“I used to be very scared of death, I’m sure you are too.”
It was with this sweeping generalisation that the young lady at the train station tried to convert me to her religion. I live in the Bible belt of my country, and occasionally people in the street, at the station or at the entrance of public buildings will try to tell you that Jesus is my Lord and Saviour and that I too can enter the kingdom of heaven.
“No I am not”, I said briskly, happy with the opportunity to break her rhythm. This was obviously not what she had anticipated on. Street evangelists are just like telemarketers, their pitch is based on verbally driving you into a corner.
“I’m not concerned with what’s going to happen to me after I die”, I explained. “The only thing I fear about death is the sorrow it would cause for the people I leave behind. My own mortality doesn’t bother me, that’s just the way it is.”
After telling that, our conversation withered and died (no pun intended) very quickly and we parted. Although my counter argument had been very active, it wasn’t a cunning lie to get rid of her. I really don’t fear the prospect of checking out at some point. It happens to all of us.
Because it does, right? Death is just a normal part of life and a logical, natural part of the cycle of life. I already decided years ago that I want this quote by Irish poet Thomas Moore on my gravestone: “And from my rotting body, flowers will grow. And I’m in them, and that is eternity.” It’s the most beautiful thing; we live on by the energy we provide for future life. It’s poetic, romantic, truthful and down to earth all at the same time.
I do enjoy life though, and I sincerely hope I will become very old. Simply because I want to have fun and do good things while I can.
When I go, I hope it’s quick and painless and that I don’t leave behind many people, because I wouldn’t wish for anyone the mourning of a loss.
However, there is another aspect to it, which I didn’t want to bring up with the evangelist lady at the terminal. The only thing that bothers me about my mortality, is that I won’t know what’s going to happen to the world in terms of science and the fate of humanity. It sounds cheesy, but I really want to know what’s going to happen to us, to earth, to our future. I don’t believe in an afterlife, but I would love it if there was a way to have a little window into life on earth after my demise.
If Only They Knew
I don’t mind that one day I’m gone and won’t be able to drink scotch or watch a movie or walk on the beach. But I hate the fact that humans are going to discover new things, invent new technologies, develop as a society, unravel the mysteries of life and the universe, and I won’t be there to hear it. It’s also what I often think about when I read about people in older times. Especially inventors or philosophers and the like. They died and they would never know (assuming there’s no afterlife or ghost world) how the world would develop. Leonardo Da Vinci would have loved to see all the things we invented in the centuries after his death. People that looked up to the sky and wondered about the stars and the planets but never lived to see us fly to the moon, soldiers that perished in battle but never witnessed the outcome of the war or could enjoy the victory they fought for, people that were born and died in the same rural village and never found out about the lands beyond the oceans. That’s something that fascinates and slightly scares me at the same time. Because I realise that I will be one of them at some point. That, in a few hundred years from now, a person will grow up with intergalactic travel, advanced genetically augmentation, groundbreaking political developments and will think about us with the same bittersweet sentiment: “Oh those poor souls! If only they knew!”
Maybe that’s why I always feel that jolt of excitement whenever something (potentially) important or meaningful happens in the world of science or on the geopolitical stage. I have a certain desire to witness at least one groundbreaking development in my lifetime. Something that changes our every day life. An event or discovery that will be put in the history books, that will later be defined as the start of a new era. I wish I could have more: I wish I could keep watching the world develop a hundred, thousand years more. Are we going to meet aliens? Will we replace buildings and transport as we know them now with something else? Are we going to create life? Develop virtual worlds or inhabit other planets?
My grandfather was born in 1889 and died in 1980. When he was a boy, there were no cars in the street, he had no radio or television and Austria-Hungary and the Ottoman Empire still existed. By the time he died, the world had seen two world wars and had developed a society with such things as videogames, punk music, cult cinema, space flight and nuclear weapons. I was born four years after his death, but I wish I could have asked him how he felt about all this. And I hope by the time I’m 90 I have witnessed a similar change in our world. There’s no way of knowing. Maybe we live right now in what later will be considered a stagnant, boring period of humanity. Because that’s possible, it happened before. Peasants in the dark ages lived and died in years that virtually changed nothing about the world and every day life. But that’s not a sort of time we live in right now, right? I really, really hope not. I wish for change, discoveries and wonders. That’s why announcements about exoplanets or other scientific breakthroughs excite me and make me anxious at the same time. It’s so cool! But will this development go fast enough for me to witness it in my lifetime?
I guess I’m just that curious. A similar feeling, though not as strong, is that I still regret sometimes that time travel does not and will not exist. At least not to a point where we can travel back to times before the invention of time travel. It’s a hard to please urge in me to learn about worlds and times that aren’t mine, fascinated by places and eras in which people live(d) so very, very different from me.
That is also the reason why I’m an apologist for the ill-received Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull. It’s that scene in the very end. When Kate Blanchett’s character reaches out to bright light and whispers “I WANT TO KNOW.”