In an infinite universe, anything is possible
If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, Infinite. For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things thro’ narrow chinks of his cavern.
William Blake, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell
When I was in third grade, I looked my teacher dead in the eye and said “In an infinitum, anything is possible.” I had been lying awake at night, considering all the variations of reality that could manifest in an infinite universe. I was nine.
At least I had progressed from where I was at age four, when I lay awake in terror of infinity because I had some idea of how big that was and I knew it was gonna eat me. That turns out to be true, actually – but not quite yet…
Tonight I stood beside my adorable little peacock blue 2008 Nissan Versa, jointly named Bluebell Flashlight by my daughter and granddaughter, six years ago when it was new, staring up between the bony, interlaced fingers of the walnut tree branches, bathed in the radiant winter glory of the stars and felt comforted.
For the first time, I didn’t feel like a tiny, insignificant speck, lost in all that empty, infinite loneliness. No, I had company. We are made of stardust and miracles – the very improbability of life – the stars are my mother and father, my sisters, brothers, aunties, cousins. The heavens are family to me and to all of us. They hear our secrets poured out under their kind gaze, they see our deeds and do not judge, but impart their glory to all with eyes that see.
I was so afraid of death and from time to time, I check in with myself to see if I still am and, indeed, there’s that icy finger of terror tracing chills up and down my spine. That’s as it should be – survival instinct wears the mask of fear and caution. Fear has kept me alive as much as anything else, including common sense.
I’m afraid because I fear pain and uncertainty. If I’ve died before, I certainly don’t remember how it felt. I fear nothingness – nonexistence. This self is so vibrant, so aware, and it’s worked so hard to evolve – to have it all thrown away when spirit no longer holds the flesh to the discipline of continued life is anguishing. This heart will cease to beat. My lungs will no longer draw air. When I think about it explicitly, it feels like suffocation, and that scares me walleyed. There’s a place for this. It keeps me appropriately cautious. We’re designed to want to live, after all, which is a conundrum, since we all will eventually die. Spirit will flee and flesh will succumb to the sway of entropy and lapse into disarray and then, ultimately, to dust.
At least from the outside, I know death. I’ve seen it happen. I’ve been present, fingers on the wrist of the departing, and felt the final, gentle beats of a ceasing heart, seen the last glimmer of a smile before corporeal reality ends. As odd as it sounds, it’s a bit like going to the dentist. The anticipatory fear is generally worse than the deed itself. Once you’re in that chair, novocain administered, it’s just something you do and you’ll get through it, willy nilly. Its process is independent of you now and it’s on its way, as, when you die, you will also be.
When you die, that’s just what you’re doing right then, and it’s actually okay. It’s the time leading up to it that’s the most frightening. Anticipation is almost always worse then the actual deed.
Creatures have more sense about dying than we do. No great surprise. They know more about love than most of us do as well. Dogs, for example, do not anguish over their mortality. Dogs live each moment as if it’s the only moment that’s ever been because, actually, it is – for us, too. We think we have a beginning, a middle and an end, when in fact, we are afloat in the endless now. All partitions are artificial conceptual contructs of the human psyche and this includes borders between countries, the surface of the earth and the sky above it, a wave and the water from which it springs – they are all one.
Dogs don’t fret over what-ifs. They do fret when we’re not there, over not having whatever it is we’re eating that smells so good, when one dog gets a treat that they don’t get. But dogs don’t worry about dying.
I wish I was as smart as my dogs, but it’s unlikely I will ever be. I’m not as good at loving, nor as good at living in the moment. I’m way too aware of self and the preciousness of my existence even as I realize that I am just one mote of stardust in a universe of glowing multitudes.
Perhaps it’s just that precious brevity that keeps it special. Even if I reincarnate, I will never be this person again, so I’d better cherish this life for all it’s worth – I won’t be passing this way in this exact form again. So I will look compassionately at all my fears and insecurities, embrace them with affection, and leap into the dance.
This is dedicated to all the beloved souls we’ve lost and hope one day to find again.