“The strongest guard is placed at the gateway to nothing, maybe because the condition of emptiness is too shameful to be divulged.” F. Scott Fitzgerald
I have been a little out of sorts since my operation to ditch Rupert was executed successfully. The pesky little pancreatic tumor continues to cast a long shadow even though he is gone. Mostly the Zen-like acceptance state I managed to acquire during my lengthy hospital sojourn has stayed with me. Yet I have the odd day now and then when my life seems suddenly not quite right to me. I cannot place my finger on why this is so.
I understand the whole "near death experiences can change you" concept, sort of. I have been in that place of sleep without dreams, the peaceful sleep of a thousand sleeps, and surrounded by black nothingness before. Revived after my heart stopped beating, I have no memory of the engulfing darkness itself, only of the ghost of a dead friend standing at the foot of my bed smiling after I opened my eyes. It was as if he was there to reassure me that everything would be all right. The mind can play serious tricks when you are doped to the hilt on morphine, lying fragile in intensive care with too many tubes to count piercing your skin, surrounded by fussing nurses. That joyful event, which marked my passing and rebirth, occurred shortly after my 27th birthday. It is the reason why I tell people that twenty seven is my spiritual age. In my mind, I have been that age since I was given a second chance at life. I felt out of sorts then, too.
I am in the realm of existential crisis, questioning the very foundations of my life: whether my life has any meaning, purpose or value. It just doesn't feel like a crisis. As Soren Kierkegaard suggested, the individual is solely responsible for giving meaning to life and living it passionately and sincerely. Life is short. Life is the vacation. I am just "a ghost driving a meat coated skeleton made from stardust". What do I have to be scared of? I can be in the moment, appreciating all that life has to offer, unburdened by the checkered past, and untroubled by an uncertain future. I am the one who chooses what I want to be.
Perhaps it is not surprising that the life-threatening events trigger moments where I contemplate changing aspects of my life that (arguably) aren't quite working. I consider moving house, moving jobs, taking up a new hobby, reducing the clutter in my life, and embracing a Buddhist philosophy with verve. These changes do not really alter who I am so I have learned to ride out the uneasiness as the moments have come and gone. In lieu of fresh flowers (which I do not like receiving because I loathe watching them die slowly), a good Spring clean works wonders for cathartic release.
If you cannot clear the head of trash, do the next best thing - sweep away the tangible refuse. So begins a major purge, ridding myself of stuff that fills my home, to sweep away the haunting ghost of Rupert. I have hired a large bin (two and a half cubic metres) and I am throwing out items that have survived previous culls - some older than my thirty-something housemate. This includes letters I received from pen pals as a teenager, scrap books, university texts and notes, novels read long ago, and bric-a-brac strewn around the house. I am excited to be purging because, to me, it feels like I am purifying my psyche.
A few of my friends who know I am cleaning out cobwebs believe I am throwing out pieces of my identity with these items and are urging me to reconsider what items find their way into the rubbish. These items do not define me. These items are not even likely to be value if I survive to old age and find myself being shown things from my past, to prompt my memory of who I once was, should I be cursed with dementia. The only time I ever look at these items is when I am Spring cleaning and deciding what to throw away.
I am doing all of this at the same time as I am editing the completed first draft of my short story collection, Dilecticoma Dreaming, before I send it formally to the actual editor. Reading and reworking the stories to be included in the first volume, cover to cover, I am struck by the number of stories that touch upon themes of death and rebirth in some form or another. One could be forgiven for thinking it is more than coincidence and instead a gothic-obsession, but death has nipped at my heels my whole life. Run as I am chased, I cannot avoid what the events in my life have inspired in my writing.