I haven’t always feared death.
As an 8-year-old, I didn’t think of death as something I would eventually need to encounter. You see, youth offers a guileless sense of invincibility – in the way of ignorance, inarticulateness and feigned courage. Juvenescence is a capricious siren, luring in unsuspecting sailors at sea to a bloody, barbaric fate. For lack of a better word, it has a perilous way of making you feel more. More optimistic, more courageous, more unyielding. More than you are. More than you will ever be.
But as I grew older, I learnt that humans are fragile and easy to kill. I learnt that the only appropriate reaction to the word death was wide eyes and pursed lips. A surreptitious glance to the left, then to the right – followed by hushed voices and an inescapable bloody mesh of dread that would soon entangle itself in my trachea, making it hard to breathe.
I learnt that I would never meet azzi again, even if I begged and pleaded and apologized for all the times I had lost my patience with her for embarrassing me in front of my friends. I learnt that someday I would hear mama’s voice for the last time and I could howl until the fucking earth trembled, but the universe still wouldn’t care. I learnt that death was loneliness and regret and goodbyes and uncertainty. It was the lifeless mist in Mickey’s gentle eyes and the dried blood around his whiskers. It was harsh light against torn corneas – unflinching, all-consuming, permanent.
You know, it’s almost funny how we run and hide from death – as if the musty, cockroach-infested passageway at the back of the storeroom will protect you from a fate decided long before your creation. Perhaps, that’s part of the problem. Our desperate, almost pathetic need to run away; to cling onto everything we’ve ever known and loved; our stubborn insistence that we fear death, even though we’re all subliminally aware (to some extent or the other) that it isn’t death we fear, but the uncertainty that accompanies it.
photo: aryan nair
I recently learnt that when you die, you experience 7 minutes of brain activity – during which, your brain plays back all your memories in a dream sequence. So if there’s anyone listening, will you please tell me if it is strange that I find comfort in this bizarre, and possibly fictitious phenomenon?
You see, maybe it is wrong of me to feel hopeful about re-living the night I trekked underneath a sky full of stars with a group of strangers I was only too comfortable with. The day I met my beautiful best friend for the first time. The last time I travelled home from secondary school in 2017. The day my best friends and I played cards under weighted blankets in a homely hotel room. Every time I shivered gleefully in a rickshaw as the July rain howled outside. Yeah, you’re right.
Maybe it is wrong of me to feel excited about the prospect of meeting my memories for a second time.
And this time, I’ll hold on to them a little longer – as tight as I possibly can.
Perhaps the reason I’m fascinated by the 7-minute flashback of memories, is because I would just really like my death to be a reminder that my life was happy and rich and all-encompassing. A reminder that I’m insignificant in the grand scheme of things – and someday, a hundred years from now, someone will think about me for the last time before I am forgotten forever. And just for the record, I’m still terrified of death, and dying, and losing the people I’ve come to recognize by the slant of their shoulders and the occasional quiver in their voices. I’m still scared, and I can only hope that 8 year old me will understand why. But I have hope too. I hope that death might be better than everything we’ll experience in this lifetime. I hope it’ll be painless and accommodating and less lonely. And I hope that when we re-live our memories for 7 minutes, our hearts will be so, so full. And we will finally feel more again.