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The whole congregation rose to their feet and took up the chant. “Tanner Blakely! Tanner Blakely!”
At the far end of the centre aisle, Tanner began his hesitant march forward. He wore a dark suit over a crisp white shirt and stylish red tie. I had never seen him look so well turned out. As he passed by, those closest to the young man patted him on the back or shook his hand. Though obviously overwhelmed, Tanner accepted the heartfelt congratulations, and slowly worked his way forward, eventually reaching the open arms of Doctor Merriman.
The Doctor embraced Tanner warmly, then released him, and presented him to the crowd.
“Attaboy, Tanner!” one of the yobs called. “Now you got it right!”
The applause thundered.
Finally, the good Doctor settled the assembly. One of the ushers brought forth a small table covered by white cloth. I glanced at Tanner's parents. Their faces were beaming.
“Friends and neighbours,” the Doctor announced, “we are gathered here today to witness the passing of Tanner Blakely who wishes to die rather than endure more suffering, failure, and lack of fulfillment.”
“All hear!” the assembly chanted.
Doctor Merriman turned back the cloth on the table to reveal a hypodermic needle and vial. Picking up both, he punctured the seal and drew the liquid. He turned to Tanner.
“Hear his statement! Do you, Tanner John Blakely, freely admit to being chronically depressed and without hope?”
Tanner took a breath, then spoke for the first time, “I do.”
“And are you ready to end your life at this time to free this community from the burden you have been upon it?”
“Speak up, son.”
Tanner looked at his feet like I'd seen him do a million times, struggling to find words or to wait while some trouble grew old and made its exit. But this time his words were not mumbled. His head came up and he looked out at the assembly. He swung his gaze to his expectant parents. Then he spoke.
“You all come here to watch me end my life, like it's the best thing for someone like me,” he said, “but I'm not going to do it. I'm sick of trying to live up to all your expectations. From now on I'm going to live my life for me!”
“You signed the form, Tanner,” said Doctor Merriman. “There's no going back now. It's for the best.”
“What do you mean ‘there's no going back’? It's my life to live.”
“Tanner, Tanner.” The Doctor was a paragon of patience. “This is just a relapse. You're not in the right frame of mind right now. But you were in the right frame when you signed the form.” The Doctor leaned over to the microphone. “Could I have two ushers, please?”
Tanner started to panic. “Hold on a minute! I said I've changed my mind!”
The ushers took hold of him. Tanner struggled and kicked.
“Hold his arm still,” the Doctor ordered. He thrust Tanner's suit and shirtsleeve back and quickly found a vein.
“No!” was Tanner's final word as the needle punctured the vein and the poison flowed into his bloodstream. His eyes grew wide in horror and then it was if a light just burned out. Tanner's body slumped down in the arms of the ushers, who laid him out on the floor.
At once the choir burst into song — Homeward We Must Come, they sang.
The assembly sat for a while, not speaking, then gradually people rose and made for the exits.
“Well,” said Mother, “that was a fiasco. And here I thought he was going to die with dignity.”
“Oh, well,” I said, “maybe next time.”