There is no loneliness like the loneliness of the dying. When it happens to us, we are all the same, we are all united, and we are all alone.
As a teenager, I remember vividly fearing death.
I think this started when I read about black holes, and how a fall into them could take an infinitely slow amount of time for an outside observer. This instilled an early fear that death, the decoherence of the soul, may in fact be an infinite act.
Imagine, time stretches to a creep as the mind, the atomic pearl of consciousness, is never able to disappear fully, and pays the price for being born by forever never-ending. Removed from all the sensory delights that bought it distractions, it falls infinitely into a dark, quiet, lonely abyss. Death could be infinite for you, and quick for the outsiders. The opposite of the astronaut falling inside the black hole.
I was a happy kid, even with these thoughts. The fear always kept slumbering however, this fear of an infinite death.
It is funny how these thoughts do not so much grow like seeds, but they are suddenly there, during a harmless walk through a park, they come and stay, and forever change you.
In my twenties, I got accepted for a summer job at the University’s faculty of Musicology, a small research group where every day felt like a chapter of a novel. Any novel really; a crime story, a tale of romance, an alien invasion thriller… All imaginable stories would weave freely inside this forgotten attic of an old university building, and around its six inhabitants that could not have been more different from each other.
The geeky nine-to-five programmer who never changed outfit; the long, slender cellist goddess whose eyes were always closed; the gorilla librarian; the handsome multi-instrumentalist who I was sure had an affair but I was never sure if it was with the cellist goddess or the timid psychologist girl with the overly large glasses, — or with both, — and, in the middle of the stage, the leader of the group; a fifty-year old professor in complete denial of his age, who I remember dancing on his office desk when a new grant had been approved.
All of them beautiful, richly beautiful people.
Working there was actually quite fundamental in my maturity, and in some ways it feels like a large part of my life began there. Like an adventure at Hogwarts, I had never heard of this faculty before joining them, and have never heard of them since that summer ended.
The night of celebrating the conclusion of our project, we opened a crate of wine, I remember it being a Chianti, and we started sharing insecurities in the way that drunk people do. I ended up talking for a long time to one of these six musicologists, who told me, confessionally, about their unnatural fear of death.
This person explained how, one day, they felt a fear of dying and could no longer get themselves out of bed. For months they stayed bedridden like this until, with enough therapy, the problem went away.
I will never forget the fever in this person’s eyes as they brought them close to mine and the air got stuffy with exhaled alcohol, when they confessed, inside the confession, that the fear was still there and that it always will be.
This left a deep impression on me, and awoke my old fear of eternal death.
Don’t get me wrong, as much as I was a happy kid, I was a happy young adult, and this fear was just healthy background noise, a conversation piece for drunken philosophical nights with friends more than anything else. I no longer drink but, writing this, I do miss these evenings with friends and will cherish their return.
Later, I guess when I was twenty-five and more experienced in life, I remember reading about Quantum Immortality.
This is a thought exercise that grows out of one perspective of explaining the collapse of quantum physical wave equations, by way of a “many-verse” concept.
Basically, quantum physics, which is the measurable way that things work, and is ultimately very strange, could be a lot less strange if the universe just tends to split into a lot of parallel universes at every microscopic event, again and again. Different, parallel versions of you would end up drifting apart, in a mushrooming of alternate realities upon alternate realities.
It is one very effective and simple way of getting rid of some of the aspects of quantum physics that can be very disturbing if you would consider everything happening inside one universe.
One interesting reflection in the many-verse model is what happens to your own consciousness when it is faced with death, such as the inevitable death of being close to a nuclear bomb as it explodes.
At the brink of death, the universe will keep splitting in alternate realities, but because of the infinite nature of probabilities in quantum physics, there will always be a reality where you are still alive somehow, or at least where your consciousness is able to “be” and observe the reality around it. Yet, because this is the path where you still can observe this reality, you will keep surviving in such a path. As such, you would never die, something would always happen that keeps you observing.
As a young adult I was already quite aware that this is not such a fantastically happy tale of immortality as it may seem.
Nothing in this theory after all prevents you from being completely maimed, or, from ultimately falling into a black hole and experiencing the infinite death, my original fear conjured back to life, the singularity as the only solution to the equation of the universe and the soul.
This almost floored me. I think I was never in danger of completely losing myself in anything like that, but I clearly remember not being able to resolve the dilemma, and, once again, being frightened of death not so much for the loss of life, but for the infinite darkness that might await me.
Only later, with more insights and slightly different opinions about what it means to be conscious, I was able to assuage the possibility of the many-verse theory in general, and the concept of an unraveling consciousness more specifically. I elaborated about this before, you can find it in my history on this page — the post is called the Immortal Soul.
Years later, I experienced death up close, losing the man who had given me life. I remember thinking clearly how lonely death is, in this solemn moment that is not a moment at all but an explosion of tiny meaningful moments.
Death is lonely. Whoever is there to hold your hand, ultimately they are not holding on fast enough, and you are on your own for the final part, a loneliness that cannot be compared to any you might face in life.
For us survivors, death may have an end, but who is to say what it is like for the dying?
Now, I no longer fear death. Early in this pandemic, I have, as much as any of you, felt a pang of fear. A fear of destruction, for collapse of civilisation, and I held this fear and looked up close into it and saw that it was a fear for my family and not so much for myself, not any longer. I seem to have grown out of this old fear, without realising when exactly this happened.
I have loved in life, I have given a lot of what I can give, although I have certainly not loved and not given enough. The mysteries of life and of love are vast, deep, infinite, if you only know how to look.
This infinity does not seem to drive us mad, on the contrary, it feels in every way as a home. Therefore, I no longer fear infinite death.
It would be my fate as much as it is yours, and perhaps I would ultimately have the time to find new life within this infinity.
Let’s end this with the words of Hunter. S. Thompson, who now knows more about death than we do, and who, as he was want to, added a touch of wisdom at the end:
“We are all alone, born alone, die alone, and — in spite of True Romance magazines — we shall all someday look back on our lives and see that, in spite of our company, we were alone the whole way. I do not say lonely — at least, not all the time — but essentially, and finally, alone. This is what makes your self-respect so important, and I don’t see how you can respect yourself if you must look in the hearts and minds of others for your happiness.”