While death is constantly lurking everywhere, few really appreciate its impact on life. The latter should include those who had a close brush with it, survivors of an experience approximating genocide proportions; and then those in the medical field. People die, others are born- it is the continuum of life: a cycle, one that many people simply resign to.
Why not take a chance to really think about death- reflect upon the grim reaper brandishing his hideous scythe, cracking his inter-phalangeal joints, brooding in wait for his next victim? It’s a rather hideous thing to do isn’t it? In the normal world, it is a preserve for masons, people on the verge of a psychotic break or those with suicidal tendencies. From my perspective however, it is a necessary undertaking sometimes- a chance at rebirth.
It was Friday last week, a day that had several parallel autopsy examinations. With a tinge of irony, I have to say that the morgue was alive with activity. Medical students, some eager for knowledge others eager to have their log books signed before embracing the Friday spirit- had chromed the autopsy room. On the business side of the room were several cadavers all due for forensic autopsies. Soon enough, tools and hands went to work and after processes branded with terms like ‘Y incision’ and ‘evisceration en masse’, there was blood, brain and gut everywhere.
A layman’s perspective of the scene would be… well: I suppose a layman would have fainted on sight before he even had the chance to formulate a perspective worth noting. But we were there, taking notes, listening intently to the pathologist… hanging onto her every word, oblivious of the grotesque sight before us, the stench, and the obvious social awkwardness of such a gathering. We were there to learn.
From how she was describing grotesque injuries using phrases such as ‘beautiful contusions’ and ‘beautiful hairline fractures’, learn we did indeed. Mortui vivos docent. That’s a Latin maxim commonplace among anatomists and pathologists whose meaning is ‘the dead shall teach the living’. The ‘living’ here pointing to students of medicine. The lessons of course revolve around the why of death and how to avert or postpone it for as long as possible. But what of life- does death not teach us how to live?
We hardly choose to see it that way. Many of us are left stuck in the sorrow it brings. ‘It robbed us of our beloved,’ we say, then curse and move on. Like medical students oblivious of the social awkwardness of their learning ‘predicament’, we are oblivious of the fact that we have been granted yet another day for a reason. Instead of living today for a better tomorrow, we choose to live like there is no tomorrow. That’s the ‘YOLO perspective’, which, just like death is very much misunderstood. As I made my final remarks on my note book concerning the autopsy, this kept ringing in my mind.
This morning again, it dawned on me how much life is a blessing. Though death is final, it does not make us equal. It only delineates those who will remain forever remembered from those who will soon fade from the memories of the living. As I press my shirt in preparation for the day’s activities, I notice that the water compartment of the iron box is leaking. The thought of two hundred and something volts of electricity coursing through my body nudges me to detach it from the appliance. That is not how I plan to die. I’d imagine my last day to be somewhat similar to this…
[They finally find his body, postured as though he was facing his assailants. He had bled out while fighting. His visage: firm and unyielding. His hand was still wrapped around his beloved Colt revolver. After taking in the sight, one of them manages to solemnly talk] “He held his ground so the rest could get to safety. This is where he made his last stand. He was brave to the very end.” [Insert instrumental evoking patriotic emotions here]
That’s just a thought. The inference is this- if there is anything the dead want from us it is that we live, live abundantly and then, be immortal.