I glanced around in the gloom. I could see the layers of dust lying on my bookshelf, proof of weeks of neglect. My books, my most worthy possessions, even they were not exempt from my neglect, from my laziness. If I could not find time for even them, what purpose did I serve by living? I had no friends. I was not made for friendship. And those few that possessed the tolerance to cure me of my solitude, I had successfully managed to repel and repulse with my impossible expectations. I constantly demanded perfection of them while maintaining that I owed them nothing in return. It was only now – lying crippled as I was with no hope of recovery – that I realized that I did not want friends. Indeed, quite the opposite. I wanted mirrors. Everywhere I sought after what I already had within myself. I wished to see myself reflected back to me. And those that did it best, I called my friends.
Tell me, is there any purer form of self love?
I snorted in disgust at myself. There is no easier way to change a stubborn man’s opinion than to place him on his own deathbed and to leave him in solitary contemplation. The death bed is a curious entity. It somehow encapsulates both a space and a fragment of time. Once in that capsule, no matter how pliant or rigid his beliefs heretofore, the death bed renders man’s mind a clean slate. Every single value he has held as worthy will come under the most severe scrutiny in his final moments. It is no surprise that man oft wishes for a swift and unexpected death. It is not, as is commonly believed, because man is afraid of the pain he will face. Oh, no, no. Mankind has a much higher tolerance for pain than he himself wants to believe. But it is this questioning of beliefs that he wants to avoid. Every man subconsciously knows that he cannot be one hundred percent sure of the righteousness of his beliefs. He may have stood sturdy as a pillar, immovable in his faith in that ideal, but in those final moments, he cannot help but think, “What if I am wrong?” All activities he carries out before his death are a desperate attempt to conceal this doubt.
Well, this phenomena happens to the best of men. What chance did I stand?
Every noble cause I had propagated, every high morality I had preached, seemed hollow and superficial to me now. Only one prospect loomed large, towering over every other concept, dwarfing every other thought in profundity, whether physical or metaphysical. The prospect of final annihilation.
When man travels along the edge of the precipice of the abyss, when he sees nothing before him but a vast, unconquerable, insurmountable, impenetrable darkness – when he is struck by the knowledge that he will inevitably topple over and descend into that horrific unknown – how is he expected not to spend every moment preceding that in mortal dread of exactly that occurrence? It is the greatest feat of our subconscious that we are allowed to live our lives more or less ignorant of the magnitude of the fear that really resides within all of us. But at the very end of the journey, just when we need it the most, our subconscious gives way. It succumbs to the overpowering torrent of fear that reawakens at the sight of the abyss. And the torrent, building in pressure over a whole lifetime, sweeps all other emotions before it and deposits them unceremoniously into the dark recesses of our mind. They become the flotsam and jetsam of the mind, the unwanted residue that takes up space and pollutes the waters. Our mind is working overtime at this point, trying to fathom what it cannot. Trying to grasp what is not tangible. A person is the wisest he has ever been right before he dies.
Such was my state. Even as the final rays of the sun flickered out and my room was shrouded in darkness, I felt a chill creep up my spine. I stared at the dark shadow of the door, half expecting to see Death walk in through the gloom. I was ready, that’s for sure, as ready as I would ever be. I had stagnated, and I counted myself amongst the lucky one’s who did not have to see themselves degenerate into mediocrity, but who would perish pretty much at their peak.
However, my mind refused to lie still. It sensed, just as I did, that its time was up. But it did not choose the path of “dignified repose” as I had often dreamt it would during my morbid musings about my own end. On the contrary, it seemed determined to cram in a lifetime of thinking within these last few moments.
It flitted instantaneously back to my childhood, my incredibly pampered upbringing. It dragged from the dregs of my memory the image of the young, innocent, scared little boy whose whole universe was his family and who neither dreamt nor wished to dream of anything outside the realm of his relatives. Those same relatives who today did not know of his whereabouts or his state. The same family that had become estranged and had not spoken or indeed attempted to speak to him in years.
