A recent one-week stay at the hospital reminded me that my days, too, are counted. As we age, we witness death with regular and increasing frequency. One Memento Mori after another, our friends’ passings leave holes in our lives and forebodings in our minds.
I wonder how I will react when the news comes. Will I go through the seven stages? Will I get a chance to realize what is happening? Will I face pain? Helplessness? Will I try to stay in control, determine when and how? The only time I have felt it breathing down my neck, I was in a car accident. My car had flipped over on the highway and was hurtling towards a ditch. As the car spun, I realized that my time had come, and waited. But the car stopped short of the ditch and I escaped with a scratch.
A single scratch, yet recovering, inside, took years.
At the hospital, as I thought about life and death, about how to die (adequately?), I remembered my high school physics teacher, sharing a favourite quote of his, which went something like: “True courage is dying when it is time to die, and living, when it is time to live.”
My teacher was referring to these moments where the right thing to do is the hard thing to do. It is the hard thing to do because it comes with a cost, or worse, it comes with uncertainty. How often do we settle for less? How often do we show true courage and voluntarily leap into true darkness?
Every day, we decide to live and die in small ways; little acts of living, and little acts of dying. We witness something, feel like we should say something, and decide not to. We feel like we should stay silent, yet speak up, unable to control our emotions. Little deaths, all of them.
Do not take this as me judging others. I go through these tiny trials time after time. I pass some, but fail too. If I always passed, I wouldn’t be worrying about the greatest trial, the one awaiting in life’s shadow.