Listen, and I will tell you a tale, every word of which is true:
One night, not so long ago, I woke up in a strange mental state.
The darkness was absolute. Not the kind of darkness one usually sees in the night, but total, liquid dark, dark so absolute that one felt one could reach out and touch it, a velvety liquid darkness that would have entered my lungs at every breath, if only I were breathing.
But if I were breathing, I could not feel myself breathe. I could not feel my chest, my arms, my legs. I could not will myself to move.
If I were living, I was not aware of it.
And I thought, this is Death; I am dying, or I am dead.
And I was not afraid, for what is death, if it is only the dark?
(But I wished I could have talked to you, once more, to have heard your voice, if only for a moment, to say goodbye.)
And I lay there in the darkness, and it came to me that death was even less than what I had thought a moment before –
For what are we, but sparsely-furred apes crawling over a skin of mud on the surface of a small planet on an outer rim of an undistinguished galaxy, revolving around a small, middle-aged star? What are all the achievements we boast of, our wars and conquests, our civilisations and culture, compared with that? And since we exist but a moment, not even a blink in the history of time, of what importance is it when we are all gone?
Listen, listen to what I am telling you, of what I thought when I lay dead, or dreaming.
And then I remembered that even that is giving us too much credit, for we are not even just apes; for each of us is a metropolis, a trillion bacteria and protozoans, mites and viruses, all going up to make the uncertain biological machine that is us – and even that is not who we are;
For all those are made up of chemicals, uncertain sloshing tubs that go to make us who we are; and those chemicals, in turn, are made up of atoms, and those atoms are made up of mostly electrical charges and furthermore: quarks and gluons, held together to form the wisp-thin shells of electrons and the infinitesimal dots of the nucleus,
Electric charges and empty space, that is what we are, that is what it all is.
No wonder, I thought, that people need to believe that there is something greater, no wonder they need faith in religion and spirituality, because the truth is too pure and bleak to handle. The truth is the ultimate in nihilism, because no effort is ultimately worthwhile, no glory even fleeting. The stories I write, the paintings I pour out, are as futile as the Pyramids, as evanescent as the sands of time.
Oh, listen, and I will tell you a little more.
And yet, that empty space and those electric charges that make up my body, they also create the emotions that go into making me who I am. They colour the grey grief in which I pass my days, they dig wells for the tears that nightly soak my pillow. They make the pain in which I cry out when I dream of you.
What happens to emotions when we die? Do they return to the universe, as our own energies and material will, one day, when the sun burns this planet to rock and blasted ash?
And yet, in this instant in which I exist, this fragile organism composed mostly of empty space, I would want to pass it with you.
I thought this, all of this, as I lay in the liquid dark;
And in the end, it was another day.