Consequences of high-speed passivity
Outside the train window, I see life swiftly passing by.
I didn't mean to board this train and I certainly didn't plan to sit down. Or, at least, this was supposed to be a momentary pause, this was supposed to be a little break to relax and recharge before taking to the trail again, but suddenly I'm here, a passenger, passively sitting and passively watching and passively waiting.
The future is approaching very quickly and I am frightened. This train goes so fast, so fast—maybe I should've walked? Maybe I should've taken the scenic route. My passion for efficiency has a dark side, after all, and that dark side is choking the life out of me with every passing day. I mean, I like it rough, but Jesus Christ, this is overkill. I'd say my safe-word if only I remembered it.
My memory has been getting worse and worse and I wonder if the train is to blame. Am I missing the trees for the forest? I'm going so fast and I can't see everything, I can't hear everything; I'm scribbling furiously in my little notepad, but my hands ache and I can't keep up with the speed of the train. I make errors when I write, errors in my perception—misunderstandings, misjudgments, mistakes—and I don't have enough time to fix them so they stand, they sit, they linger on in my memory. I am left with a skewed image of the past, but aren't we all? Some people have photographic memory, but the rest of us make do with messy portraits of emotion and cluttered journal entries in stained notebooks. Subjectivity is the norm.
The train is traveling so fast and I sometimes think about getting off. I don't even remember when I got on—all I know is that I boarded the train a long time ago, somewhere between childhood and adolescence. After all, that's when everything went wrong, that's when the faulty wiring of my brain started to reveal itself, that's when I got tired, so tired, so incredibly tired, and I thought that it might be nice to sit down, to take a pause, to catch my breath. I have been catching my breath for a long, long time.
Not so fast. Please, not so fast—can't we slow down a little? I wonder if my stop is coming up. It might be time for me to use my legs again, to smell the flowers. I see them passing by outside the window, large swaths of purple and yellow and blue. I see poppies and daffodils, roses and violets, bleeding hearts and orchids, and avalanche lilies, and I am confused, because avalanche lilies should not grow beside train tracks. I rarely see the details, and when I do, they're usually wrong.
Not so fast. But it's not so fast, right? Life isn't this fast—it can't be this fast, right? Of course, I already know the answer. I may not be the conductor of this train, but I've chosen to remain onboard. I've actively chosen passivity. Life doesn't need to be this fast. I could stand up, I could leave the train, I could wander through the woods and explore the vast unknown. I could venture beyond my comfort zone, beyond the warm velvet interior of the train, and maybe then I'd be free from this constant feeling of guilt, of shame, of exhaustion. But darkness is falling and I'm afraid. The moon is on vacation, leaving the world to curl in on itself as night presses down, smothering, overpowering, overbearing. The stars are cold and distant, faint pinpricks of light from ages and ages ago. I could get off the train, but I'm still so tired, and I just need a little more rest, more stagnancy, more rotting in place as my life passes by.
Tomorrow, I'll get up tomorrow. Right? I'm 99% confident, but there's always an error bar when it comes to my decisions.
All roads lead to death and the train seems to be picking up speed. Sooner or later, I'll need to decide.
It was everything and nothing all at once, you know?
My childhood home stands grand and castle-like, looks small, looks slanted. This can't be right, reality conflicts with memory, memory conflicts with imagination, imagination conflicts with emotion, and I am left standing on an empty street in front of a place I used to know.
The most unfamiliar familiar place I've ever visited, the home that is not my home, a remnant of something that once was but no longer is. Grand corridors and majestic halls alongside tiny windows and tight doorframes—that can't be right, can it?
I wasn't always this tall, I used to be small and the world used to be full of wonder and everything used to be something else that it no longer is and that house was once my home and I am standing outside joyful, mournful, laughing, crying.
I am pulled toward the house and pushed away from it simultaneously, the wonderful interaction between nostalgic lies and rational aversion. The house is beautiful and hideous, it must have looked better before, earlier, back when I had nothing to compare it to, back when it was just me and my imagination for hours and hours on end (until dinner was ready, that is).
