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Why do I write these entries? Nothing has changed since Day 97. They arrived in such force, with such ferocity. We stood no chance. By the time the military rallied, we were defeated. Reminds me of my high school days playing football. The punt is sent down field. Landing graciously in my arms. We return a full 120 yard touch down. Untouched.
We were sloppy and unorganized. In less than one week, humanity was enslaved.
A booming voice wakens the entire northern hemisphere at the same time. We all eat the same. Dress the same. Look the same. The voice beckons orders from large monitors every several hundred meters. We march as instructed.
“Don’t look up,” I hear one person say.
“Why, mom?” A small boy replies.
“Because my son, you will be shot.”
Rows upon rows of humans are sent to work detail. Our days are long, but not long enough to kill us. At least, not right away. Death tolls are high, but our race has seen higher. We are still clothed and fed. The sick are attended to, but no better care than a field trauma unit. Surgery is almost non existent.
This is perhaps our darkest era. It only dawned on me recently why we weren’t eradicated. Ten billion humans can harvest the last remanence of Earths resources a lot faster than a festering intruder. Once Earth was on the verge of death, then we would no longer be of use. Or so had I hoped.
The intruders began constructing large vessels last month. My fear is that we will be moved to these “Ark’s” and transferred to another world. Continuing our enslavement.
When you can command 10 billion bees to continue making honey, you don’t hit the off switch.
I opened my eyes to a burning pain. The sun was beaming in from the east window shining brightly onto my face. My eyes were dry, my mouth parched. An awful headache was settling in. The previous nights antics came racing back to me. Far too much ale, wine, and women. My crown was heavy, my bear coat burdensome. Unable to control my body temperature, I decided the best thing to do was sweat it out.
I threw open the thick cow hide skin of my tent, nodding towards my guards.
“Lord,” they both gestured towards me.
I didn’t like what I saw. The men were restless, becoming weak. Some more ill than I, some passed out, one even laying with the pigs.
With such a grand pillage on our raid three years ago, there was no need to put more lives at risk. We had everything we needed. I felt it was time to grow our community. Families should start bearing more sons and daughters to carry on their name, and to tend their land. I should have known that wouldn’t last long. Norse blood runs deep. Strong men and women need battle to stay hungry.
I had no qualms about the decision I had made as rightful King – to stay and prosper with the land we already had. Clearly, we had to sail again. I became paranoid, thinking maybe someone would come and axe me this time.
It was time for the Christian loving Anglo-Saxon’s of England to meet their end.
Odin will have his day.
From the author: Yes, Nel, I will continue writing this story for you.
Part of a traditional indian carving over looking the water near my home.
Synopsis: At the age of thirty-six, on the verge of completing a decade’s worth of training as a neurosurgeon, Paul Kalanithi was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer. One day he was a doctor making a living treating the dying, and the next he was a patient struggling to live. Just like that, the future he and his wife had imagined evaporated. When Breath Becomes Air, which features a Foreword by Dr. Abraham Verghese and an Epilogue by Kalanithi’s wife, Lucy, chronicles Kalanithi’s transformation from a naïve medical student “possessed,” as he wrote, “by the question of what, given that all organisms die, makes a virtuous and meaningful life” into a young neurosurgeon at Stanford, guiding patients toward a deeper understanding of death and illness, and finally into a patient and a new father to a baby girl, confronting his own mortality.
What makes life worth living in the face of death? What do you do when the future, no longer a ladder toward your goals in life, flattens out into a perpetual present? What does it mean to have a child, to nurture a new life as another fades away? These are some of the questions Kalanithi wrestles with in this profoundly moving, exquisitely observed memoir.
Outlook: I admit, I had a personal investment in this book. When I say I have a personal investment, it is because I had the honour and privilege of being by my father’s death-bed as he passed from leukemia. Seeing the things I had seen, I wanted to know how Paul and his family dealt with the same thing. A killing blow from cancer. I wanted to see in the mind of someone who was not only a patient, but a doctor. How would someone with terminal cancer react, when knowing the science behind their disease? What I found out through reading Paul’s book, is that like you and I, they are human.
When Breath Becomes Air summarizes Paul’s entire life. From early child hood, to university, to interning, to his wife Lucy, and finally diagnosis and death. I found it odd, but powerful, to hold once again someones entire life in my hand. Moreover, the life of a neurosurgeon and one that was no longer with us.
Before becoming an MD, Paul received his Masters in English Literature from Stanford. But deep in the back of his mind, he couldn’t stop thinking about death. He was fascinated by it, almost becoming obsessed. It was during this realization he decided to go back to school, to become a doctor. While attending medical school, it was neurology that pulled him in. What better way to learn about life and death, than immersing yourself into the human psyche.
Paul’s book was unfinished at the time of his death, but through his writing you can see that he simply had said everything that needed to be said, and the time he had left was going to be spent with his family. Specifically, spending the last bit of strength he had, holding his newborn daughter, Cady.
