For the greater part of the last 30 years, I’ve had a general awareness of my own mortality. Perhaps “general awareness” would be an appropriate description from 8-13 years of age, but that would be an understatement for post 14 year-old Justin. On multiple occasions, I’ve tried to vividly imagine and come to terms with the fact that the animated limbs I control will eventually be lifeless and rot. I mean I’ve literally stared at the damn things and prodded and poked them imagining that someday the nerve endings that currently acknowledge the pressure and touch of my hand will eventually, inevitably no longer do so. I’ve looked deep into my own eyeballs and scrutinized the intricate details that came from the product of (depending how far back you want to go) billions of years of evolution. I have consistently been in sheer awe at the complexity of what I was witnessing. Imagining that the engine that runs this body would someday become old and dried out(if I made it that long), was a hard pill to swallow. And it was made even harder not exactly understanding why the time frame of about 75-90 years old was so damn short, or what variables were contributing to this decay. The hard fact that the elements that composed the flesh would be recycled back into the universe no matter what I did, never sat well with me. The age-old existential crisis dominated my thoughts whenever I had a still moment with no distractions. It still does, but now I think I’m a little more okay with the whole having an end to the movie thing. It’s just that I think I need the film to be more of a director’s cut.
There were two thought exercises in particular that came up recently than helped me view death in a less daunting, and more relieving light. The first one was if I could hit a button to lock in living forever, would I do it? It became quickly obvious the answer to that was a hard “NO”. But, then the question became how long was the optimal time? Seemed like it would be hard to know exactly how long life would remain interesting – and not painful or boring in some way. So, the general solution seemed to be having a painless death button at your disposal for your journey. And perhaps, just being able to fast forward through the future and view it with On Demand functionality without having to experience it all in real-time, would supplant my desire to live for hundreds or thousands of years. To already have witnessed and know the story of your immediate family and friends and mankind might make it way less desirable to actually then go live through it all second by predictable second. So maybe it’s the knowledge of future events that would best help quell this need for eternal survival.
The other thought experiment was to imagine that once you died, you were immediately confronted by some kind of entity who gave you some seemingly fantastic news. You get to construct whatever kind of version of Heaven you want. You have one hour to give them the basic specifications for your new reality. And it won’t be a Midas/Genie situation where your wishes are deliberately misconstrued to teach you some sort of morality lesson. The spirit of what you desire is what you shall receive. What would you ask for? The typical religious concepts of Heaven where there is eternal life or eternal bliss, or really eternal anything seems like a bad idea when you really are pressed to lock it in. So, then what is the GTO strategy for speccing out your blueprint for heaven? It seems like you’re gonna need some good luck/bad luck uncertainty(not knowing the future) to make it interesting. It also seems like you’re going to want to have an ending to the experience. Or, at some point, it will cease to be pleasurable and become something more along the lines of a Twilight Zone episode nightmare. So, as we start spitballing, Heaven begins to look more and more like what normal life looks like. Well, the “normal” life of a healthy and well-loved individual with very low immediate stresses. Hmmm. Well that makes me feel a lot better about my own situation. I guess reframing one’s existence within the context of trying to imagine a more desirable circumstance makes death seem a lot less daunting.
Nature seems brutal and unforgiving – most other creatures seemingly only know pure survival. When human life is reduced to mere survival at all costs, life moves exponentially closer to a hellish existence. We get the joy of experiencing feelings of accomplishment and euphoria. If life wasn’t so fleeting, and never threw you curveballs, then these experiences would cease to be special. I guess happiness with your existence lies in the Goldilocks zone of life spans. I’m not sure what ideal is, but more than 100 years and less than 1,000 seems like a reasonable guess.
What makes life so special are the small joys we experience, especially when consumed within the backdrop of how rare they might be in the Universe. So, I choose to concentrate on accruing a vast collection of these moments. The only problem is that you can’t take these with you once your brain no longer functions. My happiness stems from my ability reflect on amazing experiences and sentimental memories, and my anticipation of more to come. When my consciousness ceases to be, I will no longer be able to conjure these memories, or anticipate making new ones. So, what is the point then? I’m just confused now.
Death begs the same questions that falling in love or having a child raise. We know the end game to these experiences is an overwhelming favorite not to be a painless conclusion. But, is the journey worth it? Maybe it’s cognitive dissonance talking, as I don’t have much choice at this point in my life, but I say it’s better to have loved and lost then to never have felt anything at all. Actually, that narrative is probably pure, uncut delusional bias at its finest, but I can’t officially know for sure….. soooo…. Let’s just assume life is perfect the way it is!
Long live death !