To understand the gunfight in Tombstone, stop – now – and watch a clock for thirty seconds. Listen to it tick while you try to imagine one half of a single minute so terrible it will pursue you all your life and far beyond the grave.
Begin your half minute with righteous confidence though you stand six paces from armed and angry men. They have abused you. They have threatened your life. Your rage and fear are justified. They are in the wrong. You are within the law. About all this, have no doubt.
Two quiet clicks. A breathless instant. The gunfire becomes deafening. When a sudden silence falls just thirty seconds later, the life you thought was yours will be over.
Imagine. Your name is Earp or Holliday. Your name is Clanton or McLaury. Your name is Behan. Your name is Marcus or Sullivan, Houston or Harony. You were in the middle of the gunfight. You watched it, stunned. You heard the fusillade and thought, Dear God, not my man. Please, God. Not mine.
Whatever your name, it will be blackened.
Every flaw, every mistake held up for scrutiny, condemnation, ridicule. Your secrets made public. Your reputation twisted and sere as a blighted leaf. Every accomplishment, every act of kindness or courage forgotten. Everything you were, everything you hoped for, everything you planned…gone.
Whether you live another five minutes or another fifty years, those awful thirty seconds will become a private eclipse of the sun, darkening every moment left to you. You will be cursed with a kind of immortality. Year after year, everything that did and did not happen during those thirty seconds of confusion and noise, smoke and pain will be analyzed and described, distorted and disputed.
A century will pass, and decades more. Still, the living will haunt the dead as that half minute becomes entertainment for hundreds of millions around the world. Long after you die, you will be judged by those who cannot imagine standing six paces from armed and angry men.
Not even for thirty seconds.