THOSE TIMES I NEARLY DIED
Ever been so scared your life flashed in front of your eyes? Oddly,Niall
"Four guys pull guns from inside their jackets and jab them in my face"
It’s often said - so often, in fact, that it’s become a kind of shared common knowledge - that, at the point of premature death (by misadventure, accident, violence etc., rather than the inevitable ending that comes to us all), one’s life ashes before the eyes. In the seconds before demise, the entirety of existence, from birth
up to that perilous moment, runs like a movie and at terrific speed across the mind’s eye. One theory for why this happens is that the mind is searching for stored memories of a similar situation which was (obviously) survived so as to take pointers for how to survive again; how to once more avert the danger. It’s an interesting idea.
I’ve been thinking about this a lot recently, maybe because in the last couple of years I’ve lost a few friends and because, well, the world seems to be lurching towards a situation which will, for most of its inhabitants, be very, very bad; terminalities seem to be approaching, endings, extinctions (I hope I’m wrong, it goes without saying). So I’ve been pondering, and remembering, and here are two instances from recent years in which, for me, the state of being alive might have become something quite else.
In a dingy bar on the dockside of a Polish port city, the four big and nasty-looking guys who’d been watching me for an hour and grumbling, all stand as one and kettle me in a corner. They pull guns from inside their camouflage jackets and jab them in my face, so hard that, the next day, I’ll have little circular bruises on my cheeks like the patternings on a blue-ringed octopus. They’re all shouting in their language, screaming,
and I can feel the warm spittle on my face. I’d done nothing wrong that I could see; I’d been speaking
to the barman for a while, mainly about football, and a minute after his shift had ended and he’d left
the pub these fellers had decided to act on their discomfort at me being in their bar. I can see down the barrels of their guns; see, with my heightened senses, the spiralling grooves that will drill the bullets, at the speed of a jet-plane, into my face. And what happened? Did my mind replay my life? No; the heart boomed and raced, my hands came up in a gesture of surrender, I asked them what I’d done wrong, tried to smile,
insisted that I meant no offence, felt fires all over my skin, tried to swallow with a sandpaper tongue. As far as I can recall, my mind remained blank; a solid block of white...
And I’m hanging out of the window of a car stationary on a desert road in Namibia. There’s a storm, and the sky is clapping above. There are other cars in front, unmoving, and from between them weaves a lioness, suddenly, so big that her eyes are level with mine. Within seconds she’s there, mere inches in front of my face, nothing between us but a slice of thin and hot air. Her eyes glow a murderous green; she’s so close,
I can smell the blood on her breath. Her eyes seethe and are completely without any sense of me being anything other than food; everything I’ve done – all my achievements, the personality I’ve built, the people I love and who love me, everything of which I am proud – vanishes completely and all I am is meat. The cat has teeth like bananas. In a second they will leap and pounce and crush my skull between them. My guide behind me is whispering at me to not move, to keep still, but my head is surely trembling and my hands twitching. And again my mind blanks; the entire world, except for this lioness, goes away. The only thing that exists is Cat. Huge cat. It seems, now, that my head and heart were filled with awe but I doubt they were; they were just empty.
I survived both events, obviously (and others, too, but many of them were the result of my own indifference to the continuation of my own existence), and luck had a hand in both of them; the barman returned, having forgotten his phone, and guided me away from the gunmen; and thunder roared and lightning ashed and spooked the lioness. I’m still here, and, yes, I’m grateful for those opportunities to appreciate the fragility and preciousness of life. But that film-of- memory thing didn’t happen, which is probably for the best; I mean, who’d want their last moments on earth to be filled with boredom and disappointment?
©Niall Griffiths 2018