Tuesday, August 12, 2014

When Do You Pull Out the Darts and the Map?

It's probably something everyone experiences. You buy or otherwise acquire some thing, and then all you notice around you is all the other people that have that same thing. When I bought the Roadster, suddenly it seemed like every car I saw was either a Mini or a convertible. 

Similarly, when the oncologist told me I was going to die and, at best, they could maybe delay it for awhile, I became very aware of death. Read a book, and the story's about death. Watch TV, death. See a movie, death. Everywhere I go, I find stories of death and dying.  

And while I can't say I've read every book or seen every movie, I do believe I've discovered the definitive text on death. According to Wikipedia, it has roots in the Babylonian Talmud, but the story seems most frequently sourced to a "retelling" from W. Somerset Maugham (of which there seem to be multiple versions): 

The Appointment in Samarra

A merchant in Baghdad sends his servant to the marketplace for provisions. Shortly, the servant comes home white and trembling and tells the merchant that in the marketplace he was jostled by a woman, whom he recognized as Death, and she made a threatening gesture. Borrowing the merchant’s horse, the servant flees at top speed to Samarra, a distance of about 75 miles, where he believes Death will not find him. The merchant then goes to the marketplace and finds Death, and asks why she made the threatening gesture. Death replies, “That was not a threatening gesture, it was only a start of surprise. I was astonished to see him in Baghdad, for I had an appointment with him tonight in Samarra.”

Aside from Maugham, I'm pretty sure I've read variations on this story in Terry Pratchett's Mort, or one of the other discworld novels featuring Death, and it certainly informs one of the definitive films of my childhood, Logan's Run.*

And, sure, we can argue that the point of the story is the inevitability of death, or get caught up in the ironic twist of the servant thinking he's escaping death only to run headlong into it, but come on. The real message? 

When faced with death, RUN!  

The question is, how close does death have to be before you pull on your sneakers? I don't want to give up on effective treatments, but nor do I want to get stuck sitting around waiting for death to come to me. I suppose, ultimately, I wait for the next scan and, in the meantime, start thinking about the places that would make for a decent farewell tour. (Samarra's in Iraq, so that, I think, is out.)

If anyone has any suggestions, I'm all ears. 


* Okay, it's no Star Wars, but the combination of the futuristic settings, slightly terrifying scenes of people rising up in the air and exploding, and Jenny Agutter naked made Logan's Run pretty much a must see film for the (mostly pre-adolescent) heterosexual nerd males born in the sixties.

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