Nothing makes sense, really, and so I am frozen, immobile, running faster than I ever have away from a past and toward a memory.
room for indecision
Indecision often comes at a price, the final sum totaling up to the wasted time, the spent anxiety, the needless rumination. I am an indecisive person, and I have learned that it is far better to settle with simplicity, with efficiency, than to aim for complexity.
Everything in the room is uniformly white, creating the impression of a dreamlike, far-off state of being. There are four corners—the standard amount for rooms, I believe. A couch and a bed face each other from opposite sides of the room, with a table beside the couch and a cabinet beside the bed. A lone window sits in the center of one wall.
Without further investigation, everything is clean and white and simple. There are no blemishes, no dirt stains, no dust. Nothing is out of place, everything looks perfect and minimalistic and medical. If you don't open the cabinet, if you don't lift the couch cushions, if you don't look under the bed, if you don't reach around the bottom of the table, if you don't peer further into this room, everything is clean and white and simple and perfect, everything is perfect.
Now, if you open the cabinet, you'll hear whispers of long-gone shouts, you'll see the dust of old anxieties and the dark oozing putty of current fears. If you lift the couch cushions, you'll see rusty pins and jagged needles, you'll see old sweat and remnants left behind from years upon years of sitting on edge. If you look under the bed, you'll see dust bunny memories, you'll see faded dreams and a gaunt-looking cat hiding in the corner—if you look close enough, you might even see the monsters, though they mostly come out at night, mostly. If you reach under the bottom of the table, you'll feel scratches and gashes in the wood, lost relics of fights and nights spent clawing for a way out, searching for a hidden door that'll take you somewhere, anywhere.
If you look out the window, you'll see a cloudy gray expanse. Sometimes it looks like the sea, and when you stare out, you might hear the sounds of a foghorn in the distance, haunting, lost, longing for something left behind, something forgotten, irretrievable. Sometimes it looks like the summit of a mountain, and when you stare out, you might hear the wind howling and screaming like ghosts of old miners, you might feel the chill of alpine wind like claws against your face, scraping, scratching, piercing, freezing. Sometimes it doesn't look much like anything, and the world outside seems frightening in its emptiness, and you know that if you leave you'll be all alone in an unfamiliar, unforgiving environment. Sometimes it looks a whole lot like everything, and you know that the second you step out, you'll experience the rest of your life in one short moment and you'll die from over-excitation, you'll die from too much all at once.
The window frightens me, all alone in the center of the wall, because if I can look out, then maybe someone could look in, maybe someone could see me, see me.
I sometimes consider leaving this room, and sometimes I leave for a little, just a little, never too long. It never takes too long for me to miss the security of the known, for my fears and anxieties to overwhelm me and force me to retreat to this aesthetically sterile haven stuffed with dark memories and bad habits.
The room is white and clean and I've worked hard to keep the decay and rot away, to stave off the inevitable atrophy of my tight grip on existence. I don't get guests very often, but if anyone came to visit, they'd see a clean room, a perfect room. They'd compliment me on my furniture, on my cleanliness, on my minimalistic lifestyle. They wouldn't see the churning mess of emotions that fills the cabinets, that stuffs the couch cushions, that seethes under the bed; they wouldn't smell the sweet and sticky odor of my overwhelming sadness or the crisp and lively scent of my irrepressible mania; they wouldn't hear the shouts of my countless fears and anxieties. I don't get guests very often, but I work hard to maintain a perfect facade should anyone care to stop by.
It's not necessarily that I like comfort, but rather that I need comfort, that I need the familiar, that I am a creature of habit and I cannot escape my well-worn grooves. I need comfort and familiarity and this room is plain and simple and perfect—as close to perfect as I can come, that is. I wish I had a room with more life and more energy, a room with more decorations and more overt happiness. I wish I had a more detailed room, but I know that I'd pay the price with my indecision, I know that the tapestries and posters would fade and tear, I know that the picture frames would splinter and the mirrors would shatter, I know that the soft lights would sputter and die out, I know that the books would rot away, I know that the clock on the wall would tick and tick and tick and erode my sanity down to the finest point, I know that the pretty duvet cover would stain easily and discolor quickly.
