I always get a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach whenever I see someone being led to their own execution. I suppose I put myself mentally in their place; I try to imagine what it feels like to know without a doubt that these are my final moments on earth.
You wake up that morning, and you know that instead of going to sleep tonight, you’re going to die. You won’t wake up tomorrow. You’ll never be able to see your family again; you’ll never see your friends, you’ll never accomplish those goals and dreams that you might have set for the future. You have only one destination, but you don’t really know for certain what comes after. Is it going to hurt, or will you die before the pain hits? Does dying itself hurt? What does it feel like? It’s something you’ve never felt before, and no one has ever been able to truly tell you what it’s like because anyone that’s ever experienced it has never come back to explain.
Eventually, after hours that feel like years, the guards appear to take you away. Perhaps they give you a chance to speak to a member of the clergy for one final act of contrition. Would you take it? Would you confess, would you beg for forgiveness from some god that doesn’t seem to care about your fate in this moment?
Regardless of your choice, you are soon whisked away. You won’t be coming back to this cell; the clothes that you’re wearing are the last thing you’ll ever have on; the food, if you ate anything, in your belly is the last food you’ll ever eat. If you’re thirsty, if you’re hungry, tough. You’re going to die this way, whether or not you’re ready to go through with it.
As you enter the execution chamber, you suddenly realize that you are surrounded by people that hate you. These people quite literally want you dead, and they intend to see it through. This is how you will spend your last moments; surrounded and drowning in hatred. You might think back to your childhood; to a moment in the summer when you were 8 years old. There wasn’t a care in the world then, you were happy and joyful; you were surrounded by friends and life seemed endless before you. It seemed then that you could accomplish anything; you felt like you could be king of the world.
Would 8 year old you have ever imagined ending up where you are now? Do you think he’d be happy with how his life turns out? How would he feel in this moment? Perhaps you find yourself feeling just like he did; you feel like a child in his room at night, scared of the monsters that might be hiding in your closet. Except now, there are firm hands on you that are guiding you ever closer to that closet door, and you know that before you get through the door, they will blindfold you.
When you approach the pole, it seems to come too close too fast. It wasn’t supposed to end this way, but there’s nothing you can do about it. Firm hands tie you down; there is no regard for comfort here. The cord digs deeply into your legs and arms, your shoulders are pulled back painfully. The shirt under your jacket has been pulled askew and it’s sitting uncomfortably against the side of your neck and your armpit; you’re sweating so profusely that your back and crotch are soaked. This place smells of dirt, rust, and gunpowder; perhaps a small hint of pine. The post is cold and hard; there’s no way for you to stand comfortably against it.
You look up and see hundreds of faces, each and every one of them staring back at you with vitriolic eyes. You feel a gentle hand on your stomach as the last of the cords is tied, and suddenly everything goes black. The hood that covers your eyes smells of musk, sweat and blood; your own breath stinks from days of not brushing your teeth. Everything is eerily quiet except for the sound of the wind blowing through the trees nearby, and the quiet march of soldier’s feet. You can hear each one of them grab their guns, and you begin to count… one… two… three…
How many soldiers? Perhaps 20? They’ve stopped moving now; it sounds as though they’re right in front of you, but you’re not sure. Each second stretches out like an hour as you grit your teeth. Every muscle in your body tightens as you begin to wait out your last moments. Someone asks you for your last words, and you say something. You don’t know exactly what you’ve said; it spilled out quickly, there wasn’t much time for planning here.
What do you feel in this moment? Regret? Remorse? Fear? Pain? Acceptance? Sadness? Numbness? You hear the firing squad readying themselves… your chest hitches as you draw one last deep breath… FIRE!
And… what then?