WickedEye's Quotient

7/31/2008 at 22:59

Appointments in Samarra

Samarra sits, as it has for the past 7,000 years, on the banks of the Tigris in Iraq. Its name is derived from the classical Arabic phrase “sarr min ra’a”, meaning “a joy to all who see”.

“Appointment in Samarra” is Somerset Maugham’s retelling of an ancient fable—a tale told by Death.

An appointment in Samarra is by definition an appointment with Fate. It is the unavoidable meeting, the one toward which any attempt at evasion draws you closer.

There was a merchant in Baghdad who sent his servant to market to buy provisions. In a little while the servant came back, white and trembling, and said, “Master, just now when I was in the marketplace I was jostled by a woman in the crowd, and when I turned I saw it was Death that jostled me. She looked at me and made a threatening gesture. Now, lend me your horse, and I will ride away from this city and avoid my fate. I will go to Samarra and there Death will not find me.” The merchant lent him his horse, and the servant mounted it and dug his spurs in its flanks, and as fast as the horse could gallop he went.

Then the merchant went down to the marketplace and he saw me standing in the crowd and he came to me and said, “Why did you make a threatening gesture to my servant when you saw him this morning?”

“That was not a threatening gesture,” I said, “it was only a start of surprise. I was astonished to see him in Baghdad, for I have an appointment with him tonight in Samarra.”

I do not believe in Fate.

I have shifted the bounds of the possible so many times in my life, by choices large and small, that my personal experience is an empirical contradiction of any such force. I did not have to make those choices. And some of the choices I make cut far counter to what most would deem inevitable if they knew my history.

Nonetheless there are certain moments in my life which have the taste of Samarra. Moments which, though not consciously chosen, have a feel of both perfection and inevitability.

My decision to defer medical school for a year is one of them.

The details are, at this point, unimportant. And those of you familiar with the events of the last 6 months know what my reasons are.

I am happy with this path, far happier than I would have been had I started medical school in 2 weeks. My plans now include things that I would not otherwise have a chance to do for a very, very long time.

Which is not to say that this decision is without cost. Friendships very dear to me have been altered; some of my resources, tangible and otherwise, will doubtless be strained.
When I enter medical school I will be a different person than the one I had anticipated being. That prospect, like all things unknown, frightens me.

But it also gleams golden, like a drive eastward over the mountains at dawn.

Like a Tigris sunrise over Samarra’s spiral minarets.

I have come to this place from afar. I have kept the time of my meeting. And I am content.

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