My indecision would take beautiful futures and mangle them into their worst aspects, my indecision would turn complexity into hell. My indecision overwhelms me when I am faced with decisions—it was hard enough deciding on sparse minimalism, on the color white, on the placement of the window and furniture, and I cannot imagine decorating this room, I cannot imagine the torment of making decision after decision after decision after decision after decision and so on and so forth until eventually I lose my mind and lose my sanity and lose the rest of my life to worry, to pacing, to striding back and forth with no confidence whatsoever.
It's easier to live in a simple room, a white room, a room where I store my dark features under the bed and in the cabinets and in the couch cushions. It's easier to pretend I have everything in my life together, it's easier to appear perfect if I don't have to perfect anything, if I can leave everything white and uncolored and unembellished. It's easier if I don't start, because then I can never fail, and I can go on living in this white room with a gray world outside my window.
This is a small room, a simple room, a white room. There's not much space in here, but there's room for indecision, there's always room for indecision.
a lesson in dancing
My father taught me how to dance.
Not ballet, not tap, not jazz or hip-hop—my father taught me how to dance around people, how to tiptoe gracefully through conversations to avoid being an inconvenience, to avoid being disliked. My father taught me that I must be careful with my words, that I must be meticulous in what I say and when I say it. My father taught me how to dance in uncomfortable shoes while others stroll comfortably, my father taught me to be anxious.
My father didn't mean to teach me how to dance, but the instruction happened naturally. I learned through experience, I learned through interaction. If he was angry, I shouldn't talk, I should sit in the discomfort of his frustration. If he was tired, I shouldn't talk, I should sit and avoid being noticed. If he was frustrated, I shouldn't talk, I should anticipate his needs and act accordingly. If he was happy, I could talk, I could say words so long as they were packaged appropriately. I had to dance my way through my childhood, and I became good at it, I became so good at it. There's a verbal filter that permanently examines the words I intend to say, there's a sense of restraint that guides my limbs and guides my actions. I thank my father for teaching me how to dance.
My father also gave me intentional lessons: my father taught me how to fish and how to ride a bike; my father taught me how to pitch a tent and start a campfire; my father taught me how to use a saw and how to ski down steep terrain; my father taught me how to drive over alpine passes and how to whittle.
My father taught me how to survive in the wilderness while simultaneously teaching me how to survive in everyday interactions. It's funny—I don't need to dance in nature, and when I'm alone with the trees and flowers I smile and sit down, I take off the pointe shoes and rest for a moment. But when I go back—and I always go back—I put those pointe shoes back on, I dance through life, I bend and sway to the wishes and needs of others.
My father taught me how to dance, which is funny, since he's no ballerina, since he's not very graceful himself.
My father isn't a bad person, and he's improved through the years, but he taught me how to dance and I do not know how to stop.
My feet are sore and my body aches. I wish I could rest, but I know I cannot stop until the performance has finished.
first step: die
The night is dark, the sky is empty, and I will die tomorrow morning.
The birds stopped singing long ago, and an unbreakable silence has replaced the sounds of the day. It could be a peaceful night, it could be pleasant, but instead the emptiness presses down upon my chest until I can't breathe and I'm stuck suffocating, stuck waiting. Everyone is waiting for death, but I think it's different when you know you're going to die, when you know your time on Earth is up and soon you'll be dead, cold, gone, away. It's an awful feeling, waiting for death, and I almost wish I could get it over with. I almost with I didn't need to wait. Almost.
Tomorrow, I am going to die. I forget why, I forget what for, all I know is that my expiration date is set for tomorrow. Perhaps I'm lucky—not everyone knows when they'll pass on, and I've always been a planner.
I've never died before, and I doubt I'll ever do it again. Once I'm gone, I'm gone, and that thought consumes me. I'll be gone, I won't ever experience the sorrows and heartaches of life. I won't need to worry about relationship concerns, financial issues, whether or not people like me—I won't need to be so anxious all the time, I won't feel that crushing sense of inferiority and my eagerness to please will fade away into oblivion. In a way, I'm escaping the miseries and maladies of life, and I almost feel sorry for everyone who must go on, who must endure. Almost.
