra waited. Finally, Albert cleared his throat.
"What I think is that I am going to live my life to its fullest before I die. I'm going to take my list of ways I won't die and just do them." He had a determined look on his face.
"List of ways you won't die? What's that?"
"Just a little joke I used to have with my students. I would tell them I had such a list. It included activities like bungee jumping (whatever that may be), spelunking, motorcycling, and parachuting, which my students informed me is usually called skydiving, at least when it is done for larks, as the British would say."
"So now you're going to do some of those things? Aren't they dangerous?"
Albert laughed. "Sure. Living is dangerous. I'm going to die soon. Or so you tell me. Maybe that's true, and maybe it's not. But I am going to do some scary and I hope enjoyable activities while I have time left. Thank you, Dr. Scucimarra. I'll see myself out, as they used to say in old movies."
Now, days later, he was ready for skydiving. The plane left the small airport and started ascending. Albert smiled. He was going to enjoy whatever time he had left. "I might even try bungee jumping next time," he said to the pilot. "Whatever that is."
Then it was time to leave the plane. All was in order. Albert took a last look around the plane. He jumped. He did what he had been told to do, and everything functioned as predicted and planned. Skydiving was not how he was going to die, just as he used to tell his students. And there he was, in the air, looking at beautiful farmland below and his beloved hometown of Ashleyville in the distance. He started to sing, though he couldn't carry a tune.