I think one of the hardest aspects of realizing that we are but really smart members of the animal kingdom is accepting the reality that we are finite. When we die, we will not know that we are dead. It will be as it was before we were born. No us, no conscious knowledge of our state.
For the last seventeen or eighteen years I’ve struggled to get a full night’s sleep. Two years of working two jobs and living on four hours sleep per night wreaked havoc on my sleep patterns. I rarely sleep more than five, five-and-a-half hours. Last night was one of those nights.
I went to bed at around 11PM with a mild buzz going. I awoke at 2AM. I got up and got a fresh glass of water and returned to bed and, fortunately, went right back to sleep.
At some point I went into a series of dreams that ran together. I remember that I was dreaming, but most of the details I forget until one particular dream. I was with another person who was, apparently, some sort of business partner, but nobody I recognize in my waking life. We were speaking with a third man, a portly, middle-aged fellow who was apparently a real estate agent or property manager.
The three of us were standing in an empty single-level building – a non-descript, 40’s style office building with basic rectangle windows and no character. The building sat in the shadow of a double overpass or highway exchange in what looked like the Southern California desert or Inland Empire, perhaps even Southern Nevada.
As we stood and talked, conversation I can’t recall, there was a sudden whoosh sound, a stone upon stone kind of grating sound. Suddenly the building tilted to one side and the world went dark. I realized the building was tumbling into a large sinkhole.
I was about to die.
I had no idea how deep the sinkhole was. As the building sunk and turned on its side, and I felt myself falling with it, soon to crash onto the side of it, and whatever it landed on, I realized that there was no way I would live. I would not get to say goodbye to my wife and my kids, let alone my friends. I would not even have a chance to maybe set a couple things right. I would not be able to prepare my family for my permanent absence. Nothing.
But worse, I realized that in but a moment or two, I would no longer exist. I would not be. I would not even know that I was once alive and now was dead. I would cease completely. And I was not ready.
I remember, in my head, crying, “Oh, no no no no no!” as I fell into the darkness.
I awoke. Of course I did.
I’m not afraid to admit that I don’t want to die. I don’t want to cease existing. I want to be awake and alive. I want to know, to experience, to feel, to breathe, to love, to live. I want to do that for ages and ages of men until I finally have run out of things to experience, until I’m tired, and then maybe I’ll be ready.
But I don’t make those choices. I’m a human animal, as are we all. Every day I go out my door, there’s a chance I may not come home. Every day people all over the world cease to exist.
Many of them, of course, believe that they will not cease. They believe that they will go on forever in bliss, and that the rest of us will suffer in eternal torment. They believe we are not bound by time like the rest of nature, that we, in god’s image, are made to be, and to be in perpetuity.
In reality, that’s the primary selling point of most religions. They don’t promise you bliss here. In fact, most honest people will tell you that their lives go on pretty much as they did with or without any religion.
When my old friend, D, led me to Christ in 1985, he didn’t do so with promises of temporal bliss in this life. He did so with the fear of eternal damnation and the promise of redemption to eternal bliss, guaranteed.
I would love to believe that. I would love to know that when I closed my eyes for the last time on this earth that I would wake up on the Other Side, fully aware, released from my human limitations, and ready to experience a eternity and all that it contained.
But that’s not realistic. That’s a fantasy. And not a pretty one. I don’t want to live eternally in bliss knowing that 75 billion plus people are suffering in hell for the smallest of sins, knowing that decent people who lived decent lives but just didn’t believe the same way were being eternally tortured.
We are but part of nature. From dust we came, and to dust we will return. The circle of life will turn and turn. We are temporary, we are finite. We began and we will end.
It may not be the lie that comforts us. It may be cold and hard. But it’s the truth. It’s reality, and it will hopefully spur me and each one of us on to live each day fully and completely, in the knowledge of this once chance.
I hope that whenever my day comes, and it is coming as it does for all, that I will face it with a little more courage than I showed in my dream. I hope I will face it knowing that, as best I could, I lived.
For though I don’t want to die, more importantly, I don’t want to die having not fully lived.
That would be the real tragedy, for each and every one of us.
Live. Just live. Live like there’s no tomorrow. Kiss your spouse, hug your children, look them all in the eye and engage with them every day. Shake hands and treat every person as infinitely valuable and tragically fragile. Walk, run, breathe, kiss, eat, drink, hug, make love, sleep, and awaken, and do it all again until you can’t anymore.
The only way to defeat death is to live.