The desire to live is a characteristic so deeply engrained within living beings, something conserved throughout the long line of evolution. Once life began, it brought with it a strong will to continue, to persist. I feel that drive, that desire, and I know I want to exist. Existence is the only state I've ever known, and trying to comprehend the idea of not existing is a pointless exercise in existential misery. If I think too much about it, I'll throw up.
I think I'll miss the people in my life, but my memory is not what it once was, and I cannot recall the names or faces of anyone. I can see blurry silhouettes in my mind, I can imagine a warm smile or the sound of laughter, but my memories are too worn out and I am no expert in photo reparation. I've heard that hindsight is 20/20, but my past is a blurred-out mess, an empty slate for me to fill with my own projections, with nostalgia.
The night continues, and I know my death is set for dawn. I'll never see another day, I'll never see another sunrise. It's terrifying, you know? I know that my end is inescapable and I know I'll be gone and dead and it's all happening so suddenly and I just wish I had more time, I just wish I had more time to live and exist and enjoy the world and experience everything life has to offer—it feels so short, my life has been so short and now I'm getting so close to that knife that'll snip me off, that'll sever me from this world, that'll send me off into oblivion.
My lungs ache from rapid breathing, but I'm breathing, I'm breathing right now and soon I will not be. I'm seeing right now and soon I will not be. My heart is beating right now and soon it will stop, soon the blood will stop flowing and my brain will stop functioning. Once my brain goes silent, I will be gone. I will exist in the memories of other people, my name will persist as I fade away.
Dawn is nearing, I can feel it, I can sense it. The tangled knot of emotions in my stomach is writhing and seething, and I feel nauseous.
I am about to embark on an adventure I'll never return from, I'm about to depart to oblivion. If I think about it like that, if I think about death as just another journey, then maybe it'll be okay. If death is a journey, then dying is a necessary first step. I am a careful person, I am an organized person—I like to be prepared, and so I really ought to strive to die.
Death is a journey and I am a sailor, an explorer, a traveler. That seems right, I think. Death is an adventure, right? Death is an adventure and I need to die first, I need to die and I'll die soon, dawn draws near, dawn approaches, dawn and death and done—I'll be done, I'll be done with life and off to a new future.
I almost feel bad for the people left on Earth. They'll get their chance to venture onward someday, but my plane is departing shortly and I am standing at the gate. It's like an airport, like an airplane—the execution is like boarding an airplane, if that makes sense, if that seems right. I don't know what seems right, nothing seems right, so maybe I ought to veer left? Left was never my favorite direction, but maybe I should explore it, maybe the left path is the smart choice, the wise choice. Left, leftover—I'll never eat leftover pizza again, I'll never feel like a leftover, like a last choice.
Ah, well, I suppose the end is here. There's a feeling of impending finality, and the drive for life that festers inside me is wilting but screaming, the will to live is behaving like a cornered animal, snarling inside me, but we both know that any struggle is pointless. We both know that it'll be over for us soon.
At least we'll die together, I suppose—me and my will to live. That drive kept me going for so long, kept me ambitious and successful, kept me sane. It did the best it could, really, and I don't blame it at all for this situation. I'm not sure why I'm dying, I'm not sure what I'm dying for, but it can't be all that bad, it can't be—I'd never hurt anyone aside from myself, I'd never harm anyone aside from myself. Maybe I was unjustly imprisoned, but it's too late for changes, it's far too late.
My memories are hazy and death is growing close, so close, and I just wish these seconds would stretch into minutes, hours, days, years—like taffy, I wish I could stretch time like taffy so I could enjoy my life. But I can't, I can't, and I know I'll die so soon, the time stretches and stretches and it feels like I'm walking in marshmallow fluff, in spiderwebs, in a bowl of jello.
