Memento Mori: Sudden death on an Alpine Train

France Train Accident

It was a completely ordinary journey on an unremarkable morning. Passengers were silently fretting about their credit-card repayments, speculating about sex with someone further down the carriage, idly taking in the winter scenery, thinking about a sandwich for lunch.

Somewhere above them, a fissure in the mountain had been – perhaps for decades – gradually extending, a great chunk of rock had been more and more precariously lodged; finally the laws of physics required it to fall. At almost any other time, it would have been a minor, unrecorded moment in the long geological history of the maritime Alps.

Instead it brought death and injury. And a shocking – though familiar – reminder of our constant vulnerability.

There is no protection. Trains are no more dangerous than houses. It is not foolhardy to travel from Nice to Dignes-les-Bains. All reasonable precautions, it seems, had been taken to guard against falling rocks. And yet there was mayhem and death.

We can’t avoid a dark truth: the routines, habits, hopes and ordinary bother of life can be severed at any point by an utterly unpredictable – but hideously real – freak event. We need to be drawn back time and again to this profound fact. For it has the power not only to stir our fears, but to strengthen our resolve, to appreciate more fully, and use more wisely, the present moment; to reform our priorities and to prompt us to kindness and seriousness today, in case tomorrow never comes.

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