"Here was a man who now for the first time found himself looking into the eyes of death -- who was passing through one of those rare moments of experience when we feel the truth of a commonplace, which is as different from what we call knowing it, as the vision of water which cannot be had to cool the burning tongue. When the commonplace 'We all must die' transforms itself suddenly into the acute consciousness 'I must die-- and soon,' then death grapples us, and his fingers are cruel; afterwards, he may come to fold us in his arms as our mother did, and our last moment of dim earthly discerning may be like the first." (Eliot 398)
My longed for wish has come true: I can read again. I've been reading books after the chemo brain hiatus and it's been glorious. I plowed first through children's and YA, and then contemporary fiction and nonfiction. And now Middlemarch, my old friend, has been my traveling companion for the last two weeks, and probably for two weeks more.
What I love about this passage is all that Eliot captures, all the depth and complexity that is achieved. The travel from terror to comfort. And how she neatly she communicates that odd moment when you understand your mortality fully. I read this and want and want to scream, "YES!" And then give it to all those "I could get hit by a bus," people. Because yes, smarty pants, you intellectually understand that you will die, but it seems likely that the fact has not knocked you over the head, or rammed you in the gut, or cut you off at the knees, and crushed your heart.
Which is not to say that the knowledge is permanent. I've had those moments of extreme clarity, followed by a blissful lack of foresight.
And is one better than the other? Of course not. It's just different. But frustrating.