“Near Death Experience” by Andrew Evans, page 4

        The TV said to stay indoors—it was chaos out there. But I was too curious and disliked the images they kept repeating over and over, so I put on my running shoes and went jogging—down the river and up to the overpass overlooking the caved-in Pentagon. Even then, It was still on fire: black and grey smoke still spitting out from the angled holes of the collapsed façade, fire hoses stretched like spaghetti on the lawn.
         There were burning bodies inside—hundreds, perhaps more. I was literally near death. Very near. I couldn’t help wondering if someone was dying right then. All those unlucky people had arrived to work on time—had been sitting at their desk forwarding email jokes to colleagues or pouring another non-dairy creamer in their coffee. And then an airplane just flew into their window and the credits started rolling. Fin.
         As a thirty-something survivor of life, I am convinced that every day is a near-death experience. I can be careful—I can pass on the ziplining and drink responsibly in sub-zero weather and not walk alone in a strange city after dark—but I can’t stop the Boeing 757 from landing in my office. We can say it won’t happen, but the point is that it did happen.
         And now my entire country copes with near-death by making more signs—lots of signs. Signs to take off your shoes, signs with arrows pointing to this line or another, signs declaring that while yesterday was yellow, today is very orange and that in case we’d forgotten, very orange means somewhere out there, someone is trying very hard to kill you. Everyday, all day, despite the passing of time, my country reminds me loudly that we are all of us, everyday, near death.
         The thing is, I really don’t need a reminder . . . because honestly, I’m already there. I embrace life by the minute, for sure—carpe diem and all that—but decades of surviving makes one constantly aware of the imminence of death while calming one’s jittery soul with the prominence of life.
         Older brothers may inflict pain and bruised brains, accidents will happen in their accidental manner, but at the end of the day, most people survive. Not always and not everywhere, but mostly, we all make it. Alright—some of us don’t, and when that happens, we turn out a different series of signs—gaudy wreaths, newspaper tributes, and gravestones carved with leering cupids and crosses. But in the grand numbers game of life, most of us make it until the day that we don’t.
         Today, my older brother is an emergency room doctor. It’s too perfect an ending, I realize, but it’s the truth. He did the family practice thing for a while—treated head colds and chicken pox in Arizona—but he ended up in the ER, where day and night, he fixes unlucky people. I like to think that I played some small part in his career path—that I wasn’t just a kid brother punching bag, after all. I was merely one of the cadavers he trained on.
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