“Why am I dying to live, if I’m just living to die” – Runnin’ [Tupac ft. Notorious B.I.G.]
“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” – John 12:24
It’s been 168 days since I last put up a post; about the same time since I wrote anything that wasn’t official, a tweet or status update. In all that time, activity around me has been teeming. Yet, for the craziest of reasons, it felt like everything stood eerily still. I won’t even bother to insult you with pseudo-apology for my absence. This one time, no matter how much I wanted to write something, no matter how well the words aligned in my head, I just couldn’t find the strength to put them down. The story of ‘why’ is what follows. But, more than a mere story, it’s like a song by a newborn about a painting etched by piercing sunlight during a riot.
They say a magic trick has three parts: the pledge, where you mentally commit to and assert reality; the turn, where all you’ve affirmed suddenly changes – and the prestige, where whatever is taken away is brought right back. But, this isn’t a magic trick. If it were, it’ll be all about turn – the all-defining change; anything before or after gets mindlessly muted.
The day was March the 12th 2012, when two well-loved teams met at the FA Cup Quarter-Finals. The first half was barely shaping up when an otherwise fit 23-year-old, Fabrice Muamba, slumped on the pitch and literally died before a horde of live and TV fans. His heart had lost all muscular function and only partly maintained electrical impulse. The encounter, initially arranged for viewing pleasure, quickly turned into a desperate battle between 4 doctors and death itself. Shock turned to fear, then to unison amongst onlookers.
If you’ve ever walked into a classroom of noisy kids, you’d understand the intensity of 35,000 fans passionately chanting “Fabrice, Fabrice, Fabrice Muamba”. Even world-class performers have been rattled by such ruckus. So, it was mighty strange that Dr Deaner and the warriors by his side didn’t countenance it. They really couldn’t afford to.
Every sense they possessed was deeply invested as they battled away in search of that life changing ‘noise’. Wave after wave of adrenaline shot, electric shock, chest punching and pumping – until, after 78 eternities, a pulse finally came. I’m not sure any of them thought far enough into the future for the second and third heartbeats. The moment was all for that damned first. Everything else faded perfectly out of sight and hearing.
Andrew Deaner had actually come to the game as fan of the opposing team, typically wishing Fabrice and his teammates physical and emotional pain. But that was now significantly insignificant as he fought frantically to hear the most important noise of human existence.
It all looked pretty grim going into the 77th minute – but they were closer than any of them could have imagined. The next minute brought all they had hoped and toiled for: a heartbeat. The events of those 78 minutes tell a tale of eerie silence (amidst maddening noise) – and the deafening rumble that changed a dead man’s fate.
But that was one-in-a-million Fabrice. How many people actually die for 78 minutes and come right back? What does any of this even have to do with you? Well, how about a case you’re probably too familiar with – as subject, object, helper or guest? “Push……..Push……”. “Just a little more, I see the head”. “Hello, world!”.
Sometimes, the father may not be there – if he’s even known at all. Quite often, many items on the baby’s shopping list remain outstanding – if there ever was such a list. The ‘bundle’ may arrive to schedule – or it might take her (and hers) totally by shock. All of that, however, quickly fades into irrelevance as mother-to-be enters the arena of tears, blood and sweat. All she wants is to hear the cry – that song that says it was all worth it: the struggle, the pain, the tears, blood and sweat. Just as the ‘before’ had lost all relevance, the ‘after’ may also not get much attention in that moment.
She may not have a dime to feed the newborn with; heck, she may not even have a clue about baby care. She’ll fight just as hard, regardless. That moment would be all about itself – nothing before, nothing after – until she hears that cuddly paradox: the one cry that makes all the blood and sweat worthwhile; the tear that bodes more cheer than a million laughs. To her, it’s not just a cry; it’s the perfect song: sweetest she’s ever heard.
Again, maybe you’ve been none of subject, object, helper or guest in the birthing of a child – and you’re still wondering as to the point of all of this? Then, perhaps, you’ve been in (or heard of) a typical Nigerian neighbourhood visited in the dead of the night by vicious bandits. Such encounters, cloaked in furry darkness, usually happen as dwellers succumb to the primal need for sleep.
The situation quickly becomes clear as soon as the first shots ring out, followed by echoes of screaming and wailing. And, unless yours is a household of war-ready commandos or gun-runners, the plan is usually to stay hidden and hope to not be ‘visited’ before daybreak. It’s like waiting forever for forever to show up. Hard to imagine that a sleep-deprived soul would crave morning so sincerely. But, in that one moment, sleep loses all relevance – along with everything else. All that counts is staying alive till the first ray of sunlight smites the darkness.
What does it matter if you ended yesterday on a high when you’re desperately trying to hold on to life? How does one even remember pending projects and pressing deadlines without a guarantee of tomorrow? Would it matter how much you have or lack when crazy reapers break in, polluting the night with sparks and crimson? All else simply fades into a distant blur as you fearfully pray the sun awake, its first rays cutting through your window sill – priceless portrait of survival.
Admittedly, not everyone has had to beat a dead heart back to life or birth a child – or shiver through a storm of bullets. But how about the farmer – of crops or ideas? The story is told of a Chinese Bamboo farmer who planted, and watered and waited to the point of despair – and then went ahead to water and wait some more. 5 years of second-guessing his choices, abilities and future! Then, one day, in a matchless fit of insurrection, the ‘hopeless’ seeds break the surface – and go on to reach full height in 6 weeks. It wasn’t just an ‘uprising’, it was the most beautiful riot he’d ever seen!
In the 168 days it’s taken me to get here, I’ve met people from all over who swore their stories were different. Every last one of us thinks we’re in it alone; no one else understands. But, I’ve since realized that, while deeper details may vary, the broader context is identical for us all. We’re all here waiting for something – to appear or vanish, to approach or depart, begin or end. And, while some waits afford us strength for other areas of life, others drain our attention and energies to the point where it feels close to dying.
That’s the story of the past 168 days. And, the more you look at it, the more like your story it may start to seem. Whatever the nature, we’re all here waiting. So, consider this poorly knit collage a mirror. Dig in. Find the strength to hold on. Fight hard. Stay true to the course. Soon, you will hear that pulse that makes it all worthwhile.