Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Musings on Mortality

Hello, people who are still out there.

I'm flying back to Chicago tomorrow, and as usual this event has brought on another bout of depression and unhealthy obsessing over the apocalypse and mortality in general. You might wonder why traveling does this to me; and there are a number of reasons, most of them due to intensely high stress levels, and a shortage of both sleep and proper nutrition. In any case, I freaked myself out pretty bad the other night. I was trying to sleep (not entirely sober, I suppose I ought to mention) and all I could think of was the many many ways in which it is possible to die, or even worse, to not-die.

A couple of months ago, while trying not to study for something, I came upon a video of one man telling about his "near-death experience." He was Israeli, and at the time of the events of his story, he was completely secular. By the time he's telling the story he's completely chareidi - long beard, black hat and coat, the whole thing. I think he might have been a chossid, but I don't remember where to find the video. Anyway he was describing all this stuff he saw and went through in Heaven, and it was reasonably convincing until he got to the part about all his spilled seed calling him a murderer. That was where I went skeptical. So Tobie and I discussed it a bit afterwards, and in her opinion, "near death experiences" are mostly brain cells misfiring as they slowly begin to expire. Which made me wonder a lot of scary things. People who are in comas for extended periods of time, are they having those kinds of experiences in their heads during all that time? What about people who aren't exactly brain dead, like they're technically awake, but mentally vacant, like old people in nursing homes? And then I thought, how awful must it be to be conscious, but incapable of doing or saying anything, completely dependent and at the mercy of those around you? And I realized that most people who live to a ripe old age end up in one or another of these kinds of experiences eventually, no one really ends happily; I mean, forget dying in a nuclear blast, or worse as a survivor in a post-nuclear world, or at the tortuous hands of some enemy who only wants to cause as much pain as possible during the killing process- nobody dies happily. And it really really scared me. I'm not saying it here as vividly, as viscerally as I felt it at the time, but I came really close to having a major anxiety attack. I managed to talk myself down, but was actually worried that I might not be able to. It was almost enough to make me believe in G-d again. I really really wanted to; I swear I really tried. But I am not capable of choosing what to believe in, and it didn't work. It was the first time I understood to any extent what it means to consider ending one's own life as a serious possibility. Luckily my terror of death will probably always rescue me from that.

Anyway, those are some pre-Rosh Hashanna thoughts for all of you. I do sincerely wish you all a good year, filled with health and success and good things. I hope these things come to all of you, and more importantly, that they stay.


Blogger e-kvetcher said...

Check out the NPR special - it talks about near death experiences as well as other related topics. I believe there is even a new field called neuro-theology or something...

Spilled seed calling him a murderer? What does that look like - as far as I know "seed" don't have a mouth? Or do they form some kind of giant talking head ala the machines in the Matrix movie?

>It was almost enough to make me believe in G-d again.

Huh - did I miss a post?

10:56 AM  
Blogger Shana said...

what can i say besides; been there.
we should chat.

12:20 PM  
Blogger Miri said...

no you didn't. I suppose I should do a fill-in; I haven't had a lot of time for blogging lately, as you may have noticed.
As I recall, the spilled seed looked like a multitude of tiny black demons or something like that. The imagery was very strange. I wish I could find the video for you. The dude is talking in Hebrew but there's English subtitles. I'm going to see if I can find the link.

Yeah I meant to call you, but there wasn't time. There will be soon enough I suppose; keep it on your radar.

6:46 PM  
Blogger e-kvetcher said...

Miri, you seem to have a fairly non-chalant attitude to what I'd think would be a major life shift - or am I misunderstanding something?

In either case, have a good year - and accept my wishes for health and happiness...

12:59 PM  
Blogger Miri said...

I would think that the major anxiety attack would seem to contradict your impression of non-chalance. I'm hardly taking this lightly, but I'm also still very mixed up about things. And in the meantime, other things are falling apart in bits and pieces. It's been a very long year.

Shana tova umituka to you too!

6:16 PM  
Blogger e-kvetcher said...

Ah, I think I misunderstood part of your post. I figured the anxiety was due to flying. I have a fear of heights myself...

I am sorry that things are not going as well as you expected. Feel free to drop me a line through email if there is anything I can offer in terms of bouncing off thoughts or even support. Sometimes it is good just to talk things out.

8:02 PM  

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