“Do you think it is right to call sleeping Mrs Death?” the wide-eyed 6 year old child asked her teacher
The teacher, a lovely 24-year-old lady with an intelligence face, a creamy complexion and a passion for teaching children, took one look at the child. Then, shaking her head she rolled her eyes, perhaps more at her age than the quality of her question. She knelt down and asked sweetly,
“Why don’t you first tell me why are u asking this question”
“Because I am curious. You see, sleep is much like death in that when we close our eyes and fall asleep, we cannot see and feel anything anymore, we don’t know where we are and we don’t know what’s going to happen next but it is different from death because we wake up”
“So you think sleep is Mrs Death? like the other half of death?”
“Yes. Exactly that”
“okay, we will discuss it some other time. Why don’t you get on with your painting” smiling, the teacher stood up straight and turned away
In the summer of July 2001, at a summer day-camp out of city, when children my age were drawing, playing hide-and-seek and throwing paints all around, I remembered, almost randomly, the animated movie I had watched the night before with my older sister in which one of the animals dies at the end and decided to ask my teacher about the phenomena of death next day.
When the end credits started rolling, after all the crying and remembering the memories of their dead companion by the friends, I turned to face my sister and asked her,
“what is death?”
As a child, I had a special penchant for asking questions. At the supermarket, at the movies, while eating out, having guests over or as guests at someone’s house, cartoons, history, T.V, dresses, I had so many questions about anything and everything, so many that at one point my mother started believing I needed a psychologist because I had difficulty comprehending the world around me, on my own. As an adult, I still ask questions, albeit not many, probably because of the fact that entering adulthood, I have understood adults very well, I know that we don’t like to ask and answer much because (a) we think only kids have the right to ask and (b) because adults are supposed to know everything otherwise they risk looking like fools. So, I still have a penchant for asking questions though, it’s not entertained as freely as it used to.
“what is death?” I inquired
My sister anticipated floating and probably drowning in a sea of questions. Raising her right eye brow she reverse-asked,
“and why are u asking”
This is what I didn’t like about adults, as a child. They never answer your questions straight like kids do, they are more interested in the “why” than the “what”.
Why don’t they just tell you what is death!!!
“because I want to know what is death before I die”
My sister took one long, hard look at me and shook her head. I never understood why adults shook their head so much when they were asked a question, but after failing to get a satisfactory answer to “why do adults shake their heads when asked a question” I decided that there might be two reasons; either they didn’t like the question or they didn’t have an answer to the question.
“well, death is when you stop breathing, stop laughing, stop seeing and stop eating, forever. You close your eyes, you don’t know what is going to happen next and you don’t know where you are”
I sat looking at her silently
“what are you thinking Rabail. Are you scared?”
“scared? why would I be scared of death if I don’t know what happens after death. Are there ghosts there?
“no, just dead people”
“what do they do there?”
“OK! time for bed”
I went to bed thinking about death and the afterlife. Just as I was falling into a deep sleep, this tiny idea popped up in my head that sleep is half-death, hence, Mrs Death and I fell asleep. The next day when I returned from the day-camp, I went straight to my father who was trying to fix his radio and asked,
“daddy, what happens after we die, where do we go”
My dad looked up and smiled. He was the only one, tolerant enough, when I asked questions and he never shook his head. The best part, he always gave straight answers.
“when we die, we go to a faraway land. Land of colors and fairies, toys and chocolates”
“are you sure?”
“how are you so sure?”
“what do you mean?”
“dad, have you talked to dead people?”
“well of course not”
“but you said you were sure?”
“I have to fix this thing and your mom is calling you. Change your dress and eat something. Go now!”
And off I went out of the room.
The next day, at day-camp, I did not mention the subject of death to my teacher. I figured I would not get the right answers because it was not possible. Only dead people could tell you what happened after death and they could not. You see, I had divided my questions about death into 3 parts, what is death like- how do you die- where do you go after you die- and I had not gotten satisfactory answers so I thought I should wait and get my answers as I grow up. It was not like I was a character traveling to an unknown land, in search of hidden truths of living in Paulo Coelho’s philosophical novels about life and death. So far it has been a smart strategy since I had not been able to grasp the intensity of death as a child.
Unlike most kids my age, I never feared death. On the contrary, it was an enigma, kindling a fire of curiosity within, and a thirst to discover the end of it. My friend cried when his father told him they never lived forever. I wondered what people in their final moments of life felt, especially in accidents where they knew that was a possibility. I also wondered about our souls and whether we felt the same way we feel now, after we died or we were nothing and what did nothing even mean. Did we stop feeling and how stop feeling felt. At 8 years old, I heard the news that a friend of a friend had tried to commit suicide. After her mother died and her father remarried, she lived a terrible life so she decided to take it. I remember feeling shocked, at what she did and at the revelation that we were capable of fighting nature and finishing our lives. What followed, was a new set of questions mainly about the pain of having to finish ourselves and the consequences. I had a privileged and a perfectly happy childhood and death was just a distant mystery, needing to be unraveled.
As an adult though, my perceptions have changed. Like most people, I have been through phases in life where I felt I was tired of life and I couldn’t function anymore. I have never seriously contemplated suicide and I do believe there’s a difference between being tired of life and wanting to take your life. Being tired of life doesn’t necessarily mean you want to end it, maybe you’d like to swap your life with someone or maybe you just need a new way of living life. Suicide is the end, and you simply do not want to breathe anymore. Sometimes, I find myself self-questioning about the Universe and what if I was a star, or a part of galaxy, or pluto or even the Sun, instead. I would possibly live forever. What if I was just an atom, or molecule or even a bug. Are humans really very lucky?. Scientists have confirmed that we are all made of stardust and I think that’s true. Regardless of the presence or absence of souls, our bodies become a part of the vast universe.
I believe we have our souls. Life is a one-way ticket but I also believe we travel somewhere else and that there is a world after we die, though I have no proof. Atheists claim the world can be explained through natural processes alone and that we are simply nothing after we die, we are processes that end. People, of course, have different views in the world, but I am of the opinion that we also have esotericness attached to us. There is an esoteric aspect in all of us; life is a one-way ticket but the universe also needs company. To be fairly honest, I sometimes get a little scared now when I think about dying and the afterlife, but not much since this is the universal truth.
I am even trying to fathom sleep. The way we close our eyes and transfer to a distant state, unknown to the one experiencing it is fascinating. What else is fascinating is how it is so close to death, and I don’t mean it in a negative way. But at least “sleep” is easier to understand and less of an enigma, and how while we are in that deep state we are still able to come back to the present, I have always called it, Mrs Death.