Ghosts

There were almost two thousand names on the list. They had all stopped in my office over the years, and it was time to let them know I’d be moving down the street. But before I sent them all letters, I would have to shorten the list, removing the names that no longer hung on living bodies.

So many of them I hadn’t thought about for years, people from my early years as a doctor. I certainly remembered Syd, because I still cared for his wife. I also cared for his adult his children, who would also have to be struck off. I made a note of it. There was Mary, who was old, toothless and wonderful. She had grown up picking tobacco and cotton and didn’t much like it, but would still go south to visit her sisters and brothers every year at the family home. There was a Holocaust survivor who watched her greatest tormenter executed by an American soldier. There were so many names.

It’s easy to be forgotten when you’re dead, at least by those who weren’t used to your daily presence. I saw these people in sickness and in health, caring for them in the office and the hospital, but went home every day to my own family, putting as much of work out of my mind as was possible. But here they were, on a computer screen, glowing memories, daring me.

So I read each one, tried as hard as I could to remember them, remember the living things about them, remember that Jack liked to play tennis and make love, that Carole hated her kids. I pictured the lives they led while not in my exam room, lives full of the dull facts that make up a day, a life: making tea, having beer with friends at the corner bar, playing golf. Or worse, holding young children, saying long goodbyes to people who would have to grow up without you.

I struck off each name, the bytes disappearing from the list, shortening it significantly. I hoped that people remembered them all, the good, the bad, the silly. I would do my part; I would try. But I will strike them off just the same, making room for the living who need me more.

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