I read the other day – I don’t remember where – that when you think you’re about to die, you panic, but when you know you’re about to die, you become very serene.
I’ve thought I was on the brink of death three times in my life. The first time was when I choked on a peach pit when I was nine years old. The second time was when a bull decided to kill me when I was eleven. And the third time I was 17 and hitch-hiking alone through Nova Scotia and some guy out of Deliverance picked me up and then refused to let me go. (He kept saying things like “Got any hair on your monkey?” and “Had any skin since you left home?” When he turned down a dirt road and started unbuckling his belt I figured he was going to rape and murder me and drag my body into the woods.)
But, I guess before any sense of certainty and the accompanying serenity could set in, the peach pit dislodged itself from my throat, my step-father and grandfather rescued me from the bull, and the Deliverance guy pulled over and let me go.
In each case, I was both relieved and traumatized in the aftermath of almost dying. I cried and shook. I realized how quickly, how unexpectedly, how easily life can end. I felt terrifyingly fragile.
Cancer scared the pants off me too, but that was different. Death may have been leering menacingly at me from a distance, but it didn’t have me by the throat yet.
Some people say they’d rather go suddenly, but not me. I want to see it coming. There are things I want to do before I die. Adventures to be had. Loose ends to be tied. Goodbyes to be said. So I guess I’d rather die of cancer than choke on a peach pit.
How about you? Do you ever think about how you want to go?