I recall the precise moment I became aware of my own consciousness, along with a simultaneous realisation that my consciousness might one day perish, never to be reintroduced into this living world again.
It was the winter of 2008. My mother, my father and I had just migrated from the sun-ridden warmth of Oakland, California and the bustling Bay Area to a slightly more secluded pocket of civilization up north, a mountainous land of cold, wet temperate rainforests which has been recognized under the title of Vancouver, British-Columbia since a little over 100 years prior to our arrival.
The winter of 2008 saw dramatic snowstorms. I contrived much amusement from the great snowy hill of China Creek North Park, sliding down the slanted surface on a configuration of thin, flattened pieces of wood, curved at the front to form a lip that would seamlessly glide over snow. Perhaps my memories of this pleasure are faulty, weakened by the photographs that actively reinvigorate my past experiences, rendering the past timeless.
Along with the joy found atop that hill came the introduction of a feeling beyond words. Carried fireman-style over my father’s sturdy shoulder, my face was bitten by harsh winds and my vision clouded by thick, fast-falling sheets of pure frozen white precipitation. The only grounding elements of my living experience in that moment was the steady up and down of my fathers footsteps, my ribs gently bouncing on his warm shoulder, secured beneath one thick arm. In an instant, an indescribable sensation flooded my entire body which I have now come to describe as existential dread. At the age of four, I suddenly burst into tears, articulating foreign, overly complex emotions in a conveyance to my father with the simple words:
“I don’t want to die”
To this day, I do not know what introduced the subject of death into my mind as it did not truly step into my realm of reality until the age of 10, and when it did, it came relentlessly. Four family members passed away in two years. All the while my parents were in the midst of a divorce. I spent so much time in the fluorescently lit hallways, respiring the recycled air and familiarising myself with the harsh quick sounds of hospital machines beeping and buzzing, their grey forms towering over my small frame casting inescapable shadows. Everything in hospitals reeked of death and darkness which I hate to this day. Despite the previously unfamiliar concept of death, I had been aware - and sometimes completely consumed by my preoccupations with the idea of what might come after. Subconsciously, I always feared the depth of emptiness I had felt pre-kindergarten - the thought that death might be followed by what had preceded my birth into the timeline of 14 billion years; absolutely nothing. The combination of the words “absolute nothingness” does not do it justice. A grade 6 science seminar ripe with discussions of our ever-expanding universe, the light-years between planets and the eventual galactic collision expected in 4 billion years between the cluster of solar systems we deemed “The Milky Way”, certainly did not help ground my being in reality. All that humanity will ever accomplish, the knowledge we acquire, places we explore and interactions we have will all eventually be obliterated into nothingness.
I feel that I can hardly describe it. I understand it as a desperate fear, a loathing, a debilitating sense of helplessness that my consciousness which seems so connected to my body in this plane of existence might one day disappear. But who am I fooling? Is the concept of a plane of existence not simply an imagined fiction engrained in homo sapiens as a method of unification for our common survival? Deductively, the only true plane of existence is that in which I am currently conscious and typing these words.
A sudden shock hit 8 year old me at a family friend’s dinner table. I uncontrollably burst into tears and ran to the washroom. When my mother came to my side hoping to provide comfort, I only cried more. Inescapable dread I only described to her as “the feeling”. Images of a massive darkness consumed my being. I couldn't accept the reality of only 3600 weeks left in my life.
Now today, in conversation with my mother, I feel numb to her shared perspectives of Hindu beliefs, whatever quote of Bapuji she uses, recounts of near death experiences published in books by strangers - I can only see them as desperate attempts by humans to comfort themselves in a dark, meaningless, empty universe.
I acknowledge the randomness and senselessness of my existence, yet I fear my identity’s dissolution and inexistence.
I do not want to die, but immortality would be unbearable.
To live forever, human patterns of greed, self destruction, love and acts of kindness would all be grains of sand dropped into a raging ocean. Human connection is only valuable because of its fragile temporality. Life is only worth living because of our awareness of the presence of the unknown beyond our state of consciousness.
The understanding of our lives are a state of wakefulness, virtually lasting the length of a blink of an eye, only to fall back into our deep, dreamless slumber.
I do not want it to end.
From Vancouver, BC, Tobias is a U0 student in general arts with no declarations as of yet. Despite frequently feeling deeply lost in the shallowness of human consciousness, he truly enjoys kicking it with his pals, finding good-eats, and is on an unending quest for exceptionally composed chai tea lattes.
Photo by Eberhard Grossgasteiger on Pexels.