In highschool I became fascinated with sleep. No, I don’t mean that I spent a lot of time sleeping. I was actually routinely underslept throughout highschool. Rather, I thought about the idea of sleep a lot during my waking hours.
This is the thing that fascinated me: when I fall asleep, I completely relinquish conscious control over myself. I am no longer self aware, no longer thinking, no longer feeling. Yet somehow when I wake up (a thing that happens outside my conscious control) I’m still me. I still have the same memories, same interests, same skills, etc. But now I feel even better for having rested, more energetic and more alive.
Forget all the science for a moment and think of the personal experience of it. As far as you are aware, you stop existing. Then you pop back into existence some time later and think “Man, I sure am glad I stopped existing for 8 whole hours.” Humans are weird.
Over the past few months, I was the most sick I have ever been. For a couple weeks I could barely eat, was loosing weight, and in pretty routine stomach pain. It seems that what I was dealing with was the physiological consequences of anxiety, which is now being treated effectively. During the worst of it, however, I couldn’t do much more than lie on the couch and hope I wasn’t dying.
I couldn’t do the things that make me me. I had no energy to read, write, sing, or act. As far as I was concerned, I wasn’t me anymore.
Then after it was all over and I started getting better, suddenly my motivation to do things had grown. I started spending a lot more time reading and my desire to do other things increased.
All throughout this journey, I spent an unhealthy amount of time thinking about death. Death is scary. Death is unknown and unpleasant. Death is the ultimate release of all our control, all our awareness, and all the things that make us who we are. And though none of us can claim to have perfect knowledge of how it works, most human beings believe in some kind of life after death.
We sleep, but something sustains us. We fall, but something catches us.
And it reminds me of the words of Christ when he said “He who loses his life for my sake will find it.” There is the unpleasantness of surrendering to something, but the story doesn’t end there.
While I was sick I had to have a procedure done for which I was sedated. When they administered the anesthetic, I was out in seconds and completely out of my control. Then the next thing I knew, before I was aware of sights or sounds of the recovery room, before I was even aware of my own body, before anything else entered my consciousness, the words “Our Father, hallowed be your name” flashed into my mind. Then slowly my mind drifted back into the recovery room and I ate a slice of pizza and my mom was there.
If this is a picture of what death is like, maybe I can spend a little less time being afraid of it and a little more time enjoying life.