Trust30 prompts: 15 Minutes to Live by Gwen Bell

We are afraid of truth, afraid of fortune, afraid of death, and afraid of each other. Our age yields no great and perfect persons. – Ralph Waldo Emerson

You just discovered you have fifteen minutes to live.

1. Set a timer for fifteen minutes.
2. Write the story that has to be written.


This one was harder than it looks, but eventually I realised what story it is I want to tell.

Many years ago, a dear friend and I sat up drinking way into the wee hours of the morning, and, as one is rather prone to do after a night of far too much whiskey, we became maudlin.

This in itself wouldn’t have been so bad, except that my friend starting talking about killing themself. About griefs and failures and guilts, and ending them all.

Naturally, I tried to put forward the opposing case. My friend would have none of it. The conversation became more agitated, and I began to worry that my friend would do themself a harm from which there was no recovering. So I grabbed hold of them and physically restrained them. It felt like it was forever, but it was probably only a half hour.

I was so worried about them that I chose to wet my pants rather than let go of them for the short time the trip to the toilet would have taken. After a while, my friend began to cry, and finally, sounded rational again. Only then did I relax my grip, and we both fell into a deep and (for me at least,) dreamless sleep.

(You may argue that my friend would never have done it, and maybe that’s true. But consider that we were both teenagers at the time, young, drunk and more than a little melodramatic. Would it have happened if I hadn’t intervened? I can’t say for sure, but I think there would have at least been an attempt made.)

(In any case, whether or not my assumptions that night were true, the emotional truth of the experience is the same, and that’s what I’m talking about here.)

That’s not the story I need to tell, but it is the story I needed to tell in order to tell the story I need to tell. Which is the sequel:

For years after that, I felt guilty about my failure. Not of bladder control – that was a conscious choice, and although it was an embarassment, it wasn’t a failure.

What I saw as my failure was resorting to physically restraint. I felt that I should have been able to prevent a suicide attempt with just words alone, and that to do otherwise was to have failed.

It took me a long time to realise that the how of it mattered rather less than the thing of it. I saved my friend’s life that night – and for all that we’ve long since lost touch, I can’t help thinking that my friend is probably happier to be alive than they would have been otherwise.

And that’s my point here: I did something good, for all that I spent years thinking that what I did wasn’t good enough. I did the best I could at the time, and my best was good enough.

Wanting to be better is a fine and worthy thing, but it shouldn’t overshadow our actual acheivements.

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