Working with U.S. Embassy in Baghdad
* reading time is 2 min
If King David walked in the valley of the shadow of death, then I am walking in Baghdad city’s shadows of death. It is my 21st century version of King David’s verse.
Sometimes, I imagine rockets fall while I am in the car or walking. People are dying around me, while they are shopping and walking, victims of explosions. I hear the sounds of these car and rocket explosions, the close ones and the far ones.
But, before I take you on a mental trip back 2000 years, let me tell you a true story about a friend of mine whom – we worked together at U.S. Embassy in Baghdad – and his last 10 minutes on this planet.
Out of respect for his family, I will not disclose his name or picture. He was a very dear friend of mine.
He woke up in the morning, shaved his beard, put his clothes on, and came outside his room – smiling as usual. He looked to my other friend and said: “I had a very nice dream. I will tell you about it when we come back from fishing.” He was going with two other friends to Saddam’s Lake. A fourth friend drove them a short distance, a matter of four minutes. They got out of the car and walked to the platform that overlooked the lake. They prepared everything and started to get ready to fish. He took the stairs down to lake level, bent down and tried to wash his hands. He slipped on the algae-covered rocks and fell into the lake. He tried once to hold himself and stand, he lost his balance and fell again into the lake. He started to drown, slipping further into the lake, watching our friends screaming at him. They couldn’t save him because neither of them could swim. He drowned in front of them, disappearing in Saddam’s man-made lake that was part of Saddam’s palace. That is how quickly his life ended, suddenly and unexpectedly.
He was two months away from taking some time to go home to America. His was going on leave for his younger daughter’s wedding – he had missed her engagement ceremony – and to be present for the birth of his first grandchild (contractors’ curse dictates leave every six months).
Close your eyes and lie back against the chair and let us go on a mental trip back 2000 years. We are arriving in the year 64 A.D. to visit a Roman philosopher named Lucius Annaeus Seneca (I wish I could buy you a drink, Seneca) in southern Italy. He was a Roman man who knew death intimately. He was expecting death everyday of his later life until one day he was ordered to kill himself. Let us learn from Seneca, whose life was concurrent with Jesus’ for some years, how to deal with death. Death is a man’s worse fear, knowing one day it will come suddenly and unexpectedly.
Sitting next to Seneca, he shares with us a nightly habit of another Roman, a great poet named Marcus Pacuvius. Pacuvius practiced facing death on a nightly basis. After Pacuvius finished drinking each night, he held a burial sacrifice in his own honor. He had himself carried from the dining room to his chamber, while his servants sang “He has lived his life, he has lived his life!”. Using Pacuvius as an example for us, Seneca advises us to feel lucky and asks us to say on a nightly basis:
“I have lived; the course which Fortune set for me,
And if God is pleased to give us another day, then we are lucky and we should welcome it with glad hearts. It is like a bonus.”
Finally, my auto insurance agent (Bilal) told me a story some years ago about his mother. He cried remembering the story while sharing it with me. His mother had asked him to get her an ice cream. His laziness prevented him from fulfilling his mother’s wish. He told her: “I will get you an ice cream tomorrow”. She died that night without having her ice cream. Her last wish has haunted Bilal for all these years.
As long as we are a live, the question with its shadow remains: “What if our power button gets turned off today?”
Knowing I can die any day, it affects my daily decisions at personal and social levels.
Does it affect yours?