Major spoiler alert for Contagion, although there isn’t much of the movie you don’t probably already know being given away, just one scene in particular. Still, for me that scene was quite powerful, so Scene Spoiler Alert (Don’t read on if you haven’t seen the movie, unless you don’t mind a scene being spoiled.)
Okay, I’m a fan of spoiler alerts. (Again, I once described a movie as about a man and his dog, to keep spoiling what happened in it.) That out of the way:
A health professional during the outbreak came down with something. She noticed her symptoms and reported them to her supervisor, who had to quarantine her along with the other infected patients. She had the sensibility of a scientist, she knew she might have coincidentally caught a cold or she might have been infected by the outbreak. She grew sicker and sicker. In the scene before her death, she tried to throw her blanket to a sick, but much more vigorously sick, patient next to her who was complaining about being cold. The blanket barely made it halfway to the adjacent bed.
The scene was daring because it had the potential to seem melodramatic. I think I would have viewed it that way if not for my dad once telling me that people die the way they live. She didn’t decide to give away her blanket. She was gone already, she wasn’t acting consciously. The act was the culmination of a life where sacrifice for others had become habit. She was too gone to even feel good about doing good. Her action was rote.
People die the way the live is interesting to contemplate because it has the potential to be either depressing or uplifting, depending on how happy you are with how you’re living your life. My Aunt died the way she lived. She had terminal cancer for four years in her late sixties and spent that time travelling cross country on her motorcycle. She returned from a trip to Alaska especially tired and died a few weeks later in the care of her sons. My dad died the way he lived. He spent his last days worrying if the people he loved would be okay financially if he didn’t make it. He didn’t make it, and we were.
Periods of my life were not good times for me to die the way I was living. I get embarrassed when I think back to how much more I valued the work over doing the work in my early days of writing. I thought I’d better hurry with a long writing project because if I left something incomplete, that would be tragic. Some of that drive was necessary to keep me going, but most of it was…pretty ridiculous. Now I’m much more focused on the value I get from doing the work than on the value of the finished product. I no longer think it would be tragic if I died while in the middle of working on something, the tragedy would be if I wasn’t in the middle of working on something when I died.