Growing up in a traditional Mexican home, I was presented with death at a very early age. Some might take this to mean I saw gruesome and vile things. In reality, I just went to a lot of funerals. Plenty of extended family members, plenty of older members of that extended family. A 4:00 AM revelry from Mami Garcia was not out of the ordinary. “Wake up! Your cousin’s uncle’s brother passed away! Your Tio Armando! We have to go!” This was typically proceeded by a road trip across the U.S./Mexico border to, what felt like, an all-day event. I can’t tell you how many funerals I’ve been to in my lifetime, but I’d venture to say it’s north of 20. A majority of these being before the age of 15.
Why am I telling you this? Mostly to tell you I know you’re going to die, so am I. I thought I had accepted death at the age of 15. I had a rude awakening at the age of 33. I had my first experience in a sensory deprivation tank. If you aren’t familiar, I highly recommend looking up a float tank business in your area and experiencing it.
I took my foam earplugs and squished them between my fingers, rolled them up, and shoved them into my ears while pulling on the top of my ear to make sure this foam nodule was securely placed. I stepped into the salty 98° water, closed the hatch to my egg-shaped container, and floated peacefully on the water. As I lay there in complete darkness, utter silence, and unable to feel anything due to the water being the same temperature as my body, I realized the only reason I could tell I was floating was due to the feeling that I was spinning around. Logically, I knew this was impossible. The tank I was in wasn’t big enough to allow me to spin. So I talked myself through it “well, you aren’t spinning, and you know that, so regardless of what your senses are trying to get you to believe, you aren’t spinning.” I came to a standstill. As I rested on my back, a few thoughts came to the forefront of my mind. “I can’t see anything, I can’t smell anything, I can’t feel anything, and I can’t hear anything…there is nothing…this is what it’s like to be dead…holy shit I’m going to die…”
It was at that precise moment the reality of my mortality truly hit me. This is what, as far I factually know, death is like. Absolute nothingness. Tears began streaming down my the side of my face as the thought of nothingness swallowed my mind. After about four minutes, I sincerely accepted my mortality and the words of an aphorism I had seen in passing finally made sense.
The thought of dying doesn’t bring me the fear it probably should. I know we all die, and I remind myself of that every day, every few hours, sometimes several times an hour. Memento Mori. What strikes fear in my heart is placing my back on my death bed and meeting eternal sleep with all of those hopes, dreams, wishes, whimsies, ideas, and dreams and never having acted on them. When I meet The Black Racer I want to know I’ll have nothing left to fight with because I’ve already given it all. We shouldn’t live with these hopes and dreams stymied within us.
Don’t go to sleep with that song in you only to have never sung it. Meet the grave with an empty wishlist by marking something off it each day. Life is a zero-sum game because we all die, but that doesn’t mean you don’t get to look death in the face and say “I didn’t win, but I had the better fight.”