My death is one of the few things in my future that I can be completely certain of. There is no way out, no Plan B, no last-minute rescue, just the absolute certainty of dying.
I don’t know what will happen to me when I die. I have to rely on belief. My belief is that I stop, that I cease to be, that there is nothing of me left to experience or remember or hope or act. I’m done. I recognise that this is a self-serving belief in that it gives me comfort. It frees me from the myths of Heaven and Hell and gifts me the right to be nothing at all.
I don’t know when or how I will die. I hope it won’t be soon. I hope it won’t cause me and those around me more pain than it has to. I hope I meet it well. I refuse to hope that it won’t happen.
When I’m faced with uncertainty, I turn to the numbers. I’m sixty now. If I make it to sixty-five then the stats say that, on average, I’ll be dead before I reach my eighty-fifth birthday. Given my family history and my own health, I’d expected to reduce this figure to slightly below average, so I’ll go with dying at eighty. Which gives me twenty years to live, the last ten of which are likely to be lived with reduced mobility, strength, health and stamina, making my next ten years the most productive that I have left.
I am fortunate to have enough money that, subject to the world’s economic system not collapsing, I could stop working now and not have to live my final years in grinding poverty.
The rational side of me, the part that has always felt the gravitational pull of my own death curving my personal spacetime continuum, had planned to stop working at the start of this year. I was going to go home, to focus on living well while I can, to slide down the gravity slope towards my death with as much grace as I can manage.
Yet, I’m still working.
I blame this on three things: momentum, inertia and a failure of my imagination.
Although I lack the math truly to understand physics, I’ve often found the metaphors it provides a useful way to view the world. I imagine my life as a complex but unified object that has increased in mass as the years passed. My life has a direction, a vector that charts my path through Minkowski space. As each year increases my mass, my inertia increases, with it, making it harder to change the direction my momentum is carrying me in, unless there is a dramatic increase in the “frame-dragging effect” of my own death like a significant injury or illness. In other words, if I want the direction of life in my sixties to be different from life in my forties and fifties, I have to exert significant force on it.
This has proved to be difficult. I have discovered that my life does not come equipped with brakes. Like a runner on a treadmill, the life I lead requires me to keep up a certain pace or fall. It turns out that I’m not brave enough to let myself fall.
If I refuse to fall, then the only way for me to change course is to jump. This is where my imagination fails me. I cannot see the life I would jump to.
It seems to me now that I have two options, I need to find the time and the focus to imagine a life I can embrace or I need to leap in the dark.
I’d prefer not to leap in the dark unless I absolutely have to. I’d rather build a picture with enough force to change my path, quickly and irrevocably.
So, what do I want my life to be like?
I want to love and be loved. I want as much time with my wife as I can get. I want friends. I want to touch the lives of the people in the community I choose to live in.
I want to read and read and read and to write something others will want to read.
I want a simple rhythm to my life without falling under the tyranny of routine. I want to cook and eat and feed others. I want to walk. I want to feel the wind coming in off the sea, gloriously unstoppable and oblivious. I want to do something more than look after me and mine. I want to help without losing myself to the anger of politics or the despair of overwhelming service.
See what I mean? There’s nothing tangible there. It’s not wrong but it’s not real. There’s no ME in it.
I need to rid my imagination of the need for a narrative, for my life to have a design and a purpose and allow myself to just be. Sadly, that goes against years of habit.
Perhaps writing fiction will help. Sometimes it has proven to be the best way for me to listen to myself.
The clock is ticking. There are things to do and things to stop doing. I just need to figure out which is which quickly enough to make a difference to the last part of my ride.