Have you ever been in a situation where you felt certain you were going to die? And not like a situation where death would be instantaneous, like an almost-car accident, but where you can see it approaching from a distance, slowly but with resolve, and all you can do is wait for it?
I had one of those moments yesterday. As I was preparing the kids’ lunches yesterday morning, I hit my head really hard on the corner of the cupboard. I saw stars, and blackness started creeping in from the sides. Minutes later, there was a huge knot forming on my head. For the rest of the day, my head ached and every time I tried to touch the knot it made me feel like I was going to be sick. I have a tendency to bump my head on things, and whenever I do, I think about Natasha Richardson and it makes me paranoid. But this is the first time that paranoia quickly became palpable and paralyzing fear that I was going to fall asleep and never wake up.
You know how when someone has a near-death experience, they say that their whole life flashed before them? As I was lying in bed last night, trying (unsuccessfully) to convince myself that I wasn’t going to die, I had one of those life flashes, except it was more like a drive-by: it was like I was cruising along my life’s timeline, watching events and milestones pass by me at 30 mph, slow enough to see it all clearly but too fast to be able to do anything but wave as I continue on. I thought about amazing things I had done and seen, and amazing people that I had shared life experiences with, and my whole life as I had lived it thus far became a memory that I looked on with great fondness. And somehow that was comforting, and I was able to fall asleep unafraid.
Needless to say, I didn’t die (even though I think I’m likely concussed). But today, as I reflect on last night, I’m amazed that I only looked backward instead of forward. Thoughts like “I’ll never get to have kids if I don’t wake up” or “If I die, I won’t get to see the rest of Europe like I had planned” didn’t enter my mind; there was no part of me that felt cheated at not being able to continue doing things or seeing things or living. I was only bursting with gratitude that, during a time when I was deeply and insurmountably afraid, I had beautiful experiences and people to remember and draw comfort from. And maybe that’s why people get life flashes when they think they’re about to die: because death is the ultimate unknown and it’s terrifying, so the brain conjures these familiar images, these things and people that you’ve known, as a way to ease that fear, to calm you before all the lights go out. Maybe our brains are hard-wired for kindness in that regard.
I’m not sure how to conclude this, as I’m not sure what point I was trying to make by writing this, except to share something that felt profound to me. So I’ll just say I’m happy that I’m alive, and more than that, I’m happy I’ve lived.