Friday, February 16, 2007

Fact is Stranger than Fiction

Fact really is much stranger than fiction.

I watched a man die a few days ago. I was looking out from the second floor of a building. He was on the ground not far away. I could not see his face. I watched as he was given artificial respiration. I watched as cardiac shock paddles caused his back to suddenly arch and propel him from the ground. I watched as the people giving emergency aid gradually gave up.

How many men have I read of dying, watched dying in films and movies, and imagined dying in daydreams or nightmares. Thousands and thousands. Yet in 56 years of real life, this is the only time I recall standing in the presence of someone dying. Even then, I was remote. I did not know the man. I could not hear his last words or know for sure when he had passed away. Nonetheless, the fact of his death seems more impactful than any fiction I can recall.

I once read that the majority of police officers never fire their gun in an actual conflict during their entire career. The ones in movies often shoot many times in the course of a week long investigation. Yet for those officers who must point their gun at a man and fire, the impact must be huge compared to the tiny spark we feel when it is a fiction.

Often when I have described my life, I have been quick to call it dull and quite average. Yet I have held each of my four children moments after watching them being born. I have helped police carry my father's lifeless body to a coroner's SUV. I have been trapped at night in a collapsed tent during a howling snowstorm at 10,000 feet, miles from any other humans. I have kissed and held the woman I love and would die for and hope to live with forever. I have showered with an axe murderer. I have contributed to technology that has changed the world. I have been caught between wooden pilings at the bottom of a lake while nearing the end of the air in my scuba tanks. I have stood at Mardi Gras, calling out for trinkets from the passing floats. I have sat in suicidal despair with a pistol barrel in my mouth, wishing I had the nerve to pull the trigger.
For every such thing that I have done, hundreds of real people, whom I know well, have done similar things or things even more intense. They have held a child as he died. They have fought off a madman lunging at them with a knife. They have watched a spouse swept from before them by a flood and drowned. They have actually pulled the trigger while the barrel was still in their mouth. They have been faithful to the same spouse for more than six decades. They have skiied off of cliffs. They have flown alone to Africa and walked its dusty roads.

Were we to see things rightly, perhaps we would realize that our lives are filled with love, pain, adventure, drama, joy, accomplishment. The dull hours that may tick by on any given day are actually a much needed respite from the intensity of those lives. There may be many dull moments, but I think that there are very few dull lives.

Fact really is much stranger than fiction.
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