A Vision
Of Dying
I wonder how the actual approach of the moment of death strikes such people: it might be a surprise. Of course the moment of death isn't a moment at all, but the end of moments, and according to Zeno's paradox of locomotion, in order to get there you must get halfway there, but in order to get halfway there you must get halfway to halfway there, in other words quarterway there, but even in order to get quarterway there you've got to get halfway to quarterway there, which is eighthway there, and so on. As the morning sun streamed in, my halfway there was a sudden deep ache in my lower back, and my quarterway there was a sudden spike in fever (the worst I've ever experienced and the worst feeling I've ever felt, and it occurred to me why the christian imagines Hell as hot), and my eighthway there was the ache in my back swirling around to radiate through the torso and then to the arms and the legs and then to the wrists and ankles, then to the fingers and toes and, discovering a barrier to expansion, curling back to the wrists and ankles and hammering spikes into them. Halfway to eighthway I stopped counting because I saw hospital staff rush into the room, and a plethora of tubes shoved into the plethora of UBS-like connectors attached to the catheters in my chest and arms, saw two of Picasso's weeping women, the mother and the lover, Beata Maria Virgo Perdolens and Dora Maar. I was aware that there was much to say to my mother and to Nothereal. But there was so much other work to be done, and I had such a short amount of time. There was above all else the body, and the need to escape from it; and that need eclipsed all else. Biologists call this escape "death." I realized I had to get out of there, and I told everybody. That if they didn't do something pretty soon, no very soon, no, now, I was leaving. For a person like me who fears death rather than aging, oddly, the experience wasn't, at least in this case, frightening...

But if my experience wasn't frightening, it was --- a banal word --- sad. There were three things that were sad. There was the external world of, shall we say, appearances, like the appearances of the nurses at the door, the faces of de Kooning's women. But the apparition of these faces seemed to rise slowly to the top of the field of vision: the crown of the heads were cropped, then the foreheads were gone.

Then there was my body, rapidly moving from uninhabitable to unimaginably uninhabitable; therefore taking leave of it was not only not marked by sadness but not entirely without, if not happiness, at least relief. It wasn't exactly the rational wager of taking the chance that what was in store couldn't be worse than this; but it was the recognition that, while not knowing what cards were in that hand that had yet to be turned over, it was now an impossible bet to refuse. In other words, more the feeling of an inevitable flow a tremendous swell and rise.

Along with the sense of leaving the body was the sense of leaving the mind, feeling it recede. And then there was something new: I first saw it in a flash, but I kept going back to it: a smooth black form, floating in a dark red field, slowly rotating.

What was this thing? Where was it? Each time I saw it, it was easier to discern, as if it were lit by a gradually brightening light source on a dimmer. My mother's face, then this thing, then Nothereal's face, then this thing now slightly better lit than before: still the deepest black I've ever seen, but I could make out a texture on its surface I'd previously held to be as smooth as the surface of undisturbed water, as sheer as a shard of glass cleanly broke. I knew what it was. I recognized it, floating there innocently, suspended. It was the most familiar thing in the world. Funny it was black. When I was around twelve, I'd say, I was surprised to discover, among the thousands of books in my father's library, a book of testimonials of near-death experiences: I was surprised because the book seemed so vulgar. A remarkable number of interviews reported the same thing on the threshold of death: a diffuse white light, an infusion of warmth, an inundating sense of comfort. (A small chapter was given to botched suicides, a remarkable number of subjects reported the overwhelming feeling of having committed a profound breach of metaphysical protocol. Again, how vulgar.) But mine was black, not white. It was there, then my mother was there, then it again, then Nothereal. Like how a movie is edited. Music is the least representational of the arts, and movies are the most. Or are they? Kubrick said once that if one were to compare witnessing a car crash (or some other violent catastrophe visited upon a person. assumedly) to witnessing its representation in any medium, the film version would be the closest to the original; but he also said film adds nothing to the arts that's not already there --- except editing, that's unique to the movies and you can't find an analogue to editing in any of the other media. And how we edit our lives. My near-death experience was edited, cutting between the thing slowly rotating and the hospital room; and when I was in grade school, in the classroom, I would easily become bored and restless, particularly in the afternoons, and I would pass the time by "editing" a scene together by employing the six extraocular muscles to switch between the cardinal positions of the gaze, at varying rhythms, between the teacher and the students. say, at different speeds. The teacher's droning monologue wouldn't change, but the difference between staring at her for a whole minute and switching like wildfire between the faces of my comatose classmates --- I remember marveling at how this simple choice could change the meaning of what was going on, marveling at how good the actors were, thinking that if a film featured performances this strong and subtle it would be by far the greatest film ever made. The hospital was like this, but not through choice. The views of the black shape were longer in duration now, the views of my mother's face, or Nothereal's, shorter. At first I thought this trend --- in music you'd call it a gradual process applied to rhythm --- was illusory, a trick of the mind. But no, it was definitely happening. Each time I saw the black shape, it lingered longer than the last, it was closer, and the light source clearly divulged the texture of its surface, not smooth, inscribed, scarred, with traces of being impacted by love, hope, sex, dreams, laughter, joy, loneliness, sex and sex and sex. It wasn't my body and it wasn't my mind, but it bore abrasions from contact with my body and my mind; it was beautiful; it was capable of producing beauty. I beheld it with awe and grief and gratitude. "You're going to be fine," someone said, distantly, in the hospital room. I was seeing less and less of the hospital room. I was losing my body and my mind, and I was approaching this thing --- not the body nor the mind --- and I wasn't quite ready but there wasn't time to get ready, so I realized I was ready.

--- From [Sic] : A Memoir
Joshua Cody
© 2011 W. W. Norton & Co.
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