Death is not a stranger to me

In depths of 1997 I had emergency surgery on my ear to remove an aggressive infection that would likely have left me brain damaged or dead if it had progressed much longer. Young and blasé I was not told the severity until much later as my parents wanted to spare me the absolute worst, but I was aware enough to know that things could have gone sideways fast. I have had seven operations for various things across my life and each time I go under I was acutely aware of just how close death hovered in the background, something that both pierced my youthful invulnerability and made me ironclad in the passing of time. Death was not a stranger, but a companion who sits waiting.

We as a society do not like to talk about death or dying, for we feel it as a cold grip at the edges of life. Only an end, possibly a new beginning, but still an end. Death is the only inevitable, the finality that levels all. Nothing we do or say can prevent it, yet we push it far away to the corners left undiscovered. It is the valley of the shadow, the great beyond, a journey one way across the Styx. It hovers. Close.

As I age it becomes more acute, a ticking patience waiting without malice. Nothing I do or say will stop it coming. Nothing will hold back the surety that time will win, the house indeed beggars all who play this game of life. Living so close to the moment of passing, realising belatedly that I was that close, changed me. Changed my perspective, change my whole view of the world. Death was no longer in the shadows, was not this undiscovered country without a compass. No, death was something that sat there without remorse or hate. Six weeks late and it would wrap me in its embrace. Words are not enough to describe, death neither asking or wanting them. Yet, I feel compelled to talk.

It is our active choice to push death to the margins, to live life as fully and exuberantly as possible. Every waking morning is a middle finger to death. Every moment we breath and live and laugh and cry and exist is a triumph. This is life’s victory, life’s flicker in the encirclement of entropy. This blazing all and sundry wonder of some much possibility, so much living. Death waits, patient. For us life is the great conquest, legacy the great victory. For in all those around us we leave a lasting impression and impact. Death calls and embraces us, yet ours is the domain of torch passed from me to you to them. For while living should be with every fibre of being, death should never be scorned.

Possibly I am too fatalistic, too self-aware of the end. I remember sitting in a hospital room gowned up for my last general anaesthetic operation meditating, playing through all the things I wanted to do and had done. Was it enough? Of course, yet I wanted more. I wanted to live, to chase all those impossible dreams. Except, momentarily I would be snuffed out by the dark anaesthetic arts, revived back into the light with needle and gas. Going under is the deepest, blackest sleep. No dreams, no memories. Just out and back in. Life. Death. Life.

I am fortunate that my ear proved a junction in my life, fixable by skill and quick talent. Death walks with me, dwelling ready for that moment where its embrace is inevitable. It is not a friend, nor is it a foe. Yet each morning I vanquish it with a smile and knowingness that comes with just how close we have become. My suicide attempt was the closest I have deliberately come to stepping over, and often I must claw back the sensation of simply given in once more. We do not talk about death for it is the part of us that blots out every last possible hope, yet for me it is something I cannot look away from.

Do not get me wrong. I have so much joy in my life, so much hope worth living for. I claw hungrily for every breath, every opportunity. I want to live, dammit. I want to run as fast as I can as far as I can. My race is against my self, against the impossible hope of doing all the things. Death may patiently await, but all the while I will most determinedly stick my middle finger up at it. Life is very much for the living, for the hoping, for the doing. Yet, death can never be ignored. I have one life, given back to me eightfold, and with each breath I push back and explore the boundaries of the future.

Death is not a stranger to me; it sits by my side. Yet, I am alive. I live. I dream. I hope. I challenge. I accept. I am alive. I am not a miracle; I am a work of science. Salvaged from death’s embrace and made whole. I walk a path with kinks and turn, not knowing when it will end, yet when death comes, I will fight will my every fibre to win just one more breath. For life is no stranger to me either, and my undiscovered country is the future that awaits.

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