Sometimes, life comes out of nowhere. It pops up like a kernel, guns a-blazing. Some people scream in response. Others cry. Doctors scramble under its potentially trigger-happy command, giving into all its demands. Amphetamines. Heart monitors. Incubators. And so on. Please. Just don’t take my life, they hope. Humanity’s skin of blood and sweat is shed to ensure that this life, the one that purloins from the living, is cherished. Soon after the first heist is pulled, the life barks off more requests, all the while still pointing the gun in everyone’s face. Food, milk, water, clothes, school, blankets, toys, friends, love, kisses, protection, shelter, allowance, assistance, company, money, cell phones, videogames, computers, cars, marriage; and so the thievery continues.
Life is a robbery. It begins simple enough. A bump takes everyone by surprise and a random chromosomal lottery hits jackpot, then a baby is born. A drunken night, festering hormones, and two bodies melting together was all it took to produce the sneaky little bugger. That, and nine months of anxiousness, false aplomb, and telling oneself that everything will be okay. Most of the time everything really isn’t. Actions have repercussions, life included. Some repercussions are good. Some bad. Nothing anyone can do about that except laugh or cry. One should always choose laughing. There’s less cleaning up to do after.
From a mothball of cells lies the potential for greatness, but also great disaster. With a baby, though, one can only see the goodness. Life is all brand new. It is perfect. There are no mistakes. No repercussions. No regrets. No wasted breaths. People look at that pooping, peeing mess, that miracle of science, and think about how wonderful the future will be. A doctor. A lawyer. All right before one’s eyes. The baby sleeps and wrestles with the air. As it does, one can only help to think that there sleeps the future generation of angels on Earth. The baby murmurs this promise to anyone who watches. In the incubator, the baby has untold potential. It is yet untouched by the world.
And yet. While the promise of life floats down like a penny just about to make it to the bottom of a wishing well, life is taken away. As quickly as it came, it is gone. From nowhere life originates and from nowhere it returns. In its trails lay the foundation of what kept it going: memories, friends, family, lovers, and the like. When life ends, those are the things that survive. Sadly, however, those things eventually end too. For a while, though, legacies last. Around dinner tables, festivities, and the works, a whispered chant can be heard, “That boy, oh how he would’ve loved these flowers. Remember when he rolled around in our roses because he thought they were so beautiful? He even ignored the thorns. He said, ‘For beauty, we have to make a sacrifice.’ His face was so bloodied; his body so peppered with scars.” Then, the water works flow. Then, the casual boo-hoos join in. Then, people drink until they forget.
That’s what this is about: the things that last longer than us. It is about the things that survive death. The drinking. The boo-hooing. The water works. The family. The friends. Most of all, the moments in between.
Human life isn’t special. Either is human death. That’s the truth. No life is of more importance than the other. They come a dime a dozen. In fact currently they come about a dime a seven billion. Yet, the two ho-hum milestones of life and death look significant, special even. We celebrate a birth; mourn a death. Tears accompany both. Odd though. Both these events are ordinary as anything else, ordinary as taking a subway.
So life goes:
We are all crammed into a station, waiting to take a train. Whether it will come or not, we aren’t sure. We wait around. We wheedle our thumbs into all shapes and forms. A snake wrestling a bear. A plane. A butterfly. Anything to escape the boredom of waiting. We read the newspaper. We stare around awkwardly. Maybe something happened, we think, Maybe we missed the train. Hopefully not. To the best of our knowledge, we only get one ride. Our ticket tells us so.
To put our worries to rest, we hear the harrumphing of the electric engine. Hi-ho. Hi-ho. It calls. An technological lament rings throughout the cavernous station as the machine trudges through the routine route. Every day it hurdles along the same path for the same people for the same reasons. Yet, we, its passengers, are agog in anticipation. Our heart beats so loud, we feel like we are about to tap dance to its tune. Tappidy-tip-tap-tap. Tappidy-tip-tap-tap. Our feet jive carefully, secretly so no one sees. Trains, it seems, can be a very exciting thing.
How little do we know. How little do we know.
While halting to a stop, and screeching with all the hesitation a mechanical contraption can muster, we continue to tap away. Our ride has come and in what luxurious fashion. The metal heaves apart bit by bit. Rust coats the very exterior, suggesting a strong hypothesis that the train will not make it to the next station. Despite its appearance, we are simply bubbling with excitement. Like horses in a race, the doors fly open, and we battle for a way in. If we are quick enough, we can get a seat. If not, we will have to grasp onto the foul handrails. The thought of this is beyond sickening considering how many people, clean and not, have ridden this subway before. Humans are disgusting creatures. Look around.
Luckily, we were the few who obtained a seat. Unluckily, it is sticky, smelly, and there are people in our trolley that we don’t feel comfortable with. Some are clothed in garbs we wouldn’t even put on our dogs. Others don fabulous dresses, and we unclothe them with our eyes, and imagine our hands playing on the xylophone of their back, and our kisses reading the braille of their goosebumps.
Lost in our fantasy, we fail to realize that someone has sat down beside us. They are dressed in traditional clothing which is neither grand nor unimpressive, simply ordinary. We cannot tell whether they are a girl or a boy. They do not face us. Yet, they rub their elbows with ours. Their sweat brushes against the sides of our coat. On a bumpy turn, their other extremities dig into our ribs. They don’t notice. No one does, even though we gasp for breath. We plead with whatever fortitude that remains clinging to our lungs, “Can you please move your elbow, knee, hip … body. Please.” They don’t budge. No one does. On the train, everyone is frozen except us. We don’t even know if they speak the same language. Then abruptly, they look at us. Smile. Nod. Turn around. The smile was quick, hidden almost. Still, their gender is a mystery. Still, their elbow crushes our solar plexus. Nothing was accomplished. As it turns out, that smile was a knife strike. The nod, a gun shot. We just didn’t know it. Once again, how little do we know.
Despite the immense amount of people stuffed like sardines in the train, we’re alone. We came in alone. We sat down alone. We will leave alone. Now, though, we may very well not make it to the next station. It is too crushing, suffocating even. We try to claw our way out. We try to yell. For a moment, it feels like we’ll drown as more and more people scurry on into the trolley from somewhere. Everywhere. Then just as all parts of our body feel like they will break, and our breath shortens to a near halt, and we may very well burst in pain, the ride ends. People get off slowly, hesitatingly. A light envelops the dark subway trolley. Naturally, we walk to it. Where we are, we don’t know. We can’t turn around. Hi-ho. Hi-ho. The subway huffs on without us, singing the same tune it has sung since the beginning of time.
Life happens in between the two stations, and we didn’t even notice. No one noticed. No one even cared.
So death goes.