A Christmas Conversation About Death

About a month ago I rerolled my ten-sided die and wound up with a new job at a machine shop. It’s…a strange fit. I’m technically in maintenance, though in reality I’m probably closer to accounting or I.T. because I certainly don’t know how to machine shop and have no business around power tools, let alone large-scale machinery. Watching press operators reach into closing 16-ton clamshell cutters makes me cringe. But I don’t do that. Instead, I accumulate stacks of paper while trying to get this company’s new software up and running within the next six months so 2016’s audit won’t be as scary as last year’s.

It’s a job.

The upside is my coworkers are all very nice, the kind of “manly men” who know how to fix anything that breaks save for computers or the human body. When they aren’t machine shopping at work, they’re putting cars together in their spare time between early outings of hunting and ice fishing. I as a book nerd who likes cartoons just a little too much for my age wind up nodding often as they talk about this and that and why the color pink shouldn’t be worn by anyone with a penis.

I’m wholly indifferent to the color pink myself, but that’s maybe not important.

What is important is that these blue-collar machine shoppers are, unsurprisingly, very religious. Call it a cliché or a trope, but the parking lot is 70% giant trucks with Scott Walker, NRA, and religious bumper stickers. I as an atheist-on-a-good-day and agnostic-on-a-bad-day (or vice versa depending on how you view the world) liberal can only shrug and nod along because battles must be picked with care.

But it has been awhile since I’ve been surrounded by religion, and given that winter has come (dun dun dun!) alongside the dark, cold depression that it brings on a yearly basis, the idea of death is now firmly on my mind.

I’d like to talk about it.

See, I get what I like to call “white people’s depression” during the winter. It’s never bad enough to get diagnosed, but it does a fine job of preying upon my insecurities and failures just the same. It makes me feel sad. Sometimes it makes me want to slip into a coma for a few months or, you know, drive into a river to see what might happen.

Always it makes me think about death, typically in the form of angsty poetry, which is kind of funny since I’m 26; I like to think I skipped the angst years in high school and am only now getting to them. Cue the Linkin Park please (I actually love that band so that’s not a joke. I’m listening to Hybrid Theory as I type this (shh, don’t tell anyone)).

Death as a concept is strange. Sometimes it terrifies me in ways that little else can, and other times it, well…I guess straight up fascinates me?

I am not a religious person, but like most people, I was raised with the idea of God looming over me, and like most people, I find that hard to shake. If I were to place my bets, however, I’d say there’s a 90% chance that death is simple nonexistence, a 1% chance that the Abraham religions are right, and a 9% chance that I’ll wind up being eaten by Azathoth.

Let’s run down that list in detail because why not?

Nonexistence is a hard concept to grasp because we as people spend our entire lives existing. We can’t remember not existing because that’s impossible. Yet it isn’t something I find all that scary, though I’ll give it props for hitting unsettling. Despite how damaged and strange my brain is, I’m quite attached to it. Blame the brain stem there. To think of nothing, of not existing, is to think of black or grey, but that doesn’t work because it’s still a thought.

However, I do have a frame of reference for nonexistence that I think works quite well.

The other day I got home from work and decided I wanted to take a nap. I love naps, though I’m honestly really bad at taking them. The best I usually do is lay down and doze a bit while my cats demand I feed or pet them, and on the whole, it’s mostly a waste of time. Yet that day my cat curled up on my chest and purred, and twenty minutes later I woke up feeling really confused and positive that I was late for work.

(The cat was nowhere to be found because he’s a rat bastard.)

And in that brief time I didn’t exist, and to me, that’s death. The phrase, “dirt nap” is less tongue-in-cheek and more literal. It isn’t so bad, not really. There’s no cold or pain or boredom or depression or anything! It’s just a blink frozen with your eyes shut.

Honestly, I believe this dirt nap to be the better of the three outcomes I listed earlier. It requires the least amount of work (none) and doesn’t involve me being tortured for eternity.

So let’s move on to the Abraham religions and Hell, because you can’t have one without the other. And yes, I’m going to focus on Hell because I’m quite positive I won’t get into Heaven. My ten-sided die isn’t quite that lucky, all things considered, and anyways, Heaven is never painted as a fun place to be. It’s boring at best and some strange, subtle torture at worst. You can’t be happy forever and not have any drawbacks; I’m sorry. God might be all powerful, but he isn’t that powerful.

