Lying Awake (or: Of Death and Similar Things)

When some people can’t sleep, they turn on the radio or the TV, or pop in an Ambien to get themselves to pass out. Others clear their minds in an attempt to find some sort of peace and rest. I don’t. I let my mind wander. For the first time ever, though, I’ve decided to write about this. At this point, having gotten out of bed on four separate occasions now to find a suitable writing utensil, a place to write, and then a surface upon which to write, I wonder if perhaps it would be better to completely abandon the idea of writing in an illegible scrawl, and try to sleep again. A wandering mind does not cease to wander, just as a nomad will not decide to chop down some trees and build a series of houses for him and his compatriots. Therefore I shall not sleep. Most often, it isn’t sports or video games that I think about.

When I was 10, I would find myself cerebrating on the fact that everyone I knew, myself included, would one day simply stop existing. It isn’t that I had — or have — a morbid fascination with death. I wasn’t obsessed either, although the case can be made that everyone is, considering. all the things we do just so we can have valuable experiences before death and not during life. Thinking about the things we fear is a natural human instinct, and I was no different from everyone else on this matter. What more is there to fear than losing your parents, your friends, or yourself? Your own mortality is something shocking to come face to face with, and usually it happens later in life. Some people may not even see it right up until the day they die. Certainly a 10-year-old should not have this cross their mind while they are a mere nine hours from going back to school and doing elementary multiplication and division.

Time passed, and I filled up the time where I was apt to think with the math, science, social studies, and English assignments of middle and high school. In the now paltry time I had alone with my thoughts, it would still be of death and similar things. Recently, though, the theme of death and disappearance has, well, vanished, and I’ve been self-reflecting in the minutes before I go into my temporary coma. It isn’t a “how was my day/week/year?” period that I focus on. “How is my life? Where have I erred, done right, or done nothing at all?” I reflect on how drastically different my life would be if I went back in time with my current knowledge of the world; namely that 99% of what I thought was important, really wasn’t. What relationships could I have saved or improved? Could I have made myself better, in turn multiplying my future improvements exponentially and becoming…a super version of who I am now? Am I all that different or did I simply fail to recognize my shortcomings when I was living in the moment? I’ve said that if I could go back in time and create a positive change in one person, it would be myself. Selfish as it may be given the hundreds or thousands of better candidates for self-improvement, I won’t recant that statement.

I don’t loathe or even hate who I was. Quite the opposite in fact, as all of my egregious mistakes and faults have all led up to this point in my life and my character now. I can’t help but cringing a little when I look back on a time before right now. However, I’ll take looking back and cringing as a sign of growth; that I know better now. Isn’t that what all life is? “Hey, I was stupid. I made mistakes. I didn’t know what I was doing with myself. But I know now.” I’m not ashamed to admit I’d change nearly everything about how I had lived and acted. Though hindsight is 20/20 and it’s easy to be the Monday morning quarterback, I’d have taken more chances, done what I thought was right, and wouldn’t have held back my thoughts. After all, you do have to risk some things to get any modicum of gratification at the end of it. Can I say now that I’ll be heeding my own advice, take risks, and make myself more vulnerable than any man likes? No. It’s not who I am. The things I see now as basic were the biggest risks then, and maybe through that, I’d be a more improved, better version of who I am today. And death can wait for a while.