They Say It's Your Birthday
Hey, what's that over there. On the horizon. Looks like, what, a tornado? A vortex, swirling, zig zagging across the landscape, drawing ever closer, somehow, inexplicably, heading right for me, lookout, oh my god, watch out it's gonna hit me!
Damn. Another birthday.
I remember when birthdays were a big deal. When I was young, I got presents and when I grew up, I got to drink. Birthdays could excuse all kinds of atypical behavior and the supply seemed endless. Death? What is death?
Now? Birthdays are a death knell, an excruciating reminder that time can never be replaced and is, after all, always running out. Those markers along the way, the arbitrary value of a single day…at the end, there's no reason to celebrate. According to Pink Floyd:
So you run and you run to catch up with the sun but it's sinking
Racing around to come up behind you again.
The sun is the same in a relative way but you're older
Shorter of breath, and one day closer to death.
That about says it all, doesn't it? The allusions to death on "Dark Side of the Moon" are profound. I never recognized that until I piled up a whole bunch of years behind me. "I'm not afraid of dying"…
I have been thinking about death a lot lately, and I don't mean in a philosophical, enlightened frame of reference. No, my thinking about death has been all wrapped up in fear. I shit you not. I do routinely succeed in dealing with my fears, but with number sixty-three in a handful of days, and the knowledge that lifespan for the year of my birth is sixty-six point four (seventy-two point eight for the ladies), I been freakin'. Serious!
Which is no way to live. Or is it?
In the past, I've had great success with the 'Last-Day-of-your-Life' approach. Invoke it on waking, hang on to it until sleep overtakes. It provides a unique perspective (though it's inordinately susceptible to being twisted) that brings all my values to the front and focus all my desires and beliefs through temporal lens. It's easy to be open minded and straightforward because, after all, you only have a matter of hours to live.
That little thought experiment has been very handy for compartmentalizing my thoughts on death—up to now. But now…
One thing you cannot understand, I don't think, is how fast time goes as you get older. It will accelerate endlessly, like the formation of the universe itself. The universe expands and speeds up—life parallels that condition, particularly when steeped in a linear conception of time. So, given the estimated life span, I'm practically over the event horizon on the black hole that is death. Going faster and faster till life's a blur, the final few days, weeks, months breaking down, no longer discrete units, just one big flash and then…ahhhhh. "So that's what dying is like."
And when you're distracted, it's hard to formulate the beliefs that open doors to new ways of thinking. Being in the middle of a pandemic, with death rising up all around you, makes it hard to tease apart the matrix of perceptions that, if undone, might free me from this recent bout of trepidation. It's hard to see, or to hear, about this phenomenon of time, this infinite acceleration, when you're trying to figure out how you're going to eat next week. Yeah, there's fear all around, and people just naturally pull in their antennae. Perhaps I err in my contention that such situations are distractions—when death and danger are so prominent, they become the prerequisites, the reality, the focus. The point is—this ain't no thought experiment. This be the consciousness. This be the universe, crashing down on everyone, not just me and my little death panic.
Part of my problem is I'm also disposed to hypochondria, particularly when it comes to breathing. Shortness of breath is indicative of Covid-19—and I can make myself feel difficulty breathing just by worrying about being short of breath. You feel me? It's a terrible handicap—if I watch a documentary on brain surgery to remove a tumor, my head will start hurting in the same spot as the tumor on television. What is that? Is there a scientific name for that neurosis?
When I was young, I never really liked going fast. Not in cars or motorcycles, not on snow or water skis, just never found the sensation of speed exhilarating, like some people. Now that I’m older?
I phucking hate it.