To be near death

Yesterday, I watched a man die.

I didn’t know him. I don’t know if he was a good person. Nor do I know if he was loved. But his body and his face had all the signs of one who lived in emotional duress.

He was a married man, and therefore most likely loved. He was an elderly man, and therefore had much life in his years. It appears that he may have succumbed to a heart attack. Alone. In a random street. In a public place. With no celebration of his life or his accomplishments to accompany him, or comfort him in his last moments. Except me, a stranger feeling for his pulse, awkwardly shifting him to ease his breathing, and waiting helplessly for more skilled assistance to arrive while my friend looked on equally helpless at what was unfolding in front of us.

His dignity was not spared by the lethargic paramedic that eventually arrived on scene. Nor by the inept control room operator that showed zero empathy or urgency in summoning help.

By the time I left, he was covered in a red blanket, just barely. His hair and feet peeping out of either end. And around his spent body, jovial spirits from five different emergency response services mulled about, paying no attention to the corpse on the sidewalk. He was no longer a name, nor a person. He was a body. A corpse. A reminder of the inevitability of death.

The only thought that remains, is that death passed me in the street yesterday. And like that man, I left home for a meeting, without any loved ones around, not knowing if I would return home, but assuming that I would. Because that’s what keeps us going, isn’t it? The probability of death in every moment of life is always lower than the probability of surviving that moment and having another, and another, and more.

Until there is no more. Without warning or ceremony. One day, there will be no more. And the only ceremony that will remain, will be the closure of our life, so that those who survive us may be able to continue living out their probabilities, comforted by the fact that it wasn’t them.

Yesterday, I stood side by side with death. And I feel numbed by the fact that it didn’t shake me as much as it should have. My effort to reclaim my humanness from an inhumane world continues.

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