Thursday, January 25, 2007

The End of Consciousness

The funeral last weekend got me to ruminate on something I used to obsess about: death. When I was growing up, the thought that I'd cease to exist one day scared the hell out of me -- often to the point of paralysis. Of course, I first had to grasp the concept before I could be scared by it.

I remember with vivid clarity the moment I came to understand what it means to die. I was at a church camp in Huntsville during the summer between third and fourth grade. (When my family first got to the States, we went to church regularly. Being Buddhist didn't mesh with the fabric of our Americanized social circle. Let's put aside my current views on religion for another day.) At one of the morning Bible study sessions, the topic of discussion was the concept of heaven and what happens to your soul when you die. The whole thing just didn't make sense to me.

That night, I attended a mixer that was really intended for older kids. I felt out of place and went outside with one of my buddies -- a buddy whose family attended church not to fit in but because they were believers. (Or so it seemed to me anyway.) I figured he must've understood the Bible study session that morning better than I did, so I asked him to explain what happens to us when we die. I found his response unsatisfying, and I must've let it show, because he took off and went back inside.

As I stood there on my own, I stared up at the sky and saw the many stars staring back at me. Just then, it hit me. I'm not going to be able to remember any of this one day. I won't be able to think anymore one day. I'm going to lose consciousness forever one day. That realization scared me, but it also angered me, because it all seemed so senseless.

I don't remember so vividly what happened next. But I do remember lying in bed many a night afterwards praying to a God whose existence I doubted for his grace in not letting me die.

An even more devastating moment came a few years later, when I learned that the sun would one day cease to shine. Before that moment, I took some solace in the thought that, even when you die, your legacy stays behind -- whether in the memories of others, in the things that you've written or in the form of your children. When I learned that the sun would one day cease to shine, I understood that, one day, the world would cease to exist. That realization seemed even more senseless than the realization that I'd die some day.

I suppose it's little coincidence that I eventually discovered and grew to admire Camus. As he puts it: "There is but one truly serious philosophical problem, and that is suicide." I guess, even as a kid, I was already an existentialist.

Epilogue

This just came to me. I wish I had my heavily marked-up copy of The Stanger handy so that I could insert direct quotes, but paraphrasing will have to do. (I lent that copy to my sister, which essentially means that I sent it into a black hole.)

While Meursault was in prison, an official became annoyed with his godlessness and demanded to know what he wanted in the afterlife. Meursault's response?

To remember this one.

7 comments:

dchen said...

as i kid (and even now), what really scared me about death was that my parents would not exist one day anymore... that used to keep me up at night all the time... now i have other sleeping problems unrelated to matters of life or death. (more like noise or stress)

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