Death is growing near and I've been wondering how I'll die—will it be by gun, or injection, or electrocution, or beheading, or stabbing, or choking, or tearing me apart piece by piece as my consciousness is flung from existence? I don't know, but I'll know soon, I'll know soon enough.
I wish I had just a little more time. I wish I had a little more time but death is a journey and dying is the necessary first step. Dying is the first step and I am prepared, but not really—no one is ever prepared to die, I'd say, I'd say that no one is ever really truly ready to die.
Dawn is near and I see death now.
They stand in front of me—when they got in, I do not know, I cannot recall—and one holds a gun in their hand. The gun is small, but it looks efficient, it looks like it'll do the job. It looks like it'll pierce my skull and shred my brain and paint the wall red with blood. It looks like it'll send me away quickly, easily, messily.
No one says anything as the gun is pressed against my temple. I do not make eye contact with these people, these people are gray and unimportant, these people are just helping me complete the necessary first step on my adventure. I could thank them, but I won't, the will to live would forbid that, the will to live begs me to scream and cry and fight back. I won't, I won't. There's no purpose, really.
I hear a click—the safety is off. I feel the cold metal circle pressing into my head, pressing against me, and this is a new experience for me, I've never died before, I've never been shot in the head before—hell, I've never even been shot before. This is a new experience and this is a necessary first step for my adventure.
I think I'm ready to go. I think I'm as ready as I can be, I think I'm as ready as is possible.
I close my eyes, and—
it is snowing and I am trying to love myself
It is snowing and I cannot feel my hands.
My hands are always cold—poor circulation, a symptom of being tall, of tall stature. I am a front row person, but I never sit at the front of the classroom out of fear of blocking someone else's view, of inconveniencing others, of condemnation. I am very tall and my hands are so cold, I am a tree in winter with brittle branches and twigs ready to snap, ready to break.
I am not ready to break, I am bent and twisted, the scoliosis twists my spine, wringing me out until I can only see behind me, like an owl frozen in time. I can only see behind me and I am peering into a past that is eerily familiar. They say that hindsight is 20/20, but my vision has always been awful and everything is blurry. There are shapes and the shapes are moving, moving; nothing ever stays stagnant, nothing ever remains, nothing persists, everything changes and changes and changes until it is not what it was before, but rather something new, the amalgamation of experience and addition and subtraction and refinement.
I am afraid of change. I am afraid of the unknown, of shifts to my routine, my routine that gives structure to my life. Without my traditions, my rituals, my routine, I stumble, I fall. I wish I weren't so deeply troubled by insignificant interruptions, but it is not Christmas and I don't believe in Santa Claus anyway; I wish I weren't so fragile, but there are no shooting stars in the sky for me to wish on—everything is cloudy, everything is misty. I think, maybe, that I can wish on myself. I am myself, aren't I? Aren't I?
I am myself and I am tall and my hands are very cold, but I love them anyway.
My hands are cold and they move slowly, but I am patient, I have patience. I have patience with my hands, why can't I have patience with myself? With myself? With who I am—who am I? I can give you the boxes I package my identity in, I can deliver little gifts and presents that contain the chopped up fragments of who I am. I can tell you my Myers-Briggs type, I can tell you my Enneagram type, my astrology sign, my college majors, my research interests, my favorite color, my results from Buzzfeed personality quizzes. That's not quite me though, is it? That's not quite me. If you want the sketch, take the boxes, but if you want the entire painting, you'll need to wait and watch.
I am myself and I am tall and my hands are very cold and my spine is twisted and I am peering into the past.
It's awfully inconvenient to walk forward when you're stuck looking behind you, but my routine is deeply ingrained into my body, so I take my steps confidently, I take my steps cautiously. I am a cautious person, I am an anxious person.
I need routine and that is okay, that is okay because I am okay, and if I am not okay, I will be okay. I will be okay and that is enough. That is enough. I am enough.
It is snowing in April and my hands are very cold. I wrap them around my body, clutching myself closely, giving myself a hug I know I need. My hands are very cold and they aren't always precise, but they are my hands, and I love them for what they are, not what they should be. I love myself for what I am, not what I should be—or at least, that's what I want, I want that to be true. I want to love myself again, and really, I'm trying. I've made so much progress, I've come so far. I think there's self-love in my future; I trust my body to know where to go even though I am stuck looking behind me.