It’s interesting how doctors always say “think positive” as being strong-willed goes against everything science says. If the tests say it’s time, then it should be time. Why do people who say “Nope, not today!” live longer? Could Paul have gotten more time if he didn’t spend his whole life being fascinated by death? Subconsciously, maybe he felt this was the best way he could experience it. To truly know death, one must die. I believe this is only part of it. When Paul looked at his scans, it is clear to see that he would not survive. No matter how positive you think. When cancer has spread to the whole body and brain, it all comes down to time.
Eventually, Paul was so weak and his fingers so exposed from the medications and chemo, that he wore gloves to keep writing. He got his English Lit degree to become a writer, and in the final year of his life that is exactly what he became.
The memoir finishes with an epilogue from Lucy. A doctor herself, and also a fantastic writer. She has a marvellous way with words, painting a sharp picture in your mind of her love for Paul, and Paul’s love for his family.
I can’t believe how hard it was raining this morning. Even though I took my largest umbrella, it didn’t save my feet from becoming soaked. My new blue suit looked as if it had dark spots all over.
“It will never dry in time for my meeting,” I thought.
Walking down Lincoln Avenue, I tried to put all of that out of my mind. The cobble stone sidewalk and street reminded me of a simpler time. Tall ever greens lined the road and pedestrian walk way. Despite the grey sky, I feel today will be a good day.
Arriving far too early for my appointment, I ducked into Cole’s Books. Mr. Cole was a frail man with meager stature, but wise and intelligent. His store had been in his family for generations, so one could imagine the vast wealth of knowledge that lurked around his brain.
“Good morning, Mr. Cole,” I said, greeting him warmly.
“Frankie! How are you my son?”
“Well, sir, thank you. Just killing some time before my meeting.”
“Very well. Always good to see you – Please ask me if you need anything.”
I took a deep breath, inhaling all the wonderful smells of the old book shop. The paper, the antiquities, even the dust. What is it about quaint book shops that makes us feel better? Rich colours, soft lights, familiar smells – all of it; so good.
As I began running my hand along the spines of the biography section, I heard the sound of planes. Lots of planes.
Mr. Cole and I looked at each other with confusion. We walked outside, me handing my umbrella to Mr. Cole. I, using my hand as a shield, peered into the sky.
“What are those?” Mr. Cole questioned.
“It… it looks like an armada of … no, can’t be.”
“What!” Mr. Cole asked frantically.
“BV 222 Wikings, military transport.”
“I thought those were long retired, even decommissioned?”
“So did I. Get inside, this is going to be bad.”
We must have failed miserably over seas. How could they have gotten here so fast, and in such large numbers? This could only be the beginning. Our Canadian neighbors to the North may be in the same predicament we are. It will take great nations working together to conquer this evil.
The Luftwaffe had entered US airspace.
Our legs were weak. Bellies empty. After 3 long years of raiding, we had finally returned home.
My men jumped from their Knörr vessels, heaving greatly from the sea to the beach head. I stood strong from my ship, watching my raiding party work with such vigour. We had run out of food days ago, yet the men still pushed hard. Not until we threw open the gates of the great hall could we relax. Tonight, we would be dining with royalty.
We lumbered carelessly up the steep cliffs to Northumberland. We could smell the meat, the mead, and the women. It had been so long since I’d lay with a woman, I don’t know which I wanted more. A good night, or a strong meal.
We burst open the door to the great hall, receiving a standing ovation. All but the King rose to their feet. Without care, we dumped our weaponry and armor into the corner. Twenty, thirty, forty men kept piling up their gear. Soon, there was a large mound of blood soaked armaments.
I drank heavenly mead that evening. Ate the entire backside of a pig, and chose my woman for the night. A free woman. An unmarried dame. Perfect. For she would be my wife. But before I could retire, I had a final matter to attend to.
Walking to the mound of weapons, I grabbed one with the least amount of dried blood. I needed a clean blade. A precise cut. I would not get a second chance. A shimmer from the pile seemed to beckon me. Pulling ferociously, my trusty axe emerges. She is clean, looks new. The battle worn blade is razor-sharp. It is time.
I begin to sprint. Slowly, picking up speed. A large man is not light on his feet. I must count my paces. One… two, three… four, five, six… a full sprint.
Leaping into the air with my dominate leg, showing my fierce viking cry, axe raised well above my head. Striking down with my full force, back arched created the focal point of my power. Cold steel sinks deep into the Kings head and face. My blade – clean no more.
The great hall comes to a stand still. Guards look at each other, confused. Stunned.
“This weak leader said we would not prevail! He said we would not succeed! Yet here I stand, giving you the greatest pillage in our history! Weak leaders must fall, in order for the strong to rise.”
I will say this, “the weak King” did provide us with an excellent home-coming.