or “how it feels to die…”
We are not talking about a sudden accident, which lets you wake up in a hospital and think about how it happened. This is not about a car crash or getting injured in combat. It is about the – fully conscious and unexpected – realization that certain death is minutes away. Short enough to make you regret and curse, but not long enough to put your affairs in order. There is no adrenalin rush which gives you superhuman strength, no chaotic battle which focusses all your attention. I am talking here about a slow walk into the arms of death without a back-door. Those situations are faced by people who, for example, may be on a doomed airliner with minutes left before crashing to the ground, or by a sky-diver who has trouble with his canopy a few thousand feet above the ground.
I had some experiences of my own facing similar situations, by parachuting from a chopper over Cambodia, flying a Cessna 172 over Hong Kong and hanging from a fast-rope on a Mi-7 helicopter, travelling with cruising speed over the Asian jungle. In all cases I was saved by a combination of skill, discipline and incredible luck. What I can say for sure is, that I did not “see my life flashing in front of my eyes” and I did not pray. In a few moments of thought I pitied my beloved mother, the rest of the time I was cursing regretfully and thinking of a way out. Again, no mystical “out-of-body-experience, no images of either the pearly gates nor fiery demons.
In 1989 there was an Australian war film where a tough sergeant walks through the trenches before the final battle, beginning his motivational speech: “…there are no atheists in a combat situation…” I beg to differ; If you lived your live as a rational being, why would you betray your human attributes before death by surrendering reason?
In life-threatening situations you hardly benefit from the few natural instincts which evolution still left in your possession. You will have to summon all your skills, experience and rational thought; even harnessing and applying the own bodily strength and endurance takes knowledge and clear mental engagement. This precious human mind with all its senses is reaching a maximum frontier where life is about to meet death. There is no sense or benefit, not even comfort, in leaving life as an idiot.
With several ancient warrior-classes it was common to choose suicide before certain capture and death by the hands of the enemy or slavery. The mindset of the Samurai reflected important attributes of his culture and which moulded him into exactly this formidable warrior he became respected for. At the moment before his death, the warrior’s mind worked at its greatest efficiency and clarity, not through rage or desperation, but sovereign power. One example of a modern Samurai was Mishima Yukio (1925-1970). Conscious possession of ones own mind and body enables man to live qua man. The person who surrenders reason – at any stage of his life – to religion or the supernatural is betraying his universe and his descendants.
„I never saw a wild thing sorry for itself. A small bird will drop frozen dead from a bough without ever having felt sorry for itself.“
(D. H. Lawrence)