I am stuck looking behind me because my spine is twisted and because I am addicted to the charm of nostalgia. Nostalgia and I are in a complicated relationship; there's no romance between us, but sometimes she smothers me with sadness over a past that never was and I like the emotional asphyxiation, but I don't think that's very healthy, is it? I don't think that's very healthy at all.
I am afraid of change and I need routine and I get so horribly sad when my routine gets disrupted. I am the epitome of a creature of habit, and I live joyfully. I live joyfully on my well-worn tracks, I live joyfully knowing what to expect and seeing it come to fruition. My first year of university, I ate the same things ever single day: breakfast was a bowl of raisin bran with whole milk, coffee with french vanilla cream, some fruit, and Emergen-C or orange juice; lunch was a small chocolate chip granola bar paired with a tiny cup of espresso; dinner was a spinach tortilla wrap with lettuce, grilled chicken, two tomatoes, and ranch dressing, plus french fries and a chocolate chip cookie. I ate the same things every day and I did the same things every day and I was a creature of habit, and I was happy, I was stable.
The world is so awfully unpredictable, and I can't see what's happening in front of me because my head is stuck facing backward into my past. It's okay, I'm okay. Maybe I should visit a chiropractor?
For now, I am working on acceptance. I am working on accepting that I need routine but that my routine will get disrupted inevitably. I am working on finding comfort with chaos. I am working on strengthening the walls of my mind so that I can find comfort in turbulent times. I am working on loving myself—really, I am! I'm working on loving myself. I'm making progress. I love my hands, I really do.
My hands are cold and they're not always perfect but they do what I need them to do.
It is snowing in April and my hands are very cold and I am trying to love myself, I really am.
It is snowing in April and I think that everything is going to be okay.
I am watching
The hiker is not afraid, but he should be.
It's dangerous to climb the mountain in the best of conditions, but attempting to summit the peak in the growing twilight is a terribly foolish idea. The hiker is not afraid, but he should be; he is not someone to be easily intimidated, but he will be. I've been following him for two hours now, and he hasn't turned around yet. He stopped once, and only once, to take an energy bar out of his backpack. Once he finished, he dropped the wrapper, left it right on the ground, right by the wildflowers.
That moment was what sealed his fate. Before then, I was unsure, uncertain as to whether he really did deserve my prosecution. Before then, he was merely a nuisance, a fool. After then? He was an enemy to the wild.
He passed tree line twenty minutes ago, the summit isn't too far ahead. Of course, he'll be dead before he gets there. He's not afraid, but he should be.
I stalk, I pad, I hunt. If he were to look behind him, he would see a nightmare. If he were to look behind him, he would see a pair of great yellow eyes, fangs like a wolf, claws like a bear, furled wings like an eagle. If he were to look behind him, he would see his death. But he doesn't look behind him, he doesn't pause to take in the twilight tundra.
To reach the summit, he'll need to scramble up a steep field of scree. I'll make my move then, I'll send him tumbling down until he reaches a great cliff at the bottom. I'll watch him die, I'll ensure that he dies.
We're nearly there, and I hear him sigh. He's tired, but he's not afraid. He should be. He starts his journey up the scree, and I let him ascend some, I let him ascend and then I push the rocks out from under his feet. I push him, I destabilize him, and he is falling, and he falls. He falls down the scree, struggling to catch himself and stop his fall, but I am there beside him, and I keep the rocks sliding.
He yells, he shouts, but there's no response, not even an echo—only the pressing silence of the wild. He is alone, he is afraid. He is bleeding now, leaving red on the rocks he falls on, and his body is breaking. His body is breaking and he is afraid, but soon he won't be, he can't be. I am sending him into oblivion.
We reach the bottom of the scree field, and there's a steep cliff, a sharp cliff, two hundred feet of emptiness. Somehow, despite his bleeding and his breaking, he manages to catch himself on a rocky ledge at the very last moment. If he were truly alone, maybe he could pull himself up. If he were truly alone, maybe he could lie there until some emergency response team comes to rescue him, risking their lives for his.
