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Minutes to Midnight
I stare at the clock. Numbers, blinking red, scorching through me like unseeing eyes.
Twenty-six minutes to midnight.
My mind wanders, but my stare stays fixed to the clock. The cold metal of the table beside me presses into my bare arm, a constant reminder of my existence, the only reminder in this dreamlike state.
I tear my eyes away from the clock, and they begin to rove restlessly around the familiar space. The room is quiet, the machines beside me blinking rather than beeping, my breathing slow and rhythmic, the heavy door blocking any sounds from out in the hallway, silence hanging heavily in the air. I asked to be left alone as much as possible in the final hour before the tests results are in, and my worrying mother obliged.
“I’ll be just out in the hall,” she assured “if you need me. I’ll come in when the doctor gets the results.” I nodded, stretched my lips upward, showing the perfect amount of teeth. I’ve practiced a lot in the past month.
My mother can’t tell the difference between a sincere and a fake smile now.
The test results. I’ve been waiting for them for a week – the longest week of my life. They’re supposed to tell whether I can be cured with surgery, or whether there’s nothing that can be done.
The disease has gotten much worse recently – I have to breathe with the help of a machine now. If I can’t be cured, it has been decided by my mother and the doctors that it would be best to simply go ahead and end it. End me. I don’t really know how I feel about this. On the outside, I’m angry. Who are they to decide when I live and when I die? To deprive of my last week of life? But, somewhere deep down, I think I’m glad. I’m not sure that I have the courage to make the decision myself.
I would be given a sedative that would simply slow down my heart and lungs past the point that could sustain life, they told me. I would be relaxed and happy, it would be just like falling asleep.
No one used the word death.
Even I was afraid to, before. But I don’t see the point of avoiding it now. It’s just a word. Death, life. Life, death.
I remember when I was little and figured out that if you say a word enough times, it loses all meaning.
Meaning. Exactly what I don’t have.
A nurse walks in, picks up a remote, breaking the silence. Would I like to watch some TV? she wants to know. I just stare back at her wordlessly. No, I would not like to watch TV. I have too much to figure to out to waste my time watching TV. She exits. I’m alone again.
Twenty-two minutes. My time’s running out, and I don’t know where to begin. Time. Not enough time. But then, what is enough time? Can someone find meaning in ten years, in fifty, in a hundred? Or are we all doomed to spend our lives searching, unable to find what we seek simply because of out miniscule lifetimes? Or maybe there is no meaning.
I want to scream, to shout, to somehow prove make a difference, to leave a mark on the world, no matter how trivial. I open my mouth, but no sound comes out. The silence presses on me like an invisible barrier, and I don’t have the strength to break it.
The word keeps pounding against the inside of my skull. Death, death death. It’s what’s imminent. Or is it life? Either way, I’ll find out when the doctor gets the results at midnight.
What would happen if I simply stopped breathing? Not because of some impairment of my lungs, but because I wanted to? I know the textbook answer. If you stop breathing you will eventually lose consciousness, at which point your autonomous nervous system will take control of your lungs. The body protects itself. But what if it was what I really wanted? Maybe the happiest ending that I could imagine for myself was immediate death? Would my autonomic nervous system still save me? I hope that it wouldn’t. God can’t be that cruel. Or can he?
Four minutes. I begin to panic. I’m not ready! A machine beside makes a beeping sound and a nurse in a white uniform drifts into the room. She removes the plastic from a syringe, squirts a measured amount of the clear liquid into the IV beside me, watches calmly as the medicine enters my system, the entire process making no noise, the deafening silence in the room unbroken. The nurse knows. She knows the news that I’m waiting for, why I’m not trying to sleep.
She drifts out of the room as silently as she entered.
The clock seems to slow to a crawl. I remember some old obscure theory about time that I learned in physics class. The scientist believed that all time moves toward a certain definite point, gradually slowing down until the moment when it stops. Everything remains frozen at that final point.
Maybe the final point is the moment before midnight. It certainly feels that way. I wonder if it would be better or worse, for me to frozen at 11:49, to never hear the final verdict. If you were going to die, would you rather know ahead of time, or be taken by surprise? Just one of the many things that I still have to figure out about myself.
My heart threatens to pound its way out of my chest, but I gain control. I have to reason this out, to come to some conclusion before the doctor comes in with his verdict.
My actions cause a change in the world – I know that. If I scream right now, the nurse will come running in to give me more medication. And her running in will have unforeseeable consequences – maybe it’s the end of her shift and I’ll cause her to leave late, and she’ll be ten feet behind a deadly car accident instead of in the middle of it.
I immediately feel the urge to scream, but I stifle it.
So, I can make changes. In theory, my decision of what to have for dinner could cause a world war. I feel the stifling weight of responsibility begin to crash down on me, but I force it away. I don’t have the time, not now.
Not at two minutes to midnight.
But I’m back to my original dilemma. What meaning is there in the changes? When the sun explodes, and the Earth is reduced to nothing but a diffuse mass of ash, what will it matter whether or not there was a World War III?
I remember something else, something that wasn’t significant to me a month ago, but now is a matter of almost life or death. The theory that if you leave a million monkeys in a room with a million typewriters for a million years, one of them is bound to type the entire works of Shakespeare.
Given enough time and people, eventually one will happen upon the answer.
Throughout history, there have been thousands of people who believed that they had found the answer to everything. Christ, the Buddha, and others, all buried in the unreachable past. But maybe some person exists in the world today who has actually happened on the answer.
And what I do will have an effect on the world, which will in turn affect that person.
There it is. A connection. Intangible, unlikely, almost absurd. But possible. And it’s all that I have now. If I can connect myself in some way to meaning, then that gives my life – and death – significance.
The door opens, a nurse walks in. I see her lips move, but it takes a few moments for me to turn the sounds into meaningful words. “The results of your tests are in. The doctor will be here in a moment.”, I finally comprehend.
I nod, open my mouth. The first words that I speak all night: