I think a lot about death. It’s one of my favorite topics, though one I don’t necessarily share frequently as it weirds people out. I think it’s just because once you exist, it’s difficult to imagine not existing. The idea does not scare me – though I have to admit, if someone stuck a gun in my face, I’m sure I would be terrified. Something about the immediacy would be frightening. But as far as the philosophical idea of non-existence goes, I think I have made my peace with it. After all, I’ve been thinking about it since I was 11.
When I was a kid, I was very unhappy. Sometime people underestimate the emotions a child could have, underestimate the pain someone who is not an adult could feel. From a young age, I always felt like a skinned knee, raw and vulnerable, the meat of my flesh exposed. Always on the edge of tears, always trying to keep my feelings under control and not being able to. I felt out of place, because just existing seemed so effortless for other kids.
Because make no mistake, I was weird. Some days I just didn’t wash and didn’t bother to brush my hair, it all seemed so useless. If people talked to me, I would often start crying uncontrollably, because I couldn’t tell if they were taking a piss at me, or even worse, actually cared. My worldview had no place for people who cared about me. All I knew is that there was something deeply flawed, deeply wrong with me. But I didn’t know what it was.
My life sucked, and so, I made up a story for why it sucked. It had to do with me, and something horrible about me. Perhaps I was ugly. Truly and dreadfully. And once I decided upon that as my hypothesis, my confirmation bias neatly fell into place. I remembered every cruel remark:
“Are you a witch? Because you have a really big nose.”
“Why do you follow us? Don’t you know that nobody wants you around, nobody likes you?”
“Are you a bitch or a dude? Hey, I’m talking to you. ARE YOU a bitch or a dude? Because no one can tell.”
Or my favorite – “Do you see a psychiatrist? Because however often you go, it’s not often enough.”
I remember being so thankful that I got home before anyone else, so that I could go to my room and cry and clean up before anyone could see.
And that’s how I got to considering suicide at age 11. I’m told that’s fairly early. Actually, to me, if the age of reason is 7, it seems fairly late. Eleven is old enough to see the bullshit in the world. To think and to feel that it will never get better. To go through enough isolation and bullying to not want to go through anything more. The thing I remember most about 5th grade, besides math, was thinking about how I would hang myself outside the school. There was a bunch of young trees outside, young enough to climb. It would be easy.
But obviously, I never did, because I am here, writing this blog 30 years later. It took me a good decade to really get out of the throes of depression. It took me a long time to learn how to be a friend and to accept friendship. It was probably one of the most healing lessons I have ever learned. That I–gawky, big-footed, big-nosed, and with glasses to boot–could actually be someone other people cared about. In all my imperfections, in all my hangups, the more I reveal my open soul, the more people let me into theirs.
That was the second lesson. Everyone has suffered, no one gets a monopoly on that. Some people definitely have a different level of grit – I must admit that I am a little embarrassed that I had no outside trauma to deal with. My worst obstacle has always been myself. I have heard many stories. Rape, being molested as a child, cutting, having rocks thrown at them, suicide – I have been a listening witness to many cruelties that were not my personal experience. And I am grateful to be so trusted. People know they can tell me anything.
After all, though, you finally get to a point where you let it go. All of it. If you’re going to end your life, or if you’re not, you make your peace with that decision. Then you move on, because the limbo state isn’t sustainable. Somewhere around 16, I decided that I probably wasn’t going to end it. I still had fantasies of course; the note, the way I would end it — but it was a daydream of not having to suffer anymore. It took me another 5-6 years to finally get rid of that fantasy for good and really embrace the fact that I was going to live.
What is funny is that as the years have gone by and I decided to have children, I worry about it more. Not because I fear death, but because I know my kids love me. If I died now, they would be fucked up. Though I have warned them that if I’m 98 and have incurable cancer, I’m probably going to jump out of a plane and “forget” to pull the parachute. Just so they know.
So the strange thing is–the thing I can’t let go of–is being insignificant or unimportant. I don’t expect to win a Nobel Prize or anything, but I would very much like to have some good impact in the world. I don’t know what, however–and I’m in my official 40s now, so the pressure is on. I remember someone telling me that in the Hindu worldview, you have kids and then as they grow older, you can devote yourself to spiritual pursuits. Everything in its own good time. I feel a bit like that. I enjoy having kids – it’s great fun and awe to experience the world through young eyes – and yet, it’s not everything I want to experience. I love my kids, but I can’t say that they complete me. Just like a lover or a friend, I don’t know the trajectory of their lives. Will it be in parallel to mine? Will it only intersect and then diverge? Sometimes the people who have the most influence on us are not the people we’re destined to have Sunday dinners with.
That is, of course, the strangeness of [our] Time. We remember the past, but know nothing of the future. But if it doesn’t matter anyway (and I mean that in both the positive and negative sense), then the meaning is in the traveling, the experience of life. If Death is the equalizer of us all, then enjoying our personal journey, and helping others to enjoy theirs, is all that really matters. Maybe our stories will last for a generation or two, our DNA longer, but eventually it all fades and disappears into the noise of a billion lives. Somehow this makes me feel better and not worse–but then again, I always was an iconoclast.