Daily Prompt: Facing The Inevitable

Hey, folks. Today’s Daily Prompt is all about mortality. Specifically, when you realize you weren’t immortal and how you reacted to it. This actually happened to me a couple of times when I was growing up, the first of which when I was still a child. When I was in elementary school, I’d always spend my Christmas vacation at my grandparents’ house. It was a tradition that involved weeks of decorating the house, wrapping presents, and cooking yummy desserts. But 1995 was different; my grandfather had been diagnosed with a brain tumor and was rapidly declining. I’ve already written about watching him die, so I’ll skip straight to the aftermath. That was the first time I’d ever been so close to death, and the realization that yes, it is a thing that happens. But I never cried over it; I never knew my grandfather as a person, but as an old man who gave out laughs and tickles whenever possible. When the adults awkwardly asked me if I had any questions about death, I shrugged and said no. He’d been sick for almost a year, and the writing was on the wall. With it came the understanding that death was an inevitability – it was just a matter of how and when – and that I’d have no choice to accept it. So I did.

Yeah, I was kind of creepy as a kid.

The second occurrence happened a few years later when I was in high school. I was walking onto the campus when I witnessed a car speed through the red light right next to me…and into a kid who happened to be in the crosswalk. I’ll spare you the details – pretty sure I’ve mentally blocked out the worst parts – but I’m sure you can imagine it. I pride myself on being a fighter now, but back on that chilly, bloody morning, I couldn’t do anything. I stood there, utterly transfixed by death’s proximity and brutality, and I watched a dozen or so people run to assist in what was already a hopeless cause. I knew it was already over, that other people were taking care of it, that I’d just get in the way. I slowly turned away, hands slightly trembling, and numbly walked to my first class. I don’t think I spoke that entire day, even when they announced the accident and death on the PA system.

It was then I realized that death wasn’t reserved for just the old and sick; anyone can die anywhere. What made more of an impression was the sheer randomness of it; there was no dramatic build-up, no final family farewell, nothing but a big hunk of metal zooming into an unsuspecting victim. And if could happen to some kid crossing the street, it could happen to me. If you look at the mortality rates provided by WHO and do a little math, that roughly translates to two people dying every second. Yeah, think about that. I’ve had that stat burned into my mind for years. It’s a sobering reminder that my – and everyone else’s – days are numbered. I don’t fear death, though; I’ve embraced my mortality head-on as I’ve grown older. I’ve come close to dying myself three or four times now, so I’d like to think we’re on good terms. I’m more afraid living a disappointed and unfulfilled life; there’s far too much to see and do, and I refuse to be just another statistic in a history book.

The acceptance of mortality is a double-edged sword, though. It’s a very liberating experience, but it can lead to a slippery slope of some rather grim philosophical pondering. Death is an inevitability; you cannot escape it forever. Most people try to ignore it by distracting themselves with whatever they can. The advent of social media has certainly ensured that people desperate to be remembered and acknowledged won’t (for better or worse) be forgotten so easily. For others, particularly anyone severely depressed, it underscores how vapid and pointless daily life can be; death is ever-present, so why bother sticking around? For me, I’ve come to realize that life’s inherent meaninglessness isn’t a bad thing; as Nietzsche once explained, you can give life your own meaning. Skipping out early is an option, but there are so many, many better ones to try first. Since death is coming regardless, might as well do – and be – something awesome to pass the time. It’s not easy to do – I still have moments when I feel the exact opposite, and I do not look forward to growing old – but it’s more fulfilling than the alternative. My problem is finding happiness and fulfillment, but that’s a whole other issue.

As for death, it’ll stop by and visit eventually. I intend to make the wait worthwhile.

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Daily Prompt: Fight Or Flight, Or: A Day In The ER

Hey, folks. Yesterday’s Daily Prompt was all about flight or flight. You know, that reaction that everyone has to stressful situations? It reminds me of the time I helped fight a house fire, but something similarly stressful came up recently. You might’ve noticed that the updates this past week were kind of sparse. It wasn’t because I left the country again (though I wish it were), but I spent an entire day at the local ER. Not for myself, though. I got a call early in the morning from my aunt. My grandmother’s knee has been worsening over the past year, but she’s been too stubborn to see a doctor. Eventually, it got so bad that she couldn’t even stand up anymore from the pain. My aunt wanted to help, but she’s just gotten out of the hospital herself, so she wasn’t in any condition to do anything. I hadn’t left on my commute yet, and I was the closest one around. I got there as quickly as possible, consulted an advice nurse over the phone, and had her call an ambulance. They got her out of the house surprisingly fast – they had to haul her down two flights of stairs and part of a hill – and let me ride in the back of the ambulance.

Never had that on my bucket list…

Anyway, I oversaw her admittance from start to finish. I’ll spare you the personal and gory details – I’m pretty sure that a knee tap is the most agonizing medical procedure I’ve ever seen – but it basically boiled down to me stepping up and handling things personally. I’ve done it before countless times in the office (I was nicknamed The Boss Man, after all), but never in the thick of a medical emergency. There was this immediate realization and acceptance that okay, this is all up to me now. It must have been the adrenaline, but I never lost focus on what had to be done or what information needed to be communicated. I took notes, asked and answered questions, worked on logistics, and managed conference calls with family members over the phone in order to keep everything organized. Some of my relatives were surprised that I was the one in charge; I’m notoriously quiet and shy in most social and family situations, so seeing my all-business, no-nonsense persona was a shock. I had too many other problems to care.