But he is not alone, and he knows it, he sees me. His eyes are full of fear. He is afraid, as he should be. He is afraid, but soon he won't be. He clings onto the ledge. I leap, I push him off the edge, my claws cutting into his chest as he falls, falls, falls. As we near the bottom of the cliff, I let him go, my wings unfurling as I watch him die. He will lay there until he is found, then his death will appear in the human news, a tragedy, and the mountain will gain additional notoriety.
Most people who visit here respect the mountain, most people who visit here respect the wild. And for those who don't, for those who tread with audacity and arrogance, I am here, and I am watching.
When I was a girl, my God was a kind God, a benevolent God. My mother taught me that our God loved all, that our God was made of pure light, life, and energy. My mother taught me that the universe was energetic, that we each have a soul within us, that we are more than what we are. When I was a girl, I spoke with that God, I sang to that God, I trusted that God with all my heart, with that trust particular to children, a wholehearted trust, a devout trust.
When I was a young adult, my indecision permeated my spirituality. I was a skeptic believer, a believing skeptic—perhaps, perhaps, perhaps, perhaps there's a God or perhaps there are gods, perhaps there's more to this world than meets the eye. Perhaps there's some metaphysical realm beyond our own, perhaps there's a heaven, perhaps there's a hell. Without proof, how could anyone be sure? Without proof, how could I be sure? Some people take a leap of faith, but I prefer to keep my feet on the ground, firmly planted, secure. Some people take a leap of faith, but I am afraid of heights.
When I grew older, my skepticism enveloped me. How could I believe without evidence, why should I believe without reason? I knew that I did not know what I did not know, but knowledge is power and power is not easily won. I allowed for the possibility of the metaphysical, the magical, I arrived at a firm neutrality regarding religion. I hated religion for the interpersonal harm it caused, for the battles it sparked, but I loved religion for the hope it gave to the hopeless, for the strength it gave to the weak.
When I grew older still, my opinions shifted toward severity, the moral calculus inside my head carried me to where I am today. I do not know if there is a God, if there are gods, if there is more than meets the eye. I do not know if we have souls, if we have spirits, if we live in an energetic universe. I do not know, no one knows. How could I know, how could they know?
I do not know, and I cannot make decisions founded upon uncertainty. Knowledge is power and power ought to be built slowly, built surely, built respectfully and with care. I do not know and I cannot sympathize with decisions that harm humans for the sake of a supernatural deity. I do not know, and neither does anyone else, and I respect everyone's right to believe in what they wish, so long as they cause no harm to others.
I do know that I love humanity. I do know that I am fascinated by human potential, amazed by human capability. I feel great sorrow at the human ability for cruelty and harm, I feel great hope at the human ability for compassion and kindness. I am not an atheist, not quite. I am simply unsure and cautious, an indecisive agent with rational values and a great care for living beings.
I do not need spiritual salvation, for I have found my religion in the warm embrace between lovers, the laughter shared between friends, the connections between family, the feeling of belonging. I have found my spirituality in the momentary eye contact I share with strangers, in the peculiar and wonderful realization that every person has their own life, their own story.
I will live and love this life I have, I will be kind and caring, I will make decisions based on my understanding of humanity, I will honor justice and fairness and equality. I don't need religion to be moral, all I need is the knowledge that I am not alone and that my actions have consequences for others. I will live my life morally, ethically, happily.
After, my heart will no longer beat, my veins will no longer pump blood throughout my body. My neurons will no longer fire, my body will no longer digest. My eyes will no longer see, my ears will no longer hear. I will shut my eyes and slip away into oblivion. I will cease to exist. There is neither heaven nor hell, neither afterlife nor reincarnation—not for me, anyway. Maybe there is a new world for those who wish it, but the end I hope for is a quiet end, a peaceful end.
May we all find the peace we desire.
