Of this at least I am certain, that no one
has ever died who was not destined to die
--St. Augustine, The City of God
There is so much that leads up to every little thing in life. No one thing stands wholly apart from the rest. It is never so simple as that. The line is continuous, like the line you see on a heart monitor, and although the spikes and the dips, the peaks and the valleys seem to stand out--and do stand out in their own way--they remain part of the same line, and their meaning lies within the context of the entire line.
Where do we begin, therefore, when we set out to talk about a single event? We like the notion of suddenness in life, whether the subject be negative or positive. I was just sitting here doing nothing, we say, when suddenly the heavens opened and blessings descended upon me. I had given up on love, I was no longer even looking, when suddenly this woman, this man, appeared. I was minding my own business, just the same as ever, when suddenly my heart stopped, when suddenly the cancer appeared, when suddenly the aneurysm exploded in my brain.
I will say therefore, knowing the same to be essentially untrue, that I awoke one morning in the spring of 2007 to find that suddenly my left foot had died. I had done nothing to cause my foot’s demise, or so it seemed to me at the time. I had not so much as stubbed a toe or stepped on glass or twisted an ankle, or even clipped a nail in the recent past. Why then had my foot died?
This I wondered as I sat on the edge of my bed. My side of the bed, that is. My wife was yet sleeping on her own side. Had the dead foot itself awakened me? But how can the dead wake the living? Lazarus in reverse? From the grave my foot said Come forth?
Maybe you have slept on your own arm in the past, and awakened to find the thing quite absent. You pick the arm up with your living hand from the other side, marvel at the sensation of having lifted the arm of someone else altogether. But of course you know it is your own arm, as familiar and well beloved as any other part of your body; and you also know that this is a temporary anomaly, for it is something that happens, and has happened before, and will no doubt happen again in the future.
You marvel, as I say, at the sensation of death in a member of your body, and yet remain comforted by the full confidence that the feeling in your arm will soon return. You are 99 percent certain of the thing.
I wonder if this might be the seed from which Mark Twain’s well known story of the Golden Arm arose.
Once 'pon a time dey wuz a monsus mean man, en he live 'way out in de prairie all 'lone by hisself, 'cep'n he had a wife. En bimeby she died, en he tuck en toted her way out dah in de prairie en buried her. Well, she had a golden arm -- all solid gold, fum de shoulder down. He wuz pow'ful mean -- pow'ful; en dat night he couldn't sleep, caze he want dat golden arm so bad.
There is no doubt that we want that golden arm back--the precious one, the one of value, the one that lies temporarily dead on the bed sheets.
Who took my golden arm!
And so we wiggle the fingers, difficult at first, but sure enough sensation begins to return. Using then the good arm and hand, we shake the slowly awakening, temporarily foreign appendage. Feeling crawls up from wrist to forearm, forearm to elbow, elbow to shoulder, and by and by the old arm returns, able straightaway to do all the old arm things it had done before.