One of my favorite movies is Big Fish. It tells the story of a man whose tall tales and colorful lies create a beautiful life in retrospect but a difficult reality to accept for his son. It is a gorgeous film about what happens when cliche and skepticism meet with a truly masterful lesson at the end.
It opens with a few boys sneaking onto the property of a “swamp witch” that lives in their neighborhood. The story goes that if the witch lifts her eyepatch and peers at you with her milky eyeball, you will see how you die.
She inevitably comes out to scare away the rabblerousers. And as you probably guessed, the main character’s friends, one by one, look into her eye to see their fates. When it is the main character’s turn, he dutifully looks and watches himself die. (The audience doesn’t get to see it.) Interestingly, however, the knowledge doesn’t haunt him throughout the movie. Instead, it informs him. Much later in the film, when he gets into some trouble, he rationalizes that this isn’t how he saw himself die in the witch’s eye. Therefore, he tells himself, he’ll probably get out of this pickle unscathed.
I don’t think this thinking has to be exclusively relegated to movies. If we’re completely honest with ourselves, we already know what will probably kill us in the end, too. Or at least, we can make an educated guess.
For example, you may know that you have a lot of cancer in your family. You may live in a dangerous part of the world. You may smoke. (Enough said.) Heck, Elvis died on the toilet, for heaven’s sake. So, maybe he didn’t know, but he couldn’t do anything about it, either.
Me? I know I’ll die of something heart related. First of all, I have too many feelings, so I will probably die of a broken heart when my favorite television show is cancelled. Or I’ll simply give up and eat everything that my food allergies say that I can’t have until I clog my arteries in one fell swoop. (Talk about dying happy…)
Now, I’m not trying to be morbid. I’m simply saying that this is one less thing that you need to worry about. If you’re wondering how you’ll die (and you shouldn’t because it is a waste of time), you have to rationalize that you have probably already encountered how it will happen. In fact, you may have been the one to initiate the behavior in the first place, by crossing the street or lighting up a cigarette. And, in actuality, that is a freeing thought, to be lifted from the accusations of time and the punishment of “what if…”
Oh, I’m sure it’ll still be a surprise when it happens, which is good, to keep the suspense up and to keep you on your toes. But you can’t be afraid of how it will happen. You can only hope that your death will be fitting of the person you were in life.
But in the end, we’re all staring into the witch’s eye. It’s how we react to the information we see that shapes us.