You know it's going to be a strange day when you wake up dead. This is a good thought, one that seems readily obvious, but it had never crossed through my mind till yesterday morning. Picture the scene: Me, munching a bagel, nursing a bottle of water and a headache. It was later than breakfast, too early for lunch, and not an " Easter" enough of day to be brunch. "Food" was all I ate by then. "Meals" had disappeared a long time ago.
I spotted him on his approach but not soon enough. He had me. I dread explaining how it is that I can't "spare a quarter God bless." I must look wealthy and charitable. Most days, I'm neither. For some reason though, I piss these people off, and for some other reason, I get pretty upset when they get belligerent. I do feel bad, because I would help them if I could, but I don't like to be attacked by strangers. Besides, I'm not exactly lying when I teel them that I have nothing to give.
This particular morning the bum stopped beside me, rather than taking the in your face approach. I stiffened and held my breath. Bracing myself for whatever spiel he had found to procure the greatest results, I took a mental inventory of my pockets for spare change. But he didn't ask me for money. He just stood there, sizing me up. Apparently I'd piqued his interest.
"You know it's gonna be a strange day when ya wake up dead."
I looked at him. He looked back. He nodded as if he was proud of himself and certain in his… prophecy? Assertion? Wisdom sharing? Then he winked at me as if satisfied that he had done something and done it well, and walked away. I exhaled slowly in relief. Maybe he was one of the wackier ones, dispensing learned advice and psychic help on the unenlightened masses. He sure was grinning though. And he had made his proclamation as if it was of the utmost importance - to me. I watched him as he walked down the street. He didn't accost a single other person. What made me special? Did I really look that lost? That… dead?
I received this "message" from the bum exactly 24 hours ago. I never did get answers to my questions, but I have become educated enough on the issue enough to take a stand. Everyone has. The bum was wrong, in part. More correctly stated: "you know that yesterday was a strange day on the day you wake up dead." Trust me, I'm right. Yesterday was a strange day. But you already knew that.
When I was a child my death had been a big concern of mine. I was constantly aware of it. Every time I awoke I felt that it would certainly be the last time. These thoughts didn't scare me so much as merely fascinate me. I spent my days in perfect calm, the picture of a well behaved, albeit quiet child. All the while, foreseeing my death in each moment that passed.
My obsession became such a fixture in my life that it was comforting. I could not not mull over my mortality. And I was blessed with a gruesome imagination. Odd twinges in my body were rapidly multiplying cancer cells. I could feel them worming their tumorous way through my organs, overtaking me. Nighttime brought vicious killers to lurk under my windowsill, just waiting to slice me to bits. I often played in my head the exact sound of the scream I would release when the knife tore through my young flesh.
But each morning found me quite alive and remarkably healthy. This did not fit with my morbid grand design. How tragic my death would be! Whether I wasted slowly away, ravished by disease, or died suddenly in some horrid accident, I knew my death would be as dramatic and touching as I was. The thought of it both scared and exhilarated me. Except I knew also that the chances of my skull actually being crushed in some newsworthy catastrophe were slim. So I took matters into my own hands, to some extent. My thoughts of death were so close to my heart that I took to acting out different ways to kick the bucket. I wanted to know what it was like to be dead. I started drinking medicine when I wasn't even sick. Mostly Motrin, because it tasted the best. Granted, I would only ever indulge in a dose or two at a time, but this seemed insanely rebellious to me. Every six year old knows that you never take medicine unless you're sick, and Mommy gives it to you.
A capful of Motrin was plenty to occupy my mind for a whole afternoon. Had I just poisoned myself? I knew that I wasn't really going to die from it but… what if? That itch on my toe, that tingle in my arm, those were the first signs of the drugs taking hold. I would sit somewhere and wait, getting more and more worked up as the moments passed and the tingle in my arm didn't subside. I'd torture myself with the thoughts of what was happening to me. My heart would race and I'd be stuck between the extremes of rolling my eyes at the ridiculousness of what I was doing and panicking, consumed by my will to live. Tumults of thought raced through my mind. If I told Mommy what I done, there was still time for her to take me to the doctors, still time for them to save me. Would another five minutes be too late? What would it feel like when my life slipped away? Yeah, you get the picture.
