The death thing didn’t really hit me till high school, my sophomore year, I think. Sure I was aware of death and had some inkling of what it meant. The A-bomb scare had scared me plenty. But that might have been more the fear of being incinerated. Actually, while I was aware of death, up until high school I think I felt it was something that mostly happened to other people.
But one day walking home from school, quite near it in fact, I am cutting across an empty lot to get to the road and I see this piece of glass on the ground and the sun hits it and makes a sparkle and out of nowhere I know that I am going to die. Put the emphasis on the “I.” I can still see the moment—though I can’t say when it was—in my mind’s eye, and the realization that I, one day, would not be didn’t fill me with fear or horror exactly but more with a sense of liberation.
Freedom! I felt there was a part of me, the part that died, that ultimately “they” could not get to. This part—the part that went when I was gone—was inviolate and beyond damage by other hands. I thought of this part as being microscopic.
This is a bit vague, I expect, and I bit strange considering I experienced by new aware of my death as a kind of liberation. Maybe this was an occult form of presuicidal ideation; death was the way out, but a way with no way to get back. Also, I want to stress, this was not some sort of feeble cognition, as in according to so and so, or feeble rumor has it: people die. No, the awareness came with a distinct sensation; and it was not a sensation I could just call up through some ritualistic incantation. It had to come of its own accord, as it did four or five times in my first couple of years of high school.
And, then…it went away. I have read about mystical experiences and perhaps this was a sort of inverted or perverted form of one of those—a mystical experience I mean. If I experienced my self as safe and inviolate because microscopically small perhaps that’s because I was in touch with the horrendously large. So according to Freud, I regressed at those moments to the oceanic feeling, itself evocative of a union with all, in the form of a return to the womb.
This is all mixed up. But I feel as if I summoned up a genie that I have never been able to get back in the bottle. OK, the first few times felt strangely liberating; since then that has not been the case. The genie now looks like a big, fat, smelly toad sitting in the middle of the room. Every now and then, it burps to remind me of its gaseous presence.
So every day since that first time I think of death. Sometimes more, sometimes less. Lately. More.
That’s a picture of the high school I went to. It opened for business in 1962, the year of my mystical experience. You can’t see it in the picture, but down by the road, off to the right was a field with weeds growing on it. That’s where I had my first mystical experience.