Hell is an interesting place because Milton and Dante exist and have made it much more than the three religious texts bother with. As a white person from the Midwest, I grew up with Christianity and The Bible. I won’t comment on the book, but I will say that its depictions of Hell are few and far between. And hell (pun intended), Satan doesn’t even enter the place until after the end of the world in Revelations, so the fire-and-brimstone your preacher spews every Sunday means less than little.

I love Milton and Dante. They’re excellent poets. However, I’m less inclined to take anything they’ve written as literal, despite the influences they’ve had on religious thinking. There’s just no way Hell is filled with ironic torture or a megalomaniac of a ruler, though if it does possess a river or two, Styx and Archeron are damn fine names (even if both were pilfered from Greek mythology).

Instead, I look at Hell as a dark, bleak place, like a bar with a few too many burnt out light bulbs and a broken juke box. You can still order a drink and pick up a hooker, but it’s all meaningless. Satan is a slow bartender who doesn’t care and the hookers are…well, they’re hookers. They offer meaningless sex.

The place is depressing, but it isn’t overly hot or cold. It’s just a place, and you’re stuck there forever. The upside is there is bourbon, and any place with bourbon can’t be all bad. Though maybe the bourbon in Hell sucks; not every place can brew it as well as Kentucky.

Because when you look at Satan and God as their biblical characters, there’s no way they’re both still pissed off about whatever happened billions of years ago. At a certain point, you really do have to make a Hell out of Heaven or you’ll go insane, and it’s at that point that the place becomes a dark refuge for those not worthy of Heaven.

“Welcome to the Shitty Splatoon, how sinful are you?”

“I once ate a bowl of nails for breakfast…Without any milk.”

It won’t be pleasant (who wants to hang out with a guy who eats nails for breakfast?), but it’s also going to be filled with zany characters in possession of strange stories. I’m down for that.

I’ll admit that I’m only down for that because I’d rather not admit that the alternative is right. To create a place of torture that lasts forever is just damned unfair and not worth my time to think about, and if God really made such a place, then he’s more worthy of my contempt than worship.

So that leaves our third option: Good ol’ Azathoth! You know, I have a picture of him as my computer wallpaper at work? It’s delightfully creepy yet surprisingly enchanting too. I find myself staring at it sometimes, thinking about this and that and how the Macroverse is probably a real thing filled with monsters who dream us into existence.

(Sorry.)

“God works in mysterious ways” is a statement I’ve heard both ironically and unironically, yet it is a statement worth examining. Anything possessing the power to create the universe and sentient life really must work in mysterious ways, and there’s zero chance in hell it thinks like we do. “We cannot understand God” a religious leader says to handwave some tragedy or piece of science, and I nod because we cannot. The power it would take to create matter (damn you Newton and your laws of Thermodynamics!), let alone mold it into rationality is something my head cannot work with.

I’ve been outside at night and looked at the stars, and it has taken my breath away. You remember that blood moon we had a few months ago? I checked that out with a high-powered telescope and almost broke down at how amazing it was. It’s hard to think random chance will throw something so spectacular and pretty our way, but it happens. Our universe really is amazing in every definition of that word. It’s gorgeous and wonderful, and if there is a God out there, I can’t help but shudder and feel like he doesn’t think those same thoughts.

God, for all intents and purposes, is an alien, an Other who exists on his own timeline and who doesn’t care about us. At best we’re an experiment and at worst we’re his food.

Blame Stephen King or blame H.P. Lovecraft, but when I think of God and death these days, my thoughts turn to eldritch horrors first and Jesus second. What’s the under/over of a God that made us because he’s just so jam-packed with love that he’s bursting at the seams vs. a God who made us because he’s really hungry and likes feeling us kick and burn as we struggle inside his lower intestine?

I’d feel a bit better off if I knew how to play the flute, but I don’t.

I don’t know what happens after we die. No one does. Anyone that tells you they have any answer in this regard is 100% full of shit and should be avoided at all cost. We literally cannot know, and I suppose that’s okay.

It won’t stop the idea from keeping me up at night though. It won’t stop me from wondering what’s behind this reality, this pasteboard mask, and if that thing is nothing, love, or some horror that’ll drive me insane before the end.

At least if I’m insane, a life of being devoured won’t be so bad.

Is it fucked up that I paint nonexistence as the best of these options? Because I sure as shit don’t like the idea of reincarnation. Once around is enough, thank you very much (unless I can be a pirate in my next life. That would be rad). No, I’ll take the dirt nap. I understand that in some capacity, even if it’s minute and based on dreamless sleep.

I don’t trust the macro creatures that do dream.

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