I was thinking today about being executed. There was a French scientist, Antoine-Laurent de Lavoisier, who in the late 18th century, knowing he was ‘for the chop’ (and I don’t mean ‘the snip’) asked his assistant to watch his freshly mobile head to see how long he stayed alive. It was his last gift to a Life dedicated to science.
His assistant, asked, “How will I know?’, to which de Lavoisier replied, “I’ll blink
for as long as I can.”
Now, I don’t know how the story fared, but I can’t help but feel I’d be much more pathetic if put in his position. Instead of worrying about what could be learned from my imminent and gruesome execution, I’d be too worried about what little I’d done with my Life.
Things must have been different back then. Instead of our anxieties about fitting in, employability, and whether our trainers are fashionable, they were more troubled by the threat of death on the battlefield or at the hand of some unscrupulous dimwit with blue blood… not to mention the brutal nob-rot back then.
With Death seemingly lurking around every corner, you’d really give a shit about what you did with the ‘alive’ bit, wouldn’t you? Or maybe that’s not the way of looking at it. It’s not that you’d concentrate on making the most of every moment, but you’d certainly be averse to pissing your time away.
You wouldn’t fain interest in things you were indifferent about or support causes you didn’t believe in. You wouldn’t hand chunks of your precious time over to fools you couldn’t really give a toss about, or fritter hours away clock-watching at a job you hated.
Now, I don’t want to wish ill upon myself, nor do I mean to seem perverse, but I wish the threat of imminent danger had more presence in my life. There can’t be a more effective rally cry to ‘Live Your Life Before It’s Too Late’.
I’m too much of a pussy to join the Army, and my idea of an extreme sport is crossing the road when it’s a red man, so I have to be content with the News and my wandering imagination reminding me about executions, to keep the idea of Death alive within me.
If you knew that the bloodthirsty French were plotting to sail toward your coastal home, would you still be so cavalier with your time? How about
those pot-holing trips you join your dad on that you pretend to enjoy? Or how about the degree in Business Studies that you’re pursuing with all the enthusiasm of stuffed squirrel?
Wouldn’t it be more likely that the passion that you actually harbour would come to the forefront of your Life. With the threat of imminent danger, wouldn’t perfecting the magic trick become more urgent; taking the three months off work to plant Stoke-on-Trent’s only vineyard would have to happen this summer; and the babe or stud that you’ve admired from afar would just have to hear your feelings… you couldn’t live without them.
You get the drift… The idea of death, The End, is healthy I think. Sure it gets a lot of stick, ‘Don’t be so morbid’ but the reality is, it’s better to accept it than kid ourselves that we’re here forever.