Hello. Good evening. And isn’t it such a good evening?
I’m cozy at the moment. My life is still and quiet. When I wake up, I add cinnamon to a fresh cup of black coffee. I fry two eggs, one of which is always oblong and runny, the other too chewy. I draw a picture, write a thought down into a little black journal that I’ve kept for five years, learn a couple of words, then listen to this mountain wind blow through the cracked windows. I put on a podcast. This is where I am.
Tonight, I wish to write about death again. I once wrote about the afterlife, and the frontier of passing into the black that nobody knows. It was out of fear, but this death that lingers in my head is not spooky. I just can’t stop thinking about it, though.
I think that it has stemmed from suddenly realizing that people get old. I blinked and everyone around me got a lot older. My mother is aged. My grandfather is halfway to 90. My favorite rockstars are wrinkled and wedded, with children. I can see the years on everyone’s faces. They wear them like old scarves riddled with holes chewed from moths.
Do you know Simon & Garfunkel? I think you should know them. I’ve spent a lot of time with them recently, and I wish to share two videos of one of their most successful pieces. If you have a few minutes, I’d like you to listen to this song. I’d like you to listen to the lyrics especially, and let your mind wander as far as it will take you:
This is a video from 1981. That was 33 years ago.
In 33 years, I imagine that both of these fellows will be dead. That’s not really long at all.
I have to try to avoid the cliché here, in writing about dying. Carpe diem, seize the day, fuck while you’re young, explode or burn out, yada yada yada. They’re always telling you that time flies. It’s always fleeting. Everything is changing and running away from you, and you have to keep up. You have to keep up, or it will leave you behind. People and their lives.
I guess what I’m thinking about a lot is the reality of living. That existing is such a phenomenon. It’s so incredibly unbelievable, and yet, so overlooked. It’s just constantly overlooked and underwhelmed.
You always hear about the woman who has cancer, who has six months to live. You always hear about the bucketlists and the people who know they’re going to die. You always hear about people dying, but they’re never real to you. No death is ever real to you; not even your own.
In a sickly curious way, I wish I had an idea of my death. And lately, I’ve been a bit obsessive over it. Not in a suicidal way, or a longing to die…simply, a desire for an encounter with the end of my life. And in entertaining this idea, I’ve felt really alive. Just, really alive.
I imagine it as such:
I am well-dressed, walking down a hallway full of wooden doors. Everything is quite illuminated and the soles of my shoes glide across the linoleum beneath me. At the end of this hallway, I see a gentle old man, sitting quietly with a pen and a sheet of paper. He is tiny and well-kept, and he’s sitting in a school desk. As I approach him, his globular eyeballs peek over the rims of his glasses and his eyebrows wrinkle upwards. He is delighted to see me.
I look at him and have a seat on the floor. He nods his head and chuckles a bit, then peers down at the piece of paper. I am calm and curious, but I feel safe in his presence. Like a child I watch him from the floor below. His pen is etching and it’s the only thing I can hear. Finally, he wiggles away from the desk, walks towards me and looks me in the eyes:
“Hello young man,” he says, grinning from ear to ear. “I am proud of you.”
I smile back, and suddenly realize that I know this man. I know this man like I know my child, like I know my favorite scent. I know this man, because he is me. He is the man that I become.
“I leave this with you now, young man,” he says, still smiling through his eyes. “Don’t read it quite yet.”
I take the folded note and place it in my suit pocket. I begin to stand, but the old man waves his hand, motioning me to rest. He then places the pen back onto the desk and turns away.
“Wait!” I yell, “I have so much to ask you!”
The man chuckles again, then turns to me. His eyes are full. His hand grabs the doorknob, and with a swift movement, he is gone. Through the doorway I see nothing.
The room is silent.
I look down at the desk and try my best to wiggle into the seat. It’s quite small, and in my effort to squeeze my knees beneath the table, the wooden legs squeak and squeal, echoing through the hall. I am uncomfortable. But I manage to sit, then pull out the paper. It reads:
“Steady, now, young man. Remember the end. Steady, now.”
I guess I just want to say this: I feel lucky. I feel really lucky. I feel like I’m doing this right, because I know that it’s going to end one day. I suppose I’ve never been so motivated before now, before my brief meeting with the imaginary man in the desk. It has been the most enlightening experience for me this year.
I feel like one day, I’d wish to be in this exact moment. That one day, I’d give anything to be 24 again, in shape and good-looking. Healthy. A head full of hair. A mother to call. A day in the sun without medicine or crutches. I feel like I was just awakened by the advent of mortality, and because of that, I am somewhat invincible. This is invigorating.
So here I am, just ecstatic to be where I am. To be who I am, to be looking forward to a life of love. A life of misery and a life of kissing and a life of drinking to turning 30. A life of long winter nights and quick summer days and poems and sitting in movie theaters and crying. A life of running and eating spaghetti and being crushed by the weight of being, then revived by the way she says your name in bed. A life of having twins and getting in car wrecks and buying chocolate and flicking a straw wrapper across a dim-lit bar. A life of singing in the dark and wishing she was there and remembering the day you turned 13. It’s all so mystifying and relentless and loud and silent.
I guess I’m just happy to be alive, and I hope you are, too.
Here’s a video of Simon & Garfunkel, as old men, singing in 2010: