THE EXAMINED LIFE

The man was simply born without the ability to conceptualize death. Period. The whole thing was chalked up to childhood ignorance at first, mental capacities, that sort of thing. But bring up the subject and you’d see for yourself. He’d give that same blank stare that was his norm, smile and just nod. Oh, you could try explaining. Many have. But it wouldn’t really get you anywhere. You could sit this guy down for like an hour, tell him that he was going to die as was everyone and everything he’s ever known, you could say that he would no longer exist one day, not even in the minds of others… Hell, you could kill a person right in front of him and all he’d likely do is smile and ask you why they stopped moving.

He was a freaking scientific anomaly. The tests were inconclusive, but what could you expect? We know far less than we like to believe, even in these matters. The big test was his parents. They aged, and he got that well enough, but the cut-off between life and death was where his brain just froze up, like some loading screen stuck at ninety-nine percent. Even at their funerals he wound up consoling everyone else, wondering all the while what they were all so darn upset about.

He had no ambitions really. Why would he need them? He didn’t know he was going to die some day, so he in turn had no urgent desire to accomplish anything before said death. He liked reading and so he did a lot of it. That was that. He was a daredevil without ever really trying. He’d cross streets at red lights, cars missing him by inches most of the time. He once leapt off his house’s roof just to see what it would feel like. It wasn’t like he couldn’t feel pain. That wasn’t it at all. If anything, he was hyper sensitive to it in general. And he wasn’t suicidal either. How could he be? He didn’t even know he could kill himself, let alone die at all for that matter.

It didn’t even change when he got the diagnosis. His chest had really hurt something awful, and he was coughing up blood. He went to the hospital more because the whole thing was unpleasant and frankly kind of distracting. Inoperable lung cancer. Terminal. Those words could have been exchanged with, “How do you do?” and you would’ve gotten the same response from him. He had six months at most, the doctor bearing all of the somberness for him as he told him the news.

And so the man went home and kept reading the book he’d been wrapped up in before the appointment. The next day he went to work, engaged with his coworkers and friends, and just generally lived his life. Six months came. And then a year. Then two. Five. Ten. The man still coughed up blood from time to time, but his existence wasn’t dramatically impeded. He just kept on living.

Years went by. The man withered and aged, but he just saw it as a natural progression. What needed to happen as far as he was concerned. His hair grayed, receded, fell out. His skin sagged, hung down like wet paper. Before you knew it, he was ninety-seven years old. And on a particularly warm summer evening he tucked in for the night, content with the great book he’d just finished reading. He dozed off, peaceful as can be. And then…

He woke up the next morning. What did you expect me to say? That he died? Because he didn’t. Not then, and not ever. He didn’t know that he could die, the thought never struck him, and so he just didn’t. For decades, centuries, millennia… People and civilizations rose and fell before him and still he lived on, just reading his books. Minding his own business. And so he will for all eternity.

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