You’re alone and you’re still up on the wee-hours – a perfectly conducive circumstance for your pre-sleep ritual. You lay down on your bed and you’re just there with eyes fixed on the ceiling or head covered with the cold side of the pillow. You start making up scenarios in your mind – your plans, your could’ve-beens. You direct a mini-movie with a loved one where you dictate the dialogue. You’re in control of all that’s happening. At times, you end up contemplating about life in general; varying every night within the wide spectrum of life’s more significant affairs.
My hands are itching to write about this bothersome reality that has been preying on our minds from time to time. Something beyond human control. Those times when we witness (or just avoided) an accident, when we comfort a friend who lost a loved one, when we’re too stressed out and we end up questioning what is it really all about that we scramble too much and chase after worldly stuffs when someday we’re gonna leave ’em all anyway, or when we’re enjoying the family time and suddenly we ask ourselves until when are we gonna enjoy the bliss of having them all around us. This thing sometimes veils itself behind our fears; Fear of getting infected with this new strain of virus, fear of being in the next to-be-hijacked plane, fear of the darkness, the depths of the oceans, wars and rumors of war, even fear of things that don’t exist and a whole other bunch of paranioa-induced imaginary things.
You start to be health-conscious. You take precautionary measures. You keep yourself vigilant and informed. You’re not alone. Science is in pursuit of immortality or at least pushing life expectancy higher – cryogenics, high-pressure oxygen chambers, advanced medical technologies, reinforced cave or underground dwellings – name it all. Eventually, everyone will be weary, and then you realize how fragile and vulnerable life is. Even in the absence of external determinants – accident-causing mechanical failures, terrorists, lightning bolts and super typhoons, among others – internally, you do not have any sort of assurance whatsoever that you’re gonna be around tomorrow or even in the next few seconds. You start to think about the things that you have done. You start thinking about your family, the remaining days of your parents and how are you gonna compensate the time unspent together. You start to think about all the people close to your heart. What if they suddenly stop existing? or what if you suddenly stop existing? You start to think of where are you really sailing your ship, what kind of footprint are you gonna leave, what are you really after for and what happens when everything comes to pass. All of these stuffs point to a common bottomline – Death.
We are not really afraid of getting sick, we’re afraid of dying because of the sickness. We’re not afraid of getting into a flight headed for a dive in the ocean, we’re afraid that we’re bound for a 0.0002%-chance plane crash death. We’re not really afraid of the ocean deep, but of what’s in it and what is it gonna do to take away our lives. We’re not afraid of the dark, but of someone or something in there that’s gonna drag our feet and devour us. We’re not afraid of war, but of dying from a stray bullet or a grenade thrown at our very own front yard. All of these things have the same salient point – our fear of dying. From a typical mindset, this is kinda terrifying reality that we all have to face. Picturing either ourselves or a loved one in that situation, it’s a terrifying thought for us. Death is just lurking around the corner. It’s scythe is only a few millimeters above our necks while we’re asleep. Nobody stays. This is one of those absolute rules where there is no exemption. Whether we die and decay or taken by a chariot of fire straight to the heavens, we don’t get an eternal residence permit on this planet.
The 24th of March, 2014, marked the presumption of death of the 239 people on-board the ill-fated MH370 flight. Along with them, around 150,000 other people from the rest of the planet faced the sting of physical death on that same day. This statistics includes the English author John Rowe Townsend, a Ukrainian activist, a Brazilian guitarist, an American illustrator, and probably a few ordinary and historically insignificant people from my and your hometown. All lived different lives and gave varied contributions. All died in an ordinary day. This is an everyday truth. It’s just that only the unusual and personal tragedies have more significance to us. Hence, we react differently. The famous and the ordinary eventually pass away – in published and unpublished manners. Everyone is as ephemeral as a wave tossed in the ocean.
What are we doing, by the way? Establishing our security from our soaring career and high-paid jobs, strong foundation and walls of our three-storey residence, bank accounts, what else? We resolve into these reasons to give solace to ourselves by obscuring away the fact that life is indeed fragile and that certain things are beyond our control.
When all is said and done, these aren’t the things that will matter. When my whole family was watching a sunset on the beach during my birthday, I remember my mother seeing herself as the setting sun and her whole life suddenly flashing before her eyes. She realized she’d be gone soon and told me to take care of Ishi. On the opposite face of the planet, probably some rich man on his death bed had also been making sure his family is in good situation before he leaves this world. One day, at the twilight of our lives when we are too weak to engage ourselves with the things that temporarily steal our minds from the opportunities to contemplate, we will be left to face the question of what things should have been prioritized, who do we want to have been remembered as, or what purpose should have been fulfilled by our existence.