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Facing Death and Appreciating Life


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I shared last week about the robbery at gunpoint I experienced the night of the 4th of July. It's very strange, but I haven't reacted at all the way I would expect or as I have heard others have in similarly traumatic events. Perhaps I am in denial about it or its just waiting until some day when a dog barks or I'm eating a candy bar and then I'll wet my pants and fall apart, but I don't really seem very freaked out about it now. I do think about that shotgun, but I'm not having nightmares, I'm not agoraphobic, and I don't jump for no apparent reason. What I have done, however, is think about death and life a lot.

As a humanist, a freethinker, I don't expect anything after the end. My brother is a devout Christian and once asked me how I can value life if I'm not. I replied that since I don't know if there's anything after the chemical reactions and the electrical impulses between my neurons and synapses end, life takes on a whole lot more significance for me. And, after looking at a shotgun pointed at my chest, I have found myself thinking in just everyday, ordinary situations, "I'm alive." Somehow, sitting in traffic, listening to a customer complain, watching Fox News-- these things just don't seem to bother me as much as before.

I am sure others here have faced life-threatening situations, war, serious illness, accidents, or even crimes you have survived. Did you have delayed traumatic reactions and did the event give you a different perspective about things?

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Survivors guilt is a bitch.

Most people my age made it through the eighties and early nineties but none of us missed out on the fear and the funerals.

I try to write about it but I get either pissed off or too sad. We all lost too many friends.

Now I'm going to hug my :cat: and go to bed.

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I've seen death up close and too personal several times in my life.

Some things freak me the heck out. Some I'm (obviously) still dealing with years later. -- Others, aw, they just don't bother me. Big deal. I pick myself up and go on with what I was doing, or I do something else, but it doesn't bug me.

I suspect I've seen most bad things enough in life by now that death doesn't hold a great fear or mystery for me. It will happen when it happens, and when it does, well, this stage will be over and I'll find out whatever else there is, even if that is that all I am returns the stuff the universe is made of. I'll find out then, won't I?

But I shouldn't be in any hurry to bring that about any sooner than it is going to happen whenever that time is. It turns out that there are still lots of things I'd like to do before I have to go. I'd still like to make friends, fall in love, have great sex, and do lots of other things I want to do, projects or whatever. I do have to remind myself of that occasionally. There are people to like and love, someplace. There are cool things to do, things that are good. So, might as well, if I'm gonna be sticking around.

I hope that there is something, another stage of life, a next-door world or another dimension of being, beyond this one. I have had a few indications that may well be true. One person very dear to me had a near-death experience. Another had what might be described as that or a vision. I had one personal experience (a vivid dream) I have no rational, logical way to explain. It simply should not have been possible, but it happened. I just didn't know it had been in any way real until later. I still have no idea why, but apparently, I needed to know about it.

I've seen things go right and get better when I didn't see any way they could. I've seen things go really awfully, tragically bad. Accidents, random chance, or benevolent or malevolent or neutral? Oh, I'm not sure. But I liked the good parts a whole lot. I'd like a lot more of those.

I still consider myself Christian, but I have many questions and I stopped being afraid to be open about that long ago. I hope to find out the answers someday. I expect most things we humans think about the world or about religion, we've gotten wrong. I don't really understand it all, though I'd like to think I do, a little.

That said, I have friends who are of other faiths, including friends who are atheists or agnostics or say they're pagans. And I think they're good people, and I've sometimes had better discussions and help from them than from a few other people. I've seen supposed Christians do and say things that I found very wrong-headed. (Uh, I've been known to screw up, occasionally spectacularly, myself.)

What do I get from all this? -- We're alive here and now. We have a chance to do something to make a difference. Even if it's just being a nice guy, it beats the horrors that some people do against others. Whatever may be beyond this life, I hope it's different and better than the here and now. Whatever may be more than us in the grand scheme of things, an all-encompassing life force or good or love or even beyond our understanding of neutrality, fairness, to make it all work out, oh, I don't know, but I hope there's something or other that has it all together, or at least more together than we are.

I'm not trying for conversions. I'm not really doing much of a job of defending any one point of view. I'm not intending to. My intent is to say, we all have to decide for ourselves what we believe, and what to make of that, what to do with our lives.

Sure, life can be scary, depressing, angry at times. It can also be beautiful, content, loving, happy, wonderful. Uh, and I'd really like more of those good parts.

It's what we do with it that counts. Whether we believe, whether we get depressed, or whether we find some way to say, damn it, I don't care, I still want something better for me, and I want to make life better for others, so anybody will have it better when I'm gone. Or something like that.

Um, and just in case.... Hey God, if you're listening, life's really been screwed up for a while and I'm scrambling, and I don't know WTF I'm doing half the time. Also, I'd really like some better relationships, including, hey, love and good sex, just sayin'. Just, y'know, it'd be nice. I get it that the rest of the world has problems. But y'know, it'd be nice. Thanks.

It's late. I'm not necessarily at my best or clearest here. But I hope it helps.

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I've been through serious surgery, bashed on the street, home invaded and then there was the physical bullying at school (everyday), not to mention the deaths of all my immediate family. My reaction to these has varied from emotional through to depression.

I've been lucky enough to maintain an intellectual objectivity which allowed me to cope, but therein is also a trap of putting on a brave face which can sometimes mean not dealing with the issue at hand. The strengths we draw upon in dire circumstances vary from one experience to another. Yet there is no certain, predictable response to any situation in which we may find ourselves.

I think that is why Zen masters say that we may scream in agony, or observe pain's silence. It's all the same.

It seems to me that have you have accepted the situation you experienced and getting on with your life.

