This week I want to talk about a thing that terrifies human beings so much that they can't even acknowledge it most of the time. When it approaches, we can't even look it in the eye. We're forced, cowed into looking at our shoes, mumbling pathetically, attempting half-hearted comforts to each other and pretending it's not even there. Something so awful and final and unavoidable that it paralyzes the mind. This most fearful thing inspires religions, causes wars, and drives us to survive harder than any other single component of existence.
And that thing is oblivion.
Oblivion. It's a intense word, but it should be, because it represents an intense state of being (or not being, as the case may be).
I've known the word since I first read it as a kid, and intellectually, I know what it means, but to know a definition of a word, and to know the true essence of something are two matters entirely. "Not knowing" is how most of us get by.
I've always known what oblivion was, but I've never KNOWN what it was.
I recently experienced my first concious entrance into, and exit out of, oblivion and now, reflecting back on it, oblivion is one of the scariest things I've ever experienced, even if, at the time, it seemed like a warm, loving embrace...
I suppose when you examine it, we all experience oblivion in miniature every night when we go to sleep. We pass slowly from fatigue to a twilight nethersleep, and then into a state of nonexistence... but not truly. Most of the time there are dreams, various shallow states of consciousness, wakefulness, and even though our bodies rest, there's still a thread of connection to the conscious world.
That continuous connection is exactly what keeps sleep from being a true sense of oblivion.
The experience with oblivion I'm talking about, involves having been rushed in for emergency surgery recently. (I'm fine. I'm recovering nicely, thanks. So no worries there.) And even though there was some small trauma to the physical experience, the big take away for me was the intellectual and emotianal experience; the philosophical experience. The experience of being put under anesthesia. I remember at the time, telling the doctors that having them cut into me wasn't the issue. The issue was surrendering, and losing control. Of, essentially, not existing for a while.
I joked with the anesthesiologist as I was laying on the operating table, that I could really use a xanax. He laughed and said, "I got something way better than xanax. Here let me take the edge off for you."
Then suddenly I was high as a kite in the softest, coziest, most amazing way, but just for a few seconds.
And then I didn't exist.
It was all over.
I was gone.
There it was. Oblivion. She'd welcomed me into her warm, gentle embrace, and I'd melted into her like a tired child its mother's arms. And in the wink of an eye, I was gone.
There was no twilight haze. No drifting off. No slow descent into another state. I was just fucking gone.
And the weird thing is I didn't even know I was gone. I just was... gone.
The next thing I remember is blinking and coming to in the recovery room and someone said, "He's coming to now. Go ahead and bring her back." They were talking about my wife, and as she came to my side in the dimly lit post op area, I realized I never even knew what hit me. One second I'm flying high on the operating table, the next I'm waking up and it's over and it's hours later.
Maybe its because I'm a lousy sleeper and I have trouble getting to sleep and then trouble waking up, that I had this experience with the deep and immediate sleep that comes with anesthesia. I dunno. When I spoke to the anesthesiologist, he told me that the sleep involved in surgery is a much deeper sleep than we experience every night, so that we don't come to from the pain and body trauma that accompanies surgery.
But if you ask me, the depth and absoluteleness of the sleep gave me a window into existence, non-existence and our own mortality. And the finite nature of our physical shells is absolutely staggering. Like wisps of smoke we're there, and then we're not.
H.P. Lovecraft talked about oblivion when he was alive. He said there was no heaven or hell for him. He didn't need any special treat waiting for him when he died. Oblivion was heaven enough. He also said he didn't fear it any more than he feared the time before he was born.
It also reminded me to be present and enjoy the moment.
Because in the blink of an eye...
Gaudium per atrox.