It’s apparently quite a common phenomenon – you have an experience that brings you within an inch of death, and from that moment forward, your life is transformed. You become a better person. You live a fuller, richer life, spreading joy and goodwill to everyone you meet.
Sounds marvellous. But it’s bollocks.
Or at least, it was for me. And frankly, I feel cheated.
There’s nothing dramatic about the story – I didn’t come through some terrible medical crisis, or pull myself out of the wreckage. It’s very small, very simple, very bland. But – if only cos it happened to me – I still think it counts.
I was walking through Farringdon, happy and calm – well, you know – basically fine, when a slab of concrete, two inches thick, eight inches square, smashed into the pavement about a foot in front of me.
Had it hit me, then at best, my life would have become massively less complicated. At worst, it would have come to an abrupt halt. And it missed me by less than a single footstep.
See? I told you it wasn’t much. But it’s enough. Had I walked a shade quicker – had any of a thousand things been infinitesimally different – my lights would have permanently dimmed.
I spent a second or two marvelling at this near miss, then (finally) some sort of preservation instinct kicked in, as I realised that this might be one falling concrete slab of many, and I scarpered to the other side of the road. (There is a bitter irony that my final thoughts might have been ‘blimey, that thing almost hit me…’) I then continued to go about my day – well, for about five minutes. At which point some other (very) delayed reaction took place, my body began to shake, and I found the nearest café so I could pull myself together in comfort.
Sat in that café, I did perform a brief reappraisal of my life. It wasn’t a conscious choice – it wasn’t something I really wanted to think about – but I found myself cursing the time I had wasted, and vowing to make best use of however much, or little, time I still had left. And, as a consequence, I felt good. Bold. Confident. And then I went home and forgot all about it.
So that was my response to the sudden realisation that life is finite, and mine was ticking away. A latte. And, of course, that empty promise…
Trying to see all this in a positive light, perhaps what this tells me is that the life I was living – have continued to live – is just fine as it is. I’m fulfilling my potential, doing precisely whatever it is I’m here to do, and I shouldn’t change a thing. I say ‘a positive light’, but that is the single most depressing thing I’ve ever typed.
Another positive approach – maybe it’s a good thing that people don’t act on these thoughts whenever they feel exposed to risk. After all, you don’t want everyone going about the place improving themselves, do you? Living up to their values, ideals and dreams, enriching others by their very presence? That would make the rest of us look bad.
And anyway, what should I have done? Written that novel, or that solo Edinburgh show? Been kinder, more thoughtful in my dealings with others, less focused on and interested in myself? Been a source of energy and support for all those who rely on me? Phoned my Mum more often?
Yes, I should have done all of those things. Ah, well. Perhaps I can start today.
Jeremy Hardy has a line about the fact that people say we should live each day as if it were our last – but that would mean we spent all our time lying in bed, drifting in and out of consciousness. And isn’t it strange how writing a joke down can sometimes beat all the life out of it?