I’ve always been a little too acutely aware of my own mortality. As a child, I pondered death quite often. Not dying so much, but death itself. The state of being dead. Forever.
It was the permanence of death that weighed so heavily on me.
I tried to bargain with a God I didn’t believe in.
“I could be dead for a million years,” I’d offer, “but not forever.”
God said nothing back.
I knew what death looked like. I saw it once from the back seat of my mother’s car when I was about four or five. My mother was driving. Her friend Peter was in the passenger seat. Debbie and I were in the back seat.
I was looking out the window, thinking about death, when suddenly it appeared. Death was a vast grey void, a bleak landscape empty except for the skeleton of a single dead tree in the background, a whole lot of nothing, a whole lot of forever.
I didn’t say anything. I didn’t tell the others. Shortly after that, Peter committed suicide. I knew he’d been swallowed by this vast grey void and had become part of the nothingness forever. What I couldn’t understand was why he would willingly walk into that gaping maw of eternity. I was mystified that anyone would choose to do the thing that most terrified me.
While eternity was a disturbing concept to me as a very young child, by the time I was nine or ten, I took some comfort from the realization that we each have two eternities: the one before we are born, and the one after we die. I had already been not alive forever, throughout the beginning-less period of time before I was born. And I would be not alive forever once again, throughout the endless period of time after my death. Two eternities.
It made me feel better knowing I’d already lived through one of them, and it wasn’t so bad. (But a little voice in the back of my head kept reminding me that I’d only been through the easy eternity – the one without end would be much, much worse.)
As a teenager, I was convinced that the human species was going to die all together in a nuclear holocaust. The only question was when. Once again I tried to strike a bargain with a God I didn’t believe in.
“Let me make it to 40,” I said, “And I’ll go willingly after that.”
God, in His infinite and ageless wisdom, didn’t dignify my proposal with a response.
It’s funny, though, because I distinctly remember thinking that life after 40 wouldn’t be worth living anyway. Nobody over 40 looked like they were having any fun. They were just stuck in their stupid ruts, doing their stupid stuff, going to their stupid jobs, buying their stupid lottery tickets and going through the motions of life just for the pleasure of complaining about it.
I was a judgemental little shit, now that I think about it.
Anyway. The years tumbled by and in some ways my concept of mortality didn’t change all that much since I was five years old, although, fortunately, my concept of life after 40 did.
Finding out I had cancer changed everything. I locked eyes, briefly, with my own mortality. I’m going to write about it someday soon.
In the meantime, I’m curious to know how the rest of you thought or felt about death when you were children.