This prose-poem appears in Boshemia Magazine: Bodies. CW: suicidal ideation, death.
(I’ve imagined death so much it feels like a memory)
I once stood right up against the corner of a railing looking out to sea, toes hanging over the edge, waves only a few inches below, and stomach pressed hard against the bars. I fixed my eyes on the horizon and the shore dropped away from my peripheries; calm, lazy, rolling waves as far as the eye could see, and a watercoloured dusk summer sky. My mind cleared and a sudden sense of serenity engulfed me and lifted my soul all at once. Is this what death would feel like?
I’ve stared transfixed at tree shredders imagining what a gruesome death it would be to fall in and live ever so briefly long enough to feel the agony of your bones and flesh being crushed and torn into mere pulp, and to know the terror and knowledge that it is the end. It makes me feel physically sick, and cold, and chilled to the core to imagine it. I push the thought into the recesses of my mind.
“We are sorry to announce that the 11:07 service to Oxford is delayed. This is due to a person being hit by a train.”
I feel this announcement streak through my bones every time. The impact of a hulking steel machine travelling at high speed against a fragile human body features in my waking nightmares. Somewhere a vase smashes, and the flowers spill and are ruined.
I often imagine death more realistically like the moment of falling asleep. I sometimes try to catch when it happens, or try to recall how it feels to slip into the realm of the unconscious, but it dances away from my grasp, and refuses to rest in a final form.
We all began in stardust, and bundles of incredible cells, a chance occurrence in the vastness of the universe. We weren’t aware we were being born, and many of us won’t be aware we’re about to die. Consciousness is the strangest fish. Billions of clusters of neurons pilot meat-robots around a planet we know we are destroying yet refuse to do anything to repair, and deliberately making the ever-so-temporary, ever-so-fleeting lives of other meat-robots unnecessarily difficult. We also spend our short lifespans learning to hate the bodies we were born into to carry us through our existence. How is it we have been gradually encouraged to hate such a precious carriage with such wondrous cargo on board? Why do we hate other people for the way their meat-robot looks?
All people enter and leave the world the same way. There are so many parts and mechanisms which can go wrong on a body. We are so precious. We are so temporary. We are so fragile.
There are so many things that can go wrong on a body. The physical breaks often. The mental does too. But upon death we can see what happens to the physical; where does a person’s consciousness go? Where does a lifetime of cultivating and growth and development and knowledge go? Personality and feeling, so unique and incredible, simply ends, is extinguished, becomes nothing.
I romantically picture it dispersing back into the energy of the universe like dandelion seeds. Logic tells me it is more akin to a candle going out.
This is the part that distresses me. An infinity of nothingness that I am not even aware is in progress. I know I won’t feel it, or know it’s happening, but the concept is terrifying. There were hundreds of millions of years before I existed which I will never experience, but which I can learn about. There will be hundreds of millions of years after I cease to exist, which I will never know about. Everything will continue on at its usual pace without me; without any of us.
I’m an historical literature academic. We tend to occasionally talk in vagueries about entire centuries as though they encompass one neat little package in time with one neat set of people with one neat set of ideas. Inside a century are several generations of a family, and countless births and deaths. The exchange and redistribution of life and energy is constant. The scale of life and the universe is awe-inspiring, and overwhelming. We are so small.