mandag 22. april 2013

Narrow escapes.

The other day I overheard a couple of tourists talking about how they had been only inches from death on a field trip earlier that day. I do not know what had happened. Nothing very serious, judging by the light hearted tone of their conversation. But if things had been just a little different, if they hadn't turned around exactly when they did or whatever, then, I imagine, they would hardly have been talking so merrily about the incident, perhaps not talking at all.

When someone trips and falls close to a cliff, he may, as he picks himself up, look over the edge and into the abyss with relief. Had he lost his footing only a step or two later, he would have plummeted to the very bottom of the gorge. Later, when relating the incident, he will no doubt describe how he was close to dying up there.

This figure of speech is commonplace. However, I am wondering about what may or may not be an underlying picture here. Saying that he was inches away from dying, makes it sound as if death were present but that he somehow managed to escape it. That is what he means too, in some sense, but consider this: As he approached the edge, was he also walking closer to his death?

I once startled my wife (only slightly, she knows me too well) with a remark along that line of thought. Everyday, on my way from work, I had to cross some busy streets; seconds later the traffic would thunder by. Coming home one day, I told my wife how I had been only seconds away from being run over. It was a joke of course. Nothing had happened, not even almost -- yet, if I had in fact run across that street the way I did those few seconds later, then I would hardly have been alive to tell her about it....

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