As a child I remember the first time I earnestly pondered death; I lay quietly in my room one night, trying to imagine nothingness. Earlier, at a dinner party, my parents and friends had been engaged in a sombre alcohol-induced discussion about God, Death and the meaning of Life, and I’d listened in the shadows with rapt attention. Before this moment, based on what I’d previously been told (or should I say, ominously warned), I’d had an image in my head that once I was dead, I’d be sort of ‘arrested’ by angels, be thrust in front of God and be judged against my sins. Once the verdict was out, I’d be carted off to either heaven or hell. That scenario, however intimidating, indicated that I lived on after my body died. This evening, though, I’d heard mention of ashes and dust. This was a new idea to me, the concept that once we pass, there is nothing else. To die meant to become nothing at all. The subject brought a black cloud of doom over a previously upbeat party atmosphere as a colleague of my father’s declared glumly, ‘That’s all that happens, we dissolve into the nothingness. Its ashes to ashes, dust to dust – we’re dead, finished, it’s all over. Human life has about as much significance as a squashed bug.’
Intrigued as always by these adult metaphysical conversations, I just had to test out this new idea. It put a question mark over my own private investigations into the God quandary. If we dissolved into the ‘nothingness’, then there was no God. If this ashes to ashes thing turned out to be true, it would be an answer to all my religious questions; it would put the lid on my fervent inquiries. Eager to get to the truth, I lay there, contemplating nothing at all.
Nothingness, to exist, had to be thought about; to make it a reality, I had to give it dimensions. It was a kind of black void that had a place ‘somewhere’ in the universe, somewhere ‘between things’. If nothingness was ‘real’, I figured that it couldn’t have any dimensions at all, no blackness, no void, no somewhere to ‘exist’. If nothingness was to exist, it couldn’t really be nothingness.
Many a night, I stared out at the sky through my open bedroom window at the stars sparkling in the so-called black void of space. I realised that people always said that nothingness existed between those stars. It was space, after all, and space, as the scientists would have it, was a vacuum, and contained nothing at all. It was no wonder that we had developed the idea that nothingness could be a reality (this being a paradox in itself). On further investigation, I learned that space wasn’t nothing; it had properties that allowed it to conduct light from the stars, it carried objects like meteors and space junk (human flotsam) through space, it held planets in perfect balance; somehow ensuring that they didn’t move about and crash into one another. Space held qualities that kept objects apart from one another; space worked with the magnetic qualities of matter. Space, I learned, had properties in the same way that wood, water, fire or air had. It became very clear to me that nothingness was an illogical concept in every way. One only had to contemplate it to eradicate the notion of it.
There was no way around it. It was a bit of a mind-boggling contemplation, but the answer was clear to me. I just couldn’t die to become nothingness. No creature on earth could die to become nothingness. My body would perish, that was for sure, but even that didn’t become nothing. Left in the ground, it decayed, it fed the daisies, it was forever moving from one state of existence to another. It was obvious to me that without my body, I would still have some sort of awareness. This meant to me that awareness was everything. It became clear to me after many hours of this kind of contemplation that the whole universe had to be aware of itself. There was no void, no space between the objects that inhabited the universe. Even subatomic particles, I later came to learn, pop up out of some field of energy and are held apart by some force not generally understood by scientists.
I had many attempts at envisioning nothingness, and always came up with the same conclusions. My personal experience as a child spoke louder than any ‘reason’ given by an adult. The idea of nothingness, I finally concluded, belonged to the lazy, to those minds that refused to think beyond what it had learned from others. I determined at a young age, through my own deductions, that Death was a transition, though what that transition looked like, I was yet to discover.