A Gun To My Head.
Yesterday, for the first time in my life, I had the experience of a loaded gun, with a round in the chamber, being held against my head. I won’t go into details, except to say that it was a robbery that turned violent in a developing country.
Everyone involved (3 armed robbers and myself) came out worse for wear. This was due to fact that I went into panic mode and ignored the fact that had weapons. I didn’t expect it, and they didn’t expect it.
It was extremely stupid, I should have remained calm, and given over my possessions.
Instead, I ended up in a prolonged struggle and I walked away covered with someone else’s blood. The experience of being so close to death was interesting, especially after the fact. Waking up this morning, and the simple experience of drinking a glass of water. Perhaps this is the best glass of water that I have ever had in my life. While I did not enjoy the experience, especially while I was in, I do feel that my life is richer because of it.
I have a newfound appreciation of life, and also a heightened sense of danger when things don’t quite feel right. These is exactly the situations where the Stoic practice of negative visualization is useful. Things could have turned out much worse.
The only thing that happened was that I got roughed up and that I have bruises on my face and various parts of my body. I’ve lost my watch (yes, that watch) and my phone. I actually managed to keep my passport, my bank card, my insurance card, and, most importantly, my life and health. I wasn’t shot, I wasn’t stabbed, and my injuries, while painful, are mostly cosmetic in nature. I’ll heal, I’ll move on. And, most importantly, I’ll find a way to be a better person because of what happened. Every event that happens to you can be held from two different handles.
One handle is intolerable. Why did this have to happen to me? Why do I have such bad luck? Why is the world like this? What’s wrong with these people?
The other handle, the Stoic handle, sees it as an event in a long string of causal events.
The ship sank. What happened? The ship sank. Epictetus.
Things do just happen, and the world is not a fair place. But, we do retain control over how we respond to and interpret these events.
Yes, often the immediate response is difficult to control. Get punched in the face, you’re likely to have the same response as anyone else.
But the day after? That’s fully in your control.
And let’s not lose sight of the fact that every day of life is a gift, and not guaranteed.