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It's A Good Day To Die

One of my favorite movies of all time has to be The Thirteenth Warrior. Set around 900 A.D., it was based (loosely) on Michael Crichtonís novel "Eaters of the Dead", wherein an Arab diplomat (played brilliantly by Antonio Banderas) spends time with a "barbaric" group of Scandinavian Northmen.  Historically speaking, there truly is evidence of trade contacts between the Arabic and Norse civilizations back then. Given this fact, it seems very reasonable that one of the many younger sons of the reigning Caliph's family would volunteer to make this arduous voyage to establish formal relations -- that would have been the only way for him to gain advancement in his society and in the court.

The Thirteenth Warrior is the kind of movie that makes you care about the characters Ė unfortunately all too rare in cinematic offerings these days. There are a lot of things to like in the movie.  My favorite line is the title of this article -- "Itís a good day to die" -- spoken as a shibboleth whenever the Northmen prepare to attack their aggressive enemies Ė in this case, an even more barbaric tribe of humans who are little-evolved from Neanderthals. In the course of the movie, the last words the Northmen say as they fall in battle are: "This was a good dayÖ" It breaks me up, every time I watch it.

It strikes me that this could be a pertinent shibboleth for any of us, as we rise and go off to our own daily battles: "Itís a good day to die." I occasionally see colleagues and coworkers at my workplace being hauled out in an ambulance, suffering from chest pains, strokes and all manner of unexpected and sudden physical breakdowns and attacks. In large part, their health problems are brought on by the unrelenting stress of working in a manufacturing plant thatís having to produce above its rated capacity. To be sure, many of these folks might not be taking the best care of themselves, health-wise. But some of them are just getting plumb worn out, like old plowhorses. It seems to me that modern American Capitalism is still based on working people until they drop flat in their harnesses. (Capitalism is not quite that unrestrained in Europe.)

Well, I can tell you that Iím one of those old plowhorses. Itís no real succor for me to know that I have a company health care plan. Iím more worried about being a DOA case. Fortunately, my life insurance and death benefits will impart some relief to my spouse. But I wonder about the thoughts Iíll have, after Iíve keeled over and am laying there, waiting for somebody to notice and call the medical office to haul me off. I really donít want to be pissed off about it. Iíd rather feel satisfied, thinking that "this was a good day."

And just how do you arrange to feel that way? In The Thirteenth Warrior, youíd feel that way if you had slain at least one enemy. I donít often slay anyone at work, but sometimes I do get certain tasks done. So I could glom onto whatever it was that I had gotten done that day. (That implies that you should take special care to get something done every day Ė preferably, as early as possible!)

Iím reasonably sure that, when you lay on the ground dying, youíd quickly think about all the unfinished business that you havenít attended to yet. Lord, thatís a big subject. Did I remember to tell my wife that I loved her this morning? If not this morning, when was the last time? And did I just say it, or mean it? And did she know that I meant it? I donít carry a cell phone, but if I did, Iíll be damned if I would call her up and say "Iím dying, but [nevertheless] I really love you." That would be too much like the creepy cell phone messages of doomed passengers on airplanes going down. No way that I put that trip on her.

Next youíd probably think about a lot of bullcrap business things that were on your plate, but not yet done. Cripes, whoís going to be able to pick up my projects and finish them? Did I leave enough status notes and records behind, so that somebody can follow up? Moral: Think Ė everyday -- about the poor SOB that will have to pick up your business if you kicked off suddenly. Then you can pass by this phase quickly.

Then there are all the things you were going to do at home Ė the mundane maintenance jobs, the stuff you promised your wife youíd get around to, the recarpeting, the repainting, the replacement of broken appliances. For example, we have a dishwasher thatís been broken now for at least 8 years. I can just see me trying to rise through the bright tunnel of light stretching out above me with that sucker strapped to my leg. Procrastinationís a bitch.

I suppose there would be enough time to think about the people youíve wronged through the course of your life. Well, I did lay into my Mother-In-Law badly once, back in 1980, and Iím not too proud of that moment (as much as she actually did deserve it). No one else is coming to mind. If you think you belong to this category, drop me an email and I'll try to make it up to you.

When a body dies, it doesnít all die at once. I reckon itís fortunate (for the dyer) that the brain organ goes pretty quickly. As the neurons start to dark-out, surely one of your final thoughts would be about the last time you enjoyed life Ė the last vacation, the last good laugh you had, the last time you felt complete and happy. Jeez, let me think. Well, I was feeling pretty happy last night after tossing back a couple of beers and listening to Black Sabbathís Technical Ecstasy LP. Thatís pretty mundane, I admit -- but it works for me.

At the very end, youíd probably wonder if you were going to go to Heaven or Hell. That wouldnít be a problem with me. Being a Valentinian Gnostic, I believe that the piece of me that is God has nowhere else to go. Itís sort of like a bad penny; God has to take me back.

OK. So tomorrow, if I do wake up, Iíll definitely endeavor to establish whatever prerequisites are necessary to set myself up for another "good day to die."

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The Thirteenth Warrior (1999):

Cast: Antonio Banderas, Diane Venora, Omar Sharif, Vladimir Kulich, Dennis StorhÝi, Maria Bonnevie, Mischa Hausserman, Sven Wollter, John DeSantis, AsbjÝrn Riis
Director: John McTiernan
Producers: John McTiernan, Michael Crichton, Ned Dowd
Screenplay: William Wisher and Warren Lewis, based on the novel Eaters of the Dead by Michael Crichton
Cinematography: Peter Menzies Jr.
Music: Jerry Goldsmith
U.S. Distributor: Touchstone Pictures


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