Well one dose of Motrin isn't enough to finish off even the frailest of six year old, and eventually I found better things with which to occupy my overactive mind. School got harder. I discovered dating, and angst, and I went off to fight all sorts of daily battles over the grand injustices committed against me by society, and my parents, and the opposite sex. Pretty usual stuff. Seeing as the mass murderers decided to leave me alone, I grew up, went to school, got a job, a family, a pension plan, so on and so forth. I did pretty well for myself, all in all.
I've never been able to give a good reason why I'd been so convinced of my impending demise as a child. It was one of those things you just know. I never wanted to be dead. That's important to keep in mind. And yesterday was a strange day. But you already knew that.
Now, I am not the person to give you any sort of scientific or scholarly explanation for what happened. Here is what I know: the world ended last night, in so many words, at 7:42 PM. Nothing explosive or spectacular, pretty much things just ended... like a light being flipped off before bed. No one knew about this until 6:28 the same evening. The day was a day, like everyday. It ran the regular cycles we both loathe and treasure, trying to make it to this soccer practice, that dentist appointment, grab another gallon of milk for breakfast, have the report on the boss's desk by morning. In retrospect, I find it funny now how we spend so much time being disgusted with our mundane routines when in the end they are what we hold most dear. But that's a story for another time.
Then suddenly, yesterday, it didn't matter. None of it mattered. We all looked at the sky and stopped whatever we were doing. We all knew exactly what was happening so no one needed to say a word. We just went home. The day had become so much bigger than itself when it become The Day of The Apocalypse. No one knew how to go about living through such a big day. Not that we cared much either.
At 6:28 PM yesterday evening, the first thing I thought of was the bum from that morning. What had he known then? What could he see that we couldn't? Did he know what was next?
Now, technically, the apocalypse isn't exactly what happened yesterday. I've recently learned that what has actually occurred is the eschaton, literally the end of the world. An apocalypse is just a revelation, a big change. (Would you expect any less than such pedantics? This is a suddenly popular topic of conversation.) But in my mind, a big change has taken place. And besides, apocalypse is twice as wonderful as the word eschaton.
At 7:30, I was lying in the grass, drinking wine, and waiting for the apocalypse. The world was quiet save for a gentle rumbling. The earth itself had been knocked free from its usual daily business and now was running like we used to, urgently purposeless all of a sudden. Imagine the very earth trying to settle its affairs. Not at all like the Emperor on his deathbed, but in the manner of the newly grown child leaving home for the first time to seek out their own way. Paying out their last regrets and apologies and well wishings. The earth was this child, a bubble of barely restrained excitement, nerves aflutter. Of course it was not paying a bit of attention to any of us. We always had been superfluous.
There was a certain complexity of feeling attained in those moments when we were sitting there on the cusp of something so big. Big, big, much to big for our limited human perceptions to grasp. Even Plato was struck dumb. The moments had never before contained such pregnant expectancy and subdued wonder. Outside, the wind sang a lullaby, like the eye of a summer hurricane. It could have whipped up and blown a tornado and I wouldn't have noticed. The squeeze of a hand had become the most important thing in my world. I'm sure different people dealt with it in different ways. But for me at least, there was nothing to say then, nothing to do, and nowhere to be.
I said that I never wanted to be dead. I would have rather lived forever, given the choice. But I can tell you now that I'm actually pretty happy about it. This "floating around with no corporeal form" thing is great. I can do whatever I want. And I have talked to an amazing number of interesting people. The Buddha, for one. And the bum. I saw him just a moment ago. He was stilling grinning, and wearing a very nice suit.
At any rate, with everyone dead, being dead yourself is even better. No one is sad, or missing you. You don't have to miss anyone. The world ended, so we're all dead, and we're all happy about it. The concept of heaven and hell and religion was pretty muddled down on earth. There isn't really any of that stuff. Death is more, a step beyond, like ice cream is a step beyond milk. I've turned into ice cream. Ice cream is nice. Yesterday was a strange day. But you know that.