I’m walking home. I turn and a corner and there, on the bridge I have to cross, is a group of ten young men. They’re all in hoodies, laughing loudly. The laughter dies when they see me. Their grins turn to sneers. They’re eyeing me up.
I continue on my path and walk right through the middle of them. That’s the quickest way for me to get home after all. Or I turn around and walk another, longer way home.
I don’t drive so I walk a lot. If it’s dark when I walk home, similar scenarios roll through my mind. My lizard brain turns a pleasant stroll home into a covert operation in hostile territory.
I toss and turn and manipulate the scenarios I’ve created until something really bad happens. I hope I’m not the only person that this happens too.
I choose to walk through the middle of them.
I remember reading somewhere that if you defer to a group and show fear it makes them more confident. I steel myself to not look at the ground, and I let my arms hang loosely at my side. I meet each of the ten pairs of eyes, long enough so that they recognise that I’m not intimidated, but briefly enough that they don’t see it as a challenge.
Either I messed up or the guy that stepped into my path to block the way is a little bored.
The words “necessary force” and “preemptive strike” come to me. If I feel like my life is in danger, I have the right to defend myself.
But I’m outnumbered ten to one. If I attack first, it has to be so brutal, so effective, so shocking that it places significant doubt in the minds of the other nine. That doubt, which will hopefully lead to hesitation, will allow me to get away.
At this point of my walk, I’m so caught up in the scene I’ve created I barely remember the last five minutes. I relax and look around me. Nothing doing. All quiet.
The strike backfired. I took the guy down. But he wasn’t the alpha, the group’s leader so it didn’t matter. It just energised them. The other nine pile in. I hit the ground. I manage to take a guy down with me. I hold onto him, trying to cause damage any way I can. Kicks rain down. Stomps. Nobody is talking. Just grunting. Shouts of pain. Laboured breathing.
The gang stops kicking and starts running. There’s a scrape on the concrete behind me. I lift my head and see a bike get chucked on the floor and a man rush towards me. I can’t hear what he’s saying but he has his phone out.
At this point in my walk I’m almost home for the night. This is where the scenario ends. Sometimes I wake up in a hospital. Other times, the last thing I see is the man calling for help.
Whenever I play this scene through, I always think, how would that change my life? If I almost died, how would it affect my perspective?
Now, let me just highlight a difference.
Living like today is your last is not the same as having a near death experience. The former is just a poetic cliche that we use to try and summon some inspiration or energy. The latter is something that changes us. It’s an event that so forcefully alters our attitude to life that we can never reverse it.
So when I ask how would the above scenario change my life, I’m talking about a near death experience.
The answers are always the same. I’d stop waiting to do this or that. I’d only have time for people I love. I wouldn’t do work that didn’t matter to me. I’d skip half the things I do now because I’d realise they’re of no real consequence. Etc.
And then I ask, why do I need a near death experience to make those changes?
I don’t. And that’s the point. It’s something that’s always fascinated me and if you have an answer I’d love to hear it.
Seriously, help me out.
Why do we have to almost lose it all to realise what it was worth?
Why do we need the pain to make the change?