It highlighted, much to my discomfort, the irony that it was my own family that had pushed me to grow wings of my own. Where I would have been happy to lie safe in the nest for the rest of my life, my parents and siblings decided that it would not do, I needed to grow up, I needed to be responsible, I needed to be a man. Well, once shunted down that path, I can at least say to my credit that the job was well done. Too well done, it seems. Now, at the end, I look back and find no one to weep for me.
In the words of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein:
The path to my departure is free. There are none to lament my annihilation.
Glorious independence indeed!
Night has fallen, and still I wait,
I wait patiently for Death,
For the waters of Lethe to satiate
My heart, to let my brain forget
The woeful tale that life narrates
From birth until my dying breath
As the darkness grew absolute and I seemed to exist in nothingness, my mind took the opportunity to jump to more profound topics. What, for instance, is the best way to go about life? Should one be fearless, Hedonistic, Hellenistic, Moralistic, Amoralistic, Nihilistic or – and I shuddered at the prospect – is ignorance the path to a happy life? What if the philosopher on the ivory tower, searching the skies for any hint of treasures, misses out precisely because his eyes are turned upwards? Those lowlies whose eyes, and indeed whose beings are forever in the filth, may one day while frolicking about happen upon the treasure that lay concealed beneath the filth.
I chided myself for allowing my mind to wander into such dangerous areas. This line of thought threatened to invert my whole sphere of existence. And normally I used to place myself at the head of the sphere, at the top. If I were wrong, and if it were in fact inverted, then that would mean…
No. It would not do to think this way.
What was the time? How long had I been lying here? Why was I still living? Would Life wait till I had completely exhausted every possible outcome of every possible question before it finally left me? Is that what Death is, the exhaustion of all possible thoughts from the human mind? Does that make reality solely dependent on the functioning of the collective consciousness?
What did these musings have to do with me? Nothing and everything, it seemed. The beauty of universal questions had struck me many times in my lifetime, however their downside was only just beginning to make itself known. Universal questions, as the name suggested, applied to everyone, but because of that very reason, also applied to no one. There was no way to make a universal question an individual one without perverting its meaning. And this close to the end, I had neither the patience nor the inclination to consider the fate of anyone else in existence but myself.
The dogs howl outside my window in a ferocious lament. They know what is coming as well as I, those wonderfully instinctive creatures! How my heart craves to howl with them, How I wish to give vent, to share my final thoughts with the world, so that I may leave some semblance of my existence in the memory of people. The frightful tower looms before me again, it seems doubled in size and menace. The prospect of my annihilation now took on a more terrifying form. It dawned on me that my solitude had allowed my every trace to be removed. I spoke to no one, and so no one would remember me. When I died, my death would be reported, recorded, investigated, dismissed, filed, classified and put away in a drawer. My whole life would be reduced to a label on a file that would never be opened again. In short, oblivion.
I weep. Breaking every promise I had made myself all my life, I weep. What is man’s will in the face of such unquestionable challenges? Some may possess the strength, though I personally doubt it, however I say without any shame whatsoever, that I have been reduced to a quivering mass of flesh. Death scares me. Oblivion scares me. Nothingness scares me. It seems to me that even the Biblical hell would be a relief to me now. At least I would exist! If not anyone else in the Universe, at least I would have myself to speak to, to feel for, to pity!
Bah! Look at me. The man who did not believe in God, who did not believe in the existence of a soul, here I lie, retching, vomiting, wishing for hell, fulfilling my own prophetic self comparisons to Faustus to a degree which I myself would never have expected.
The shadow of the door, lost long since to the darkness, suddenly becomes slightly discernible again. My eyes blink, doubtfully, searching through the dark to get its bearings. It is the door indeed. What can this mean?
A cock crows. Dawn is come!
As the light slowly fills the room, bringing to life one by one objects that I had bid farewell to for all eternity, my heart is overcome. It is overladen with horror, fear, misery and bitterness.
Dawn! A new day! Death had not arrived. Accursed wretch! To condemn me to another day of existence! What sins had I committed to warrant such a fate? Why must I be consigned to live and relive my whole life in my mind over and over again? Was one lifetime not enough?
As always, when a soul cried out in profound grief, the Gods remained silent.
I would have to live through another day. Another day of torment, lying in wait. Waiting for Lethe.