And then there’s death - an edge of an oscillating lifeline, stopping - suddenly, fading away into nothing. Like switching off an old television set, forcing the image into a tiny white dot in the middle of the screen, a dot that fades quickly into final darkness.
I think the culture I was born into likes to demonstrate death as a peaceful farewell. The few people I’ve seen dead were lying in a coffin in a chapel, looking calm and very artificial. Which, I think, provides a disconnect between what’s actually happening and what appears to be happening. It’s easy to believe that our loved ones are out there in a wonderful place when it almost feels like what’s getting buried is just a mannequin with some resemblance to the deceased.
As any teenager I had a curiosity for the macabre and sometimes spent evenings in the late nineties, using painfully slow internet, exploring the filthy, revolting insides of rotten dot com, with their photos of autopsies and results of accidents, suicides and murders. It never felt quite real, perhaps because a lifeless human being simply is not a human being any more. That and all the blood and gore I’ve seen in horror films before, during or after almost always felt more realistic, even though they most certainly were not real.
The peak of my interest, which coincided with my immediate complete and utter loss of will to have to do anything with this sort of thing was when in early 2000s I accidentally stumbled across a snuff video. It was right there, on the main page of a public website that everyone could access (glorious Russian internet), it was available for everyone to see, and it had a tiny disclaimer - ‘not for the faint-hearted’. Naturally, I clicked. And what followed was a fifteen minute video of three punks in their late teens killing a man slowly, using screwdrivers and hammers, and laughing. That was the most shocking bit of it all - them laughing as the man struggled to breathe and gurgled. Out of the whole fifteen minutes I, perhaps, only watched a minute, skipping ahead, hoping that it wasn’t real. It was real, it turned out to be an actual murder that they filmed and sold on the black market before they got caught. I watched it about ten years ago and the memory of that video still haunts me.
I probably also need to explain my personal attitude towards death. Becoming an atheist was the best thing that ever happened to me, but it came with an unwanted bonus of losing sleep frequently for about a year. I was terrified of the idea of not waking up. All the plans I had - unfinished and unstarted; all the aspirations I had; all the adventures I craved; all the things I wanted to feel and try; books I wanted to write; things I wanted to draw - became overwhelmingly urgent. Wanting to do everything at the same time and yet not doing anything, and dying full of regret of never quite giving the stuff I wanted a go became my recurring nightmare. Dying a nothing, wouldn’t that be a disappointing end? Of course this is all trivial, everyone dies, everyone has been dying since the beginning of life. Of course, changing my viewpoint did not suddenly expose me to the concept of death (that would be silly, I was pretty aware of my mortality), it just made life feel more fragile, raw and real.
Another thing worth mentioning is that there is also a disconcerting lack of control over how one dies. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to be able to go on one’s own terms? Of course, most people want to live forever, but with that not being a valid option - settling on your own way and time to go seems like the next best thing. Sure, that sounds terrible, dark, horrifying and awful, but not to the people who wake up to a daily suffering, watch their body slowly deteriorate, watch their relatives get more and more heartbroken. If you want, you can think that all the crap I’ve been watching in my teens desensitized me, but I think that an easy death should be an accessible commodity. But then where should the line be drawn? Isn’t that an interesting question?
I have had mornings when I wake up to a question ‘Why?’ and carry it around most of the day, wondering if maybe it would’ve been much better if I wasn’t. For whatever reason - loneliness, inability to finish writing my book, pointlessness of it all, my own insignificance, inability to stay on a diet, a hangover, or the colour yellow. Does that devalue the amazing revelation about mortality I had four or so years ago? I like to think that it doesn’t. I like to think that it enhances it. We’re not all about logic, right? There is room for emotion and there is room to be irrational and want it all to end forever. We’re not robots. The fact that I have people in my life and work (which is almost, but not quite the same thing) that genuinely make me happy; that make me forget about my worries of not being able to achieve some goal right here and now; that don’t find me boring; that give me a hug when I need one (physically or emotionally) - comforts me, calms me, makes me confident that I am where I want to be, jerks me back into my usual state of mind, where I’m blown away by the breathtaking beauty of the universe around me and equally blown away by the simple fact that I am alive.
All of this has (sort of) been a long-winded way (full of distractions - just like this sentence) to get to the sole reason I’ve decided to write this post. But I felt the need to explain my state of mind first. About a month ago a video appeared on the internet. The video was of a railway accident. A man got hit by a train and was cut in half. Either someone in the crowd had a camera and filmed from a distance, or the news crew arrived on the scene quickly - it doesn’t matter, the video showed: the dying man, his upper body slowly seizing to move; a few people standing in the distance and looking; and a man standing not more than two meters away from the dying person, holding a mobile phone and snapping pictures. What came as a surprise was that a few people who I’ve shared the scene with (verbally) thought nothing of it. The reason, according to their logic, being that the guy with the camera was the least of the dying person’s worries and in a few minutes time none of those worries will remain anyway. To me - it does matter, to me - it is a shitty death. Do not misunderstand me - getting cut in half by a train is horrifying. Getting cut in half by a train and then being photographed by someone while you’re seizing to be - is horrifying and then some. I think that it’s perfectly natural to rank deaths by shittiness. One of the things that makes us human is our ability to empathise. And empathy is about putting ourselves into another person’s shoes. My imagination easily allows me to imagine myself lying there and dying to the snaps of the mobile phone, with the only difference being - I don’t actually die and my stupid brain can re-live the experience as many times as it wants. To me it’s a no-brainer - accepting the fact that all of us have to die at some point, and envisioning ways in which I might go, to me ‘a shitty death’ is a death that I at all costs would want to avoid, even if that implies dying earlier. Unfortunately the man with a screwdriver in his head, slowly dying to a laughter of three monsters; and a man cut in half by a train dying to mobile phone flashes - are now living within my head, forced to die over and over again, every time I remember them. And when, like today, I bring them to life just to see them die, I wish there was some way to help them stay dead forever.