In the end, we had to talk her into temporarily going to a nursing/rehabilitation facility. It’s the lesser of two evils; no one wants to lose their personal freedom, but they have trained staff and more physical therapy resources than she’d get at home. She’ll be there for another two weeks, but at least she’s getting regular visits from family. In the meantime, I’ve spearheaded Operation Get-Grandma’s-House-Prepped for her inevitable return. Handling someone else’s livelihood and personal business can be a hassle, but it’s necessary. I didn’t realize it until later that first night, but I’d spent the entire day without eating or resting; I had been running on adrenaline. Once I got back home, I collapsed into bed and slept better than I had in years. Amazing how much the fight can take out of you.

One last thing. If you have elderly family members, take the time to call them up and see how they’re doing. It’s easy to get caught up in the daily grind and overlook the important things. Don’t let loss be the only reminder of what you have.

Daily Prompt: Safety First, Or: Hanging On In Thailand

Hey, folks. Today’s Daily Prompt focuses on safety. Or rather, the lack thereof. Despite evidence to the contrary, danger is not my middle name. However, it’s something with which I’m all too familiar. My neighborhood is bad, even for this city’s – one of the worst in California’s – standards. Robberies, shootings, muggings, drug dealings, and yes, even murders happen with alarming frequency. You know all those TV crime dramas that are so popular? Yeah, it’s not so fun when you actually live in those places. It’s most certainly not safe to go for an evening stroll, and it’s not much better even in broad daylight. My morning commute starts (there’s still a bus and subway ride to undertake) with a nearly two mile trek through this urban wasteland, complete with the unspoken understanding that there is a high chance of me not reaching my destination. You’ve probably heard the term fight or flight. It’s an instinctive, physiological response to perceived threats. Everyone has it, even you. While most would assume that I’m flight – it’s easy to dismiss a quiet bookworm – experience has taught me quite the opposite.

I don’t fear death. Most people – especially men due to outdated gender expectations – simply state that as a form of false bravado or confidence. It’s nothing but silly posturing. For me, it’s not about bravery, mental stability, or even a lack of self-preservation. I’ve understood and accepted my mortality for years, because I’ve faced it directly. I’ve come within seconds and inches of dying a few times. I could regale you stories of fighting a house fire, weathering storms in the Sierra Nevadas, nearly falling from the peak of Gibraltar, or nearly freezing one winter night in Le Métropolitain. I’m not sure if it’s because death is stalking me, or I’m just too foolish to avoid it.

Remember the photo of a sunset I posted a few weeks back? That was taken one fine evening in Phuket, Thailand. The rest of the week there wasn’t nearly as glamorous. I was in Southeast Asia just in time for the start of its monsoon season. If you’re from California and think El Niño is bad, you haven’t seen anything. The downpours are relatively brief, but they’re strong. People have to scramble for cover because an umbrella just won’t cut it. It was like that for most of my trip in Thailand. But one morning, the clouds parted just enough that it seemed okay to explore the neighboring Phi Phi Islands.

Yeah, you can see where this is going.

The cruise itself was great, though a little bumpy. I was in a speedboat alongside a dozen or so other tourists. It wasn’t crowded enough to be unpleasant, and the drinks were free. The islands were absolutely gorgeous – you’ll see soon enough – and everything seemed to be going well. We had just finished lunch and cast off for the next island, right on schedule. But suddenly, the world turned dark. It was like something out of an apocalyptic movie. A glance at the sky revealed something far more real; we had sailed practically headlong into a monsoon. The crew scrambled to assemble the the overhanging tarp, but they didn’t get to it fast enough. Within seconds, everyone was drenched to the bone. It wasn’t pleasant like taking a shower, it was like being sprayed by a fire hose. People slipped and stumbled as the waves churned. A child was huddled near one of the front seats, wailing. The thunder roared. The waves swelled and knocked us around. The boat was nearly on its side, and I was feebly clinging to a railing. I managed a peek toward the island swaying in the distance. It was too far. Too far to swim. I am going to drown here. I’m not going to make it out of this alive. I’m not sure if it was the realization or the seawater that gave me the chill. I just closed my eyes and didn’t let go.

I’m not sure how long it lasted. It felt like hours. I didn’t dare take out my phone with all the water around. But eventually the waves subsided, and the torrent of water gave way to sprinkles, then tropical sun. I opened my eyes. Everyone was still there and drenched from head to toe. I couldn’t stop shaking. My legs didn’t want to work. All I could do was just sit down and breathe. Eventually we managed to get the boat back on course and to the next island, where we wearily stumbled off into white sands and the warmth of the sun. It didn’t take long to dry off, but we stayed on that beach for quite a while. The trip back was fine, but I never went out on the water there again. Photographing sunsets seemed better for some reason.

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