So you want me to open a Facebook account, start twittering? I just can’t do it. And it is not just because I’m trying to take a stand against social networking or faceless technology. It is because it would bum the hell out of you. Here’s the truth that I’m going to get off my chest once and for all. Goddamn this keyboard to hell… once my fingers get going there’s no stopping them… endless typos will ensue, fuelled by caffeine and Electrelane.
Since I returned from my last visit home, I’ve been in a funk. Some might call it depression and prescribe me anti-depressants. But I think of it as the beginnings of an awakening…. Hopefully…
Literally, one day a few months back, I woke up and finally understood, that I am going to die. Whether it is of a heart attack at age thirty-seven like my grandfather Mervyn, or whether I will live through my nineties, dribbling away in a nursing home, like my wife’s grandmother Jean currently is. One day I will die. It is obvious isn’t it? We all die. I’ve certainly, known a few living people who are now dead and it made perfect sense. I once saw someone get beaten to death. I’ve carried a coffin. I’ve mourned. I thought I knew who death was but did I fuck… Now I think I know.
It was probably sometime around February, when I put my daughter Medwen, to bed. She was afraid to sleep in her own room, afraid of the dark. “I just want to snuggle with you guys.” It broke my heart. Then I thought to myself, one day, this beautiful child, so full of life, will grow up, will get old and will die. And I asked myself, “Why did I agree to put a human being through this?” And I had no answer. Then I wondered whether I would see her grow up and convinced myself that I myself, was dying.
I developed a crease in my ear lobe, which some people say is a warning sign of heart disease. That was it. I knew I was going to die within a year or so. With a family history of heart disease I was doomed. I chilled on the dairy intake and started running… and oh how I ran… I ran against death, snarling and spitting, running like I was seventeen again, up and down the mountain. FUCK YOU… I will see my daughter grow up… then my heart would slow down after running but the anxiety would return… heart palpations, panic, dread, lying awake, waiting to be taken from existence.
I’d attempt to get through my daily routine and it all seemed so worthless. How can we be having such an inane conversation when we’re dying, I’d think. Why do I even go to work? If I’m going to die, maybe I should just get the anxiety over with and get on with it. Once, I’m gone all this turmoil will be left behind anyway…. But where am I going? As a self-confessed atheist, I panicked about non-existence and set the viscous circle spinning again. So obviously I can began demanding a meaning from existence. There has to be some point to this seemingly cruel cosmic joke, I posited to the ominous clouds above. And I dwelled and dwelled on it. I still dwell on it.
I told my wife, I was going on a spiritual quest and she feared I was going to pack my back-pack and hitchhike to India but I knew that it was far more arduous of a journey and that no geographical location would make the shite bit of difference. I told her, that I needed to be around religion for a while. Again, as I self-confessed Atheist, this surprised me more than her. And then she said, “Just don’t start going to church.” Even though, I knew I’d never look to rediscover my Catholic boyhood, I wanted to be around people who dwelled on things beyond this physical existence that is tangible only to the five senses. So I read some books, everything from Atheist texts disproving there is a God to Taoist texts to Buddhist self-help guides to histories of world religions to Deep Ecology. I realized my atheism was largely a political stance. I didn’t really care that deeply about atheism but in our current geo-political climate a secular approach to world affairs and human relations it seemed the only sane angle to take. I could no longer deny, certain ‘spiritual awakenings’ I have experienced throughout my life, that I might bore you with at a later date.
So all the reading helped some, and I took solace in the communalities between various religions and spiritual paths and started constructing my own personal and private unifying theory of life and death.
I began to live life again or at least try to. I’d still wake up surprised I was alive and breathing but I could at least tackle daily existence. I went camping one weekend with two friends. It was great, we camped, surfed, got sunburned, rode skateboards, hung on the beach, cooked tuna which one of us caught, made man talk and drank some beer. I said to myself, this is life, this is living, this is an ideal weekend for me. And then a brutal wave of dread washed over me Maybe it is, BUt YOU ARE STILL GOING TO DIE.
I thought back to Medwen. I should be with her.
When she talks of death it is so matter-of-fact, it astounds me. She talks of death frequently. Our dead cat, whose ashes we have on the shelf. She loves to talk about how he died of stomach cancer and how we had him cremated, so Mummy can keep him close. She even told Alison, “Your grandmother, will die soon.” She was compassionate about it but it didn’t faze her. She is OK with it all.
I remember when Medwen was born, she wasn’t breathing when she came out. The midwife worked her arse off to get baby breathing. I was shitting myself and then she breathed but no crying. That first night, we had to watch her continuously to make sure she continued to breathe. My wife, recovering after a 24+hour labor took to some much-needed sleep and I sat up holding Medwen. She was smaller than my forearm. I was hunched over a chair just staring at her for hours. Then I put my forehead to hers and I can’t really describe what I felt but that it was a wave of comfort that told me everything was just fine and as it should be. I read somewhere that growing up, a human being essentially unlearns comfort with and understanding of the true nature of existence. All the clutter of the daily spectacle, ambition, desires, goals, materialism, ego pile up on each other and then we’re fucked.
Anyway, with my head back in the clouds I was back to square one. No longer expecting the imminent heart attack but still near-paralyzed by the course of life. I wanted to drown these heady concerns with booze, with surfing, with skateboarding but I knew there was no going back. I’d embarked on something there was no turning away from. So I took it head on but not like when I was running up the hill trying to show death how indestructible I was. Nor did I surrender to the tragedy of life. But I finally accepted this is how it is, how it always has been, and how it always will be for everyone and every living thing before and after me. Now I wake up and I remind myself and meditate on the unquestionable truth that one-day I will die and that this is all temporary. Seems so simple but try it. Take a deep breath and say to yourself, you are going to die.
My acupuncturist reminded me that while all this spiritual contemplation is necessary and healthy, I have still been given a physical body and I still have to live. With this, I’m still trying to move forward. While it has undoubtedly been a very egocentric journey, I don’t really know how one is supposed to control their ego without a very thorough examination of it.
For now, I’m trying to break the stubborn adhesion to material things, desires and ambitions. I feel more patient with people. And I’m trying to be generous and compassionate because those attributes make tangible sense beyond spiritual brownie points.
All this has led me to a very difficult place in terms of art. I’ve taken a break from writing for obvious reasons. But, I think I hope I eventually get back into a head-space where I can create some worthwhile crap again.
I’ve always thought that writing was like an internal cleansing and mental, emotional and spiritual exercise,, while surfing and skateboarding were the physical expressions of the same thing.
I never stopped surfing or skateboarding. But I have stopped trying to force them. I used to catch a good wave and really hope my friend saw it. Or I whacked a good top turn and get really stoked but then get depressed that it was over and that when I die, that top turn will be nothing to nobody. Now I don’t care. It almost makes me smile, that it all disappears as it happens. And you know what, in some ways I think I’m surfing and skateboarding better than ever. Finding some real ‘Flow’- at least in my head. Hopefully, the writing will eventually follow suit.
And I thank death for forcing me to face it because now I think I might be able to really start living and if I’m lucky help a few other people do the same.
Now you tell me, just how the fuck am I supposed to blog and twitter about this type of shit?
Hey, I never popped any happy pills.