The day with no tomorrow
Death is the end of the adventure, the ultimate destination. We enter stage right, born into a world of summer and winter; we exit stage left, departing our body and fading into oblivion. There's a sort of fear of the unknown inherent to humanity, a lingering terror of no longer being, but there's also comfort, if you look for it.
Dying is what makes life so precious. We know that our lives will one day draw to an end, that there will come a day with no tomorrow. We ought to make the most of the time we have, our days are numbered, our moments matter. There's an existential dread that arises when we think about dying, a lingering terror of no longer being, but there's also an exhilaration, if you look for it.
Life and death are deeply intertwined, all living things die, all things that die must first live. This is not good, this is not bad, this simply is. Life brings joy and connection in tandem with suffering and pain, we grow and strive until we can grow no further and strive no longer, and then we rest, we lay ourselves down to an endless sleep. Death remedies all the pains of our lives; if we no longer exist, we no longer suffer. There's a tragic fatalism that follows the thought of the inevitability of death, but there's also a bittersweet peace, if you look for it.
To die is to have been alive, and I am not afraid of death.
When I was younger, trapped in that dark and turbulent mire between the golden days of childhood and the bemused professionalism of adulthood, I longed for death. I had a morbid fascination with the idea of no longer being, because if I no longer was, then I could escape all the sadness and persistent fatigue.
I don't judge my younger self for her fascination, I understand the allure of death. I am still not immune to the seductive idea of eternal rest, eternal peace. I do not view death as something negative, but rather as an inevitable aspect of being alive.
I am grateful for the fact of death, I know that I could not go on living forever. Immortality sounds like a miserable, awful, exhausting sort of existence. My heart beats and I know that one day it will stop, and that will be the day with no tomorrow, and there's a comfort in that knowledge, the knowledge that one day I can lay down my bag filled with a lifetime of memories, I can stop walking forward, I can sit, I can rest.
When I reach that day, the day with no tomorrow, I hope my death is calm and quiet, I hope I am permitted to slip gently into bed, into an endless sleep. If my death is violent and sudden, so be it, that moment will pass, and so will I.
A war between me, myself, and I
When I close my eyes, I am alone with my thoughts.
I sit in the dark room of my mind, quietly counting down the seconds until I can flee to the safety of other people. I once considered myself an introvert, I now cling to my extraversion like a life preserver. It keeps me buoyant in the water, helps me stay afloat in the dark and deep recesses of my consciousness, helps me stay adrift in channels and rivers of cerebrospinal fluid.
I am alone when I close my eyes, left at my own mercy. I sit in a chair across from a jury of self-doubt, chronic guilt, regret, and sorrow, unable to move, unable to escape the verdict from the judge—I am the judge, I judge myself, always. I do not like to be alone in this courtroom with myself and my painful insecurities. I am my own lawyer, and I am not doing a very good job. I didn't go to law school, after all, and what would a neuroscientist know about the legal system?
Exhaustion and I are old-time friends, though I wish she would leave me alone; I do not think our relationship is very healthy. I cannot escape her, she is always present. I sometimes try and stave her away with coffee, Ritalin, and anxiety, but she lurks and waits for these externally-induced momentary bursts of energy to atrophy away. When I close my eyes, I feel her beside me, I feel her around me, enveloping me in an unwanted embrace.
When I close my eyes, I do not feel well. I am learning to love myself—or at least, I'm trying to figure out how to start. Maybe I don't have the right prerequisites to enroll in this course, but I'm decent at improvisation and I'm a fast learner. I'll use flashcards to study, I'll memorize how to find peace within my imperfections. I'll channel my frustration and fear into essays, I'll find beauty in my insecurities. Perhaps one day I'll enjoy being alone with my thoughts, perhaps one day I'll close my eyes and I won't be in that dark courtroom, but rather a cozy little cottage, sitting and drinking tea with me, myself, and I, and we'll laugh about all the time we spent at war with each other.
I am tired of being at war with myself.
I am tired and exhaustion is calling me to our shared bed, promising sweet dreams and rest, seductive and enticing, but I know that when I slip into bed, I will close my eyes, and I will be alone with my thoughts.