01 Feb Advice from the end of eternity
Dying for the first time is pretty jarring. One moment you’re lying in a hospital bed and counting the number of holes in the ceiling of your room and wondering when the doctor’s will finally give you the green light to go home. The next you’re hearing the beeping of the machines and your vision is going black at the edges and the new pain in your chest radiates to all of your extremities before you pass out. That wasn’t the jarring part, of course, because everyone’s felt pain. What was jarring is when your vision came too and you see yourself on the operating table, chest opened up in a last ditch attempt to keep your clogged heart pumping blood. Or at least that’s what happened to me. I have no idea if anyone else will go through the same thing. I don’t have any proof that that’s going to happen to any of you. Despite watching the last hydrogen atom collapse into quarks and gluons I still don’t have any answers to anything. But at the very least I can give you some advice. Let’s start with the first time I died. *** I wasn’t the healthiest person in the world. I ate junk food that tasted good, I smoked cigarettes that made feel good, and I drank caffeine that allowed me to get through the monotonous work day until I got home. I’m guessing it was these habits that finally caught up when that heart attack took me for the first time back in 2016. What I was the first time around doesn’t matter very much as that’s not the person I am now. And at the end of this piece of advice, you’ll know that none of it matters. Like I said before, when I died the first time I was in the hospital operating room floating above my now lifeless corpse and watching the surgeons and their assistants in their futile attempt to revivify me. I watched for what felt like forever as the doctor took off their surgical gloves and washed their hands in the sink. To their benefit, they did look sad about the fact that they couldn’t save me. That five seconds of them staring into the mirror, not knowing that I was floating directly behind them, invisible and incorporeal but watching nonetheless, told me so much about this person’s humanity. But there’s always another patient to save, another life to pull from the brink of death, and another patient to lose to that inevitable death. The first thing I tried to do when I finally realized my situation was to try and make any kind of change in the world. I tried to fog every single mirror in every single room of the hospital. I tried to extend some part of myself, whatever of myself there was now, into every single piece of electronics that I could find. But no matter how hard I tried, nothing happened. I felt nothing and consequently nothing I ever did changed anything. If I remember correctly (forgive the forgetfulness, it’s been awhile since this happened) it was somewhere around the 2020’s when I finally decided to try leaving the hospital. Despite what most ghost stories would tell you about being attached to a place, I found out that at the very least I had no such limitation. The first thing I did after finding this out was look for my son. Despite my bad habits, and the lack of love for their mother, I managed to keep a working relationship with him for most of his life and wanted to know that he was doing okay. An admirable thing to do, I thought at the time. Living tissue has a built in acceleration limit. The most acceleration a human has ever experienced was 46.2 G’s, and that was only for a few seconds. 65 G’s is enough to make you go unconscious and kill you quite quickly. The toughest creature on earth, the Tardigrade, can withstand 16,000 G’s without dying. One second I was staring at the hospital and the next I was several thousand miles away watching my son attempt to stay awake at his station on the U.S.S. George H. W. Bush. I sat there and watched as the boat landed in port. I watched as he got drunk with his friends. I watched as he struck out with woman after woman. I watched as he got drunk on duty one too many times. I watched as he managed to get kicked out with only an Other Than Honorable discharge. I watched as his drinking got worse. I watched as he died in his 50’s. Time, when you have no biological clock of eating, sleeping, and shitting to go by feels like a dream. You can focus on a second for what feels like a year and watch a decade pass by in a proverbial eyeblink. My son died unmarried and unloved. His mother never got those grandchildren she wanted. After I had no family left I started to see the state of the rest of the world. It was like getting out of a very good movie that you have all your attention wrapped in and you step back into the real world. One second I was in South America watching riots break out because of a lack of food. The next I was in the Florida Keys as a beach house was smashed to pieces by gale force winds. I saw the fall of the United States. I saw the first bombs launch and the last ones fall. I saw the last civilized society form, peter out over the course of centuries, and die with a whimper. I saw the last meal of the last human on Earth. A small child biting directly into an uncooked rabbit with cancerous tumors growing all over it. I watched her become sick moments later. Soon after that I watched her die. The last man-made thing, a plastic piece of a water bottle buried tens of feet under the earth, dissolved sometime after. I watched wildfires burn entire landmasses. I watched as those landmasses recovered in new greenery and new life that no one could imagine. Species adapted over time, then died when they couldn’t adapt fast enough. I watched entire continents shift. I watched the last life on earth, a single celled organism who had managed to adapt to the sudden lack of water on the planet, burn to a crisp as it finally succumbed to the increased solar radiation from the orange sun hanging in the sky. I watched as our red giant consumed the formerly blue marble called Earth. I watched that same red giant pulse brightly, screaming against the dying of its own light, before finally falling back on itself into a white dwarf. I watched as that white dwarf, one by one, lost all of it’s planets and then itself as it collided with another star over the course of a billion years. The pattern repeated itself again and again, new bright stars forming when enough of them collided. I watched them grow, watched them stabilize orbits of planets of their own. And just like my child, and the last child of man, I watched the last stars pulse their last lights out to the world. I watched the last complex matter break down into its base components. And eventually, I watched the last piece of matter peter out and disappear. *** That blackness, that nothingness, didn’t last long. The next thing I heard was laughter. The first thing I saw, light. Light so bright it burned my eyes. The eyes I suddenly had. I felt wetness on my skin. I felt oxygen rush into my lungs as I took my first breath. I felt for the first time in eternity. I was so happy I started crying in an unending wail that was eventually stopped when a blur held me close to her chest and spoke softly to my new ears. I was alive again. *** I didn’t waste any time with this newfound life. I used the memory of a previous lifetime and a previous eternity to graduate as early as I could. A child prodigy, it turns out, is easy to confuse with someone who’s already lived once. I used my knowledge to gain every advantage I could. I was a millionaire by the time I was twenty. A billionaire by thirty. I used that money and put it into every charitable thing I could that would push humanity to the stars. I had already come to the conclusion, many millennia ago, that I couldn’t save the human race. But at the very least I could preserve it for as long as possible. I funded denuclearisation campaigns. In my lifetime I replanted half of the Amazon rainforest with my money. I funded private space travel. And I watched myself die again. I watched the corporate empire I built keep going with the people I trusted in charge. I watched them run my efforts to keep the human race alive. I watched silently as they put the first humans on Mars. I watched as the colonization efforts began. I watched the next century roll by as the first interstellar ship was launched. I watched as that ship was torn to shreds by a micrometeor storm. I watched the last human die again, this time in a shelter underneath the now unlivable land. His last meal was a decades old can of beans that had unknowingly been tainted with botulism. The plastic dissolved. Then the Earth. Then the Sun. After the blackness overtook everything, I heard the laughter again. It wasn’t for long as it was replaced by the light and feeling and consciousness of a newborn baby. I spent the time again to build an unbelievable life. That time I even managed to get to space myself before dying to a genetic ticking time bomb at 78. In the blackness of eternity, again, laughter. Then light. I’ve seen the end of everything more times than I can imagine. I’ve seen the surface of every star and every planet in every sky of every world. I’ve watched humanity peter out and die every single time. I’ve heard the same laugh, the same chuckle, every single time, the second before I come back. I ran the human race like a silent dictator and put every piece in place innumerable times, yet nothing I do, no matter how big or small, can extend the life of our species more than a couple of centuries. Sure, there’s other life out there, but what can you do with that knowledge besides watch them die like the rest of us? So here’s advice from the one person who’s seen eternity. Nothing you do matters. Everything you create will turn to dust. Just enjoy your life. Because the beginning the everything? The beginning of existence? It’s the punchline of a joke.