There is . . . no death. There is only . . . me . . . me . . . who is going to die . . . .
In a box in a corner, a very dark corner of the mind of each of us, is a voice. The voice says, “I am going to die. One day, I am going to die.”
We tend not to venture near that corner. We rarely listen to that voice. Sometimes it speaks to us so clearly and emphatically that we have to listen. When we’re sick, when we narrowly escape harm, when someone we know dies, we hear it speaking to us. We hear it more frequently as we age, as our bodies fail, as our cumulative experience of death increases. Sometimes the voice emits a powerful, powerful scream that shakes us mercilessly. When someone we love dies, the voice tells us that our life is forever altered, that there is no going back.
The voice reminds us that we are, like everyone else who ever lived, mortal, expendable. How we react to this voice, how we try to block it out, determines how we live our lives.
It is late afternoon on a crisp, clear spring day in New York City. Down the hall, through the 25th floor office windows, are visible hundreds of buildings—the breathtaking skyscape of New York. But the sight is tempered by a telephone call I’ve just received. A fellow worker is in the hospital, seriously ill. The shock of the news leaves me uneasy. I’ll visit him tomorrow.
My energies turn to a minor problem. Unexpectedly, I have an extra ticket to a play this evening; a friend has cancelled at the last minute. I don’t want the money to go to waste so I start calling people to see if anyone’s available. One by one they politely reject the offer; other plans and desires stand in their way. The fact that the play is Hamlet does not ease my task.
Each time I hang up the phone, I feel a mounting sense of isolation. Everybody’s readiness to do other things, to keep going their own way, in spite of my dilemma, is having a surprisingly intense effect on me. Each rejection seems terminal. I feel helpless, almost nonexistent. I can see how I’m overdramatizing things, but I can’t seem to help it. I’m gone.
After the fifth call I must stop. Exactly how I got there I don’t know, but I’m feeling the frightening sensation of what the world would be like if I were dead: how it would simply go on, impervious to my absence, just as it already seemed to be going on as if I weren’t there.