Anyone who reads this blog regularly knows that I am both slightly obsessed with and terrified of my own death. Having come so close to death on several occasions (including two in which my heart actually stopped), I am keenly aware of the fragility of life. As a result, the possibility that I could die at any moment almost never leaves my consciousness. It is like an omnipresent balloon, floating just about my head, its string visible to me at all times.
It’s a difficult reality in which to constantly live, but it has also served as the impetus for much of my productivity, efficiency, and drive to succeed.
In that way, it has served as both a blessing and a curse.
A friend recently told me that he knows a person who approaches life in the same way I do. Eerily similar, in fact. And she is also the survivor of a near-death experience.
In describing our remarkable similarities, my friend lamented that he hadn’t been fortunate enough to almost died as well.
His comment sounded ridiculous, but then again, I wouldn’t change my past if given the chance. Living with the specter of death looming over me at all times isn’t fun, and years of suffering with PTSD before seeking help were difficult, but I suspect that I would be a very different and far less successful person had I not endured those struggles.
Still, the constant awareness of death can be distressing at times.
If we could just solve the problem of death before I actually die and grant eternal life to all (or at least me), I could not die a happy man.
Is that too much to ask?
But there is an alternative, at least in Kurt Vonnegut’s mind. In rereading Slaughterhouse Five, I came upon the Tralfamadorians, a race of alien beings that have the ability to experience reality in four dimensions; meaning, roughly, that they have total access to past, present, and future. They are able to perceive any point in time at will.
Able to see along the timeline of the universe, the Tralfamadorians know the exact time and place of its accidental annihilation as the result of a Tralfamadorian experiment, but are powerless to prevent it. Because they believe that when a being dies, it continues to live in other times and places, their response to death is, "So it goes."
Most important to my purposes, Tralfamadorians may die, but they never cease to exist, because they exist at all points of their lives simultaneously.
I could live with this.
Or not live with it, to be more precise.
And the appeal of the Tralfamadorian powers made me realize something very important:
I am not afraid of death. I am afraid of not existing.
While this distinction may seem like one and the same, it’s not.
Though never dying is certainly preferable, it is the loss of everything that has passed and everything that is to come that I fear the most. The complete erasure of all word and deed, both past and present, with the end of my existence.
But if I were able to continue to live in those past moments, re-experience them as the Tralfamadorians do, while simultaneously watching the future unfold from a detached state, that would be an acceptable alternative to everlasting life.
A damn good alternative, in fact.
While I would love to be able to live into the distant future, the ability to see it unfold, even if I am not a part of it, would be fine by me.
So it’s simple. I just need to learn to perceive the world in four dimensions.
I’ll Google it.
Google knows everything.