Faisal is a student in Malaysia who you might know from his occasional comments on this blog. He’s a creative thinker with a philosophical bent, and the other day, he and I were enjoying an internet chat when he asked, “What would you do, Paul, if you discovered you only had 24 hours to live?”
I mulled over the idea a bit before recalling I had practically answered the question a few years ago. That is, a few years ago, I thought I could be having heart problems. Consequently, I suddenly had to entertain the notion I might not be around much longer to continue inflicting my insufferable opinions on the world. So, I had made some quick decisions how I might best handle whatever time was left. Here’s what happened:
As I was walking to my therapist that morning, I noticed some mild pains in my chest and arms. I was clueless the pains might mean something, but I conversationally mentioned them to my therapist, Arun. Arun urged me to go home and call the hospital. So I went home, called, and was put through to a nurse who told me to immediately get an ambulance and come in.
At that point, I thought for a minute and realized most of the time spent in a hospital is spent waiting. So, I got out my backpack, put a few art supplies in it — and then, because it might be my last day, I put in a couple of my father’s 2B drawing pencils that I’d inherited from him and had saved for something special. I confess I’d allowed the nurse to alarm me.
Yet, despite the nurse, an ambulance struck me as unnecessary because the pain was so mild, and because I live within walking distance of the hospital. So it wasn’t long before I was in the hospital, in bed, and predictably waiting for the doctor to come back with the results of all 425 tests he’d ordered done on me. Of course, that’s when I got out my art supplies and got to work. Their use was an immediate comfort to me.
Now, when I told Faisal of my false alarm that day, my story reminded him of a fascinating bit of advice offered by the Prophet Muhammad. The Prophet said, if a person is in his fields, planting his crop, when the world begins fading away on the Day of Judgment, then that person should nevertheless proceed to plant what is already in his hands to plant. Perhaps, the Prophet was reflecting on how a person should handle an end to his life.
Faisal and I then got to discussing why it might be a good idea to continue in your way right up to the end. We didn’t find any easy way of expressing our thoughts about it though. It seems to be one of those very difficult things to articulate. I recall, however, when I went to the hospital with my art supplies that day, I was simply doing what I felt and thought I needed to do at that moment to reconcile my heart and mind and bring them into harmony. But that’s all I know. I have no elaborate philosophy about how one should handle an end to his life.