What Are You Waiting For?

“The infinitesimal place I take up is so tiny compared to the rest of space where I’m not, and which has nothing to do with me; and the portion of time given me to live is so negligible next to the eternity in which I haven’t existed and won’t—while in this atom, this decimal point, the blood courses, the brain works, and wants something also… What an outrage! What nonsense!”
—-Fathers and Sons by Ivan Turgenev

Sometimes I wonder how it will feel like when my time is up. Will I be conscious of the last breath I take? Will there be a moment of awareness after my heart stops? When clinically dead, will I be able to feel or sense anything, suggesting that the electrical impulses in my head ramp down slowly, or will it be more like an on-off switch where things fade to black? I wonder how it will feel the second I know I’m going to die, assuming I don’t get a bullet in the head or find myself in an exploding airplane. I like to think it will be a moment of blissful resignation, but I wouldn’t rule out a combination of sheer terror and unfathomable fear.

I don’t believe in an afterlife or a soul. When you die, you die, and everything that you are disappears from the earth, only to be remembered briefly by your ancestors or works. I can’t think of anything more cruel—to be given life and the opportunity to grow and change and experience and love and have it all taken away from you, as if it was all for nothing, nothing but nature’s joke on you. It won’t matter how many women I’ve slept with. It won’t matter how well-traveled I was, how many languages I was able to speak. It won’t matter how many expensive things I was able to accumulate. And all those books I’ve read, those tasty dishes I learned to prepare—for nothing! All those experiences I learned from, some that helped me become a better person, all for naught.

But no matter how meaningless, insignificant and absurd human existence is, I feel very alive right now. I can feel pleasure and pain, happiness and disappointment. I can shape how I want to live the current moment and do just a bit of planning to help assure future moments feel great as well. Though I’m very skeptical of free will, as each of us are limited by and dependent on too many factors outside our control, I do have enough power to make marginal and sometimes significant improvements. There are things I can do to more often hit the pleasure centers in my brain, helping push aside those poisonous existential thoughts that inevitably lead to depression and melancholy.

The worst thing about life—death—is also the best thing, because I know that my time here is limited, and it’s best spent pursuing what I want, and nothing less. I look at people who postpone, waiting to act, either for some type of miracle or maybe the arbitrary flip of the calendar year in the form of a “resolution,” and I think to myself, “Don’t these people know that one day they’re going to die?” Maybe they forgot, and won’t be reminded until someone close to them passes away, or when they themselves go through a serious health scare, but by then it may be many times harder to make any sort of meaningful change.

But I don’t forget. That’s why today I will wake up and do what I want to do, in the place that I want to be. It won’t be a perfect day as I am bounded by the human experience, but the parts that I can affect and mold are being affected and molded. And if you tell me I’m going to die tomorrow I’ll just shrug my shoulders at you, because before I take my last breath I know I’ve done everything I possibly could to live this meaningless, insignificant and absurd life to the absolute best of my ability.

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