When you die you discover that actually, surprisingly, there was only ever you. You were your own mother, your own father, your own siblings and your own best friend. You were the person off the telly and the king of Indonesia. Everyone you knew, everyone you didn’t, everyone you’d heard of and all the people you hadn’t, every last man, woman and child of them; they were all you.
Of course, this doesn’t occur to you all at once. Initially, even as the shock of dying is still wearing off, you hold on to the life you thought was you. The solitary you. But then, after a while and one person at a time, you begin to see the connections: your Mother, your Father, your sister. From there you discover the others. The people you knew, the ones who talked to you, the ones who didn’t; the ones who helped and the ones who hurt.
Somehow, you can’t help thinking in terms of you. It’s still your experiences that spread out, like fingers touching across a table; one you to the next. You think on how you grew up, left home, got a job, made lifelong friends and fell in love. But you did these things with yourself. You think of all the joys and all the pains and how similar they were to other people’s joys and pains. You begin to understand that it was you all along. That’s why you felt so sad when loved ones passed away; so angry when you were powerless. It was all you.
That friend who went on to be so happy and own such a lovely house? That was you too. The greater you did well.
Give yourself a pat on the back.
You by you, life