Estimated time: 4 minutes
Last summer, I saw a man get shot in the gut with a shotgun at point blank range in broad daylight. It makes for a marked improvement since the last time I was in close proximity to a gun, as this time around I wasn’t on the receiving end. Nevertheless the whole experience got me thinking…
At the time, I was in Antalya, Turkey coming back from a delicious and cheap meal. I hadn’t a care in the world as I’d just been to Perge, an extremely well preserved Roman city. You can walk around the ancient streets and you will feel like Indiana Jones, as you basically have the immaculate city to yourself.
As such, when I saw two men fighting and screaming in the middle of the street, where the cars are supposed to be, I barely registered it. I’ve seen enough fights in my day to pay much attention. I briefly glanced in their direction, but almost immediately continued on my way. But, out of the corner of my eye, I saw an older man approaching carrying a very large and heavy looking shotgun. As soon as I saw this, before almost realising what was happening, I ran and ducked for cover behind a bookstall. I heard more screaming and then the gun went off. The sound struck me, as it wasn’t what you expected, the sound was more akin to a very loud “pop” then the thunderous roar you hear in movies. It genuinely almost sounded fake. I waited a couple of seconds, as I didn’t know what was happening, and thus whether the other people had a gun as well, and then I looked up.
Two of the three men were gone, one remained and looked off into the distance, he was clutching his right side. Initially, I thought that the man with the shotgun had just shot a warning shot, and that had been enough. Yet soon enough, the remaining man sat down on the pavement and lied down, exposing the gore I’d been unable to see due to me only being able to see his profile. He had obviously been shot point blank in the abdomen with a 12-gauge shotgun, it was a miracle he was still alive, let alone conscious.
A crowd soon formed around him, among them a woman emerged with a towel from the bookstore I’d been hiding at, and tried to stop the bleeding from getting any worse. I followed the crowd. In the meantime, there was a man who was livid, he seemed to be screaming to Allah, to the people nearby, and to the cops when they momentarily showed up and promptly left. I didn’t understand a word of it, but the message seemed clear, he was unable to cope with the reality that someone had been shot and was dying right in front of him. It reminded him of the end to come, and not knowing how to react, he angrily lashed out at the world.
In the meantime, the dying man was moaning softly, and was intermittently muttering something inaudible. He kept bleeding, and as he did so, he lifted his right arm and seemed to try to catch something ethereal, when he missed his target, he settled on putting his hand on the shoulders of the person that was helping him. It’s at this point, that I think it dawned on him that he was about to die. His facial expression soon changed to a mixture of horror and surprise, unlike anything I’ve seen before. His expression haunts me to this very day.
In either case, finally, the ambulance arrived and took him. Few moments later, the crowd dispersed and the only evidence remaining of the incident was a large puddle of blood, and some loose change strewn about (to this day, I have no idea of its relevance in the overall narrative). I continued down the road, and I thought to myself, that this man had had no idea that he was gonna die that day. He woke up, had breakfast, brushed his teeth, had a shower and probably left home in much the same way he’s done hundreds of times before.
Nevertheless, the whims of fate dictated that there’d be violence on that day, and life obeyed. I’ve had similar experiences before, and I’ve been grateful about making it out alive. Having said this, I believe that we’re too shielded of our own mortality in modern culture. It’s not healthy, and it’s not conducive to living a happy life. We’re so obsessed about making things last forever, that we forget to live today. Being in Perge that same day of the shootout hammered the point to me even further. As it was a major city in its time, imagine how many lives were lived there, how many stories the Roman people had there, how much anguish, how much happiness was experienced there.
Ultimately, only a handful of their stories made it to our day, and even less people than that actually know about them. In the grand scheme of things, none of their personal stories truly mattered to anyone but to themselves. Me, you, everyone you’ve ever thought about or met, are going to die, and we WILL be forgotten. It’s not a matter of “if,” it’s a matter of “when.”
Think about it, we don’t need to go that far in history for things to be completely lost in oblivion. I dare you to name five people from the 4th Century to the 13th Century. Truth be told, a good chunk of people might even have trouble naming one. That’s almost 1,000 years of history, relatively recent history at that, considering that humans have been around for 160,000 years and we’ve had recorded history for the last 10,000.
No matter how powerful you are, no matter how pitiful you are, time will be the great equaliser. Your bones will turn to dust and you will be forgotten, nobody will remember your legacy, let alone your name in the end. Yet, for all the grim future of nothingness I have presented before you, there is a bright side to be found.
As Mark Twain well put it “The fear of death follows from the fear of life. A man who lives fully is prepared to die at any time.” Truth be told, I lived a miserable life for most of my 22 years. It was a garish experience where I was always daydreaming, hoping about what the future might bring. I lived vicariously by reading novels, playing video games, imagining my own fantasy worlds and writing about them. I would not, not for all the money in the world, redo my first 19 years – the mere thought churns my stomach.
I would however, gladly live through my last three, and I’d even pay to do so. Having said so, I think I can only appreciate my current lifestyle by having had early hardship. “There is neither happiness nor misery in the world; there is only the comparison of one state with another, nothing more. He who has felt the deepest grief is best able to experience supreme happiness. We must have felt what it is to die, that we may appreciate the enjoyments of life.” – The Count of Monte Cristo
I have died before, I existed for nineteen years as the walking dead, merely going through life in a walking daze. I have found happiness since then, I have experienced the highest highs, I’ve received my dues. When Death comes for me, to take me to the great unknown, I shall embrace him as a friend, as I shall no longer feel cheated out of a good life. Preparing for death is the best way to live, it imparts a sense of urgency to everything. It forces you to do the things that make for a good story. If you don’t do something today, you might never have the chance to do so again.
At the end of my life, when Death comes to take me, I want to look at him straight in his bony face, smile and say “I’ve been expecting you, boy, do I have a great story to tell you!”
Have you ever changed your life based on a thought? What was it?
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