When You Encounter Death Up Close


Two hours in a small white room.

Two hours gadget-less.

Two hours in silence.

Two hours listening to the groans of a slowly dying man.

This was how I spent my evening of the 19th of June, 2014.

Driving along long dusty roads with my overbearing parents was not my ideal way to spend a Sunday afternoon. And certainly not to meet a man who I have met only twice in the eighteen years of my existence.

But that was until I knew the full story.

The man I met that evening was once a large man; brimming with life. The body that lay on the stark white hospital bed was a shriveled form, shrouded with the hum of the countless machines that he was hooked on to.

The man I met that evening once had eyes that could shame the stars and a voice that could fill a hall. Now all that emanated from the shrivelled body were whimpers of pain and lightless eyes.

The man I met that evening once put everyone in awe with his hustling and bustling. Today, he couldn’t move a limb.

This man whom I barely knew was in the last stages of lung cancer and it broke my heart. I sat transfixed as nature reduced a man to a mere body.

I was a mere observer. No one noticed me, but I noticed everyone. It never occurred to me to turn to a mobile phone to distract my morose thoughts or plug in my earphones to travel to the land of music; the scene before me had left me paralyzed. People moved in and out of the room, and I felt strangely removed from the whole moment.

The wife gossiped about everything under the sun, in a desperate attempt to avoid talking about the withered form on the bed. The son, a miniature figure of his father, was glued to his phone, disregarding anybody and everybody. Why should he when he has lost all faith? The family played their roles perfectly, nothing was askew until the facade shattered.

I broke out of my trance when I realized that this man’s lovely wife had rushed out of the hospital room to release the tears she couldn’t ward off any longer. She blamed his condition on fate, on the gods, on everyone except him. For he had wanted to change, he wanted to stop smoking she claimed.

Years ago, he met a friend who was plagued by lung cancer, an evil consequence of his uncontrollable smoking. It was the day that he met his friend that this man vowed to stop smoking, so that he wouldn’t suffer like his friend did. Two months later he was diagnosed with lung cancer. Nature took its toll and there was nothing that could stand in the path carved by fate. I had always thought that we, human beings, decide how things end, that we were in control. But the life of that stranger taught me that there are elements far beyond our control. We can do nothing but accept.

It was that moment where gloom changed to edification, as the stranger in that room taught me life. Thought Catalog Logo Mark

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