By far the most confronting is seeing the suffering of others and knowing that there is not a thing you can do about it. But that too, is part of living and we have to accept it, not fatalistically as religions do, but with the full cognisance of our ability to know when to interfere and when we should simply observe.

Sometimes, life just, is.

In extreme distress, I have found that repeating the phrases, "All things must pass," and "This too must pass," have enabled me to regain some self composure, even gain sufficient equilibrium to comfort others.

Then there are those who have done the same for me.

Our art and our writing are ways for us to communicate our experiences of life, with meaning and affection.

There's a wonderful moment in the movie, Zorba the Greek after the death of an old woman, when Zorba asks the young intellectual Englishman,

"Why do we grow old and die, why do the young die, why does anyone die?"

"I don't know," replies the English man with great honesty.

"Well, if you don't know that, what is the good of all your reading, all your books? If they don't give you those answers, what the Hell do they tell you?" asked Zorba.

After a moment the Englishman responded, "The books tell me about the suffering of men who cannot answer the questions like yours."

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I am sure others here have faced life-threatening situations, war, serious illness, accidents, or even crimes you have survived. Did you have delayed traumatic reactions and did the event give you a different perspective about things?

Good question. I'm reminded of the line from Ian Fleming's Bond novel: "You only live twice... once when you are born, and once when you look death in the face."

I've had two instances like this in my life: the first was when I lost control of a car, which skidded off a cliff overlooking the Hollywood Freeway, then flipped and rolled and landed upside down on the highway. As I was going off the cliff, several thoughts went through my mind: this is going to be bad, not just a little fender-bender. I then thought: Wow, I always wanted to know how I was going to die... and this is it. And the third was that I had absolutely no fear about it, I felt peaceful and calm, immediately accepted that I was going to die, and was ready to go. As it was, it didn't happen, but it was a very strange experience.

The other time was when I was filling up my car (a different one) with gas at a service station in Hollywood at about 4AM, which, by the way, is a big mistake... but what can I say? I was almost outta gas, and couldn't have made it home other wise. Anyway, I was filling up the tank when a homeless guy walked up to me and held out some kind of gun and pointed it at my chest. I looked at him, a little taken aback, and said -- always the wise-ass: "So, you gonna use that, or just hold it up in the air?"

He lowered it and said, "it's just a Mace gun. I use it to protect myself. You never know... there's all kinds of weird people out hear on the street." And then he said, "you got any spare change?"

I was still pretty fearless for some stupid reason, and said, "actually, I don't, but I'll give you the change from whatever I get from the attendant when the car fills up." He seemed satisfied with that, and I handed him about a buck in change a minute later and got out of there. I was kind of relieved and amused by the experience, and for some reason, wasn't scared at all, just a little annoyed.

It is a weird experience to be very close to death (or at least, to believe you could die at any moment) and then live through it. I'm glad that FreeThinker made it; it clearly wasn't your time, and you have more stories to tell, friends to amuse, and maybe a few more things to accomplish in your life. I wouldn't worry over it, but you can always see a shrink about the very real post-traumatic stress consequences of an experience like this.

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Actually, Pecman, I'm starting to think there's something wrong with me because I'm NOT freaking out or getting nervous or reacting. That's why I'm wondering if it's just something I lived through and well, I've got a story to tell, or if it's going to hit me later or what.

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I don't think you need to worry about it too much. You're processing it however you're processing it is all. It'll sort itself out.

I recall you alluding to some traumatic experiences of another kind entirely, earlier in life. You survived those. I would point out that when you've been through something very serious like that and gotten through it and you begin making a new life, then you know, somewhere deep inside, that you can make it through really tough things and come out OK. You have a strength from that, and some things just don't scare you like they might someone else.

Like Pecman just said, when you have faced death and lived, when you've seen the worst, then some things aren't frightening anymore.

Yes, I know what it's like to face death, of myself or people I love, and see it happen, and survive past it. Been there and done that, several times now. I've seen that in the immediate and in the long-term senses. Sometimes death is a relief. Other times it's a horror. There was a time in life, I wanted it too early. I was wrong about that and I'd like to think I learned better. But I'm not afraid of it anymore.

Yes, there are other things in life I am afraid of, or I have doubts about, or whatever it may be. You'd think after facing something like death, all those other things wouldn't matter. But some of them, I guess I still have to learn to deal with.

I think that's how it is for any of us. We all have to learn how to deal with this stuff. We learn how to deal with some things and it takes longer to learn how to deal with others. (And I swear, some people never seem to learn, maybe me too, blast it.) But then again, there are other things we do learn how to deal with, and others we face down and get through them, one way or another.

Don't stress over it, huh? You got a reminder that life's short, but also a reminder you still have time to work on stuff, figure things out, do some things you want to do. Seems like a bargain, maybe. Go be alive, huh? :)

Astute observers may find the need to point out to me to take my own damn advice from time to time.... ;) :p

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Everyone handles things differently. Maybe the years I spent working in a hospital helped me handle emergency situations.

I can understand how you felt. Back in the early 80's, I witnessed my boyfriend kill himself using my handgun. The scary part was, I was in one part of the house watching TV when there was a gunshot in another part. I went to see what was going on. When I got the the archway between rooms, I could see him silhouetted in the doorway of the bedroom, with gun in hand. I was trapped in the house. Not knowing what was going on, I would have been exposing myself to try to get to the front door which was locked.

I shouted at him several time to put the gun down so I could come to him. I peaked around the corner in time to see him raise the gun to his chest and fire. This happened the day after Thanksgiving.

My worst time of the whole ordeal was getting thru Christmas that year. The closer Christmas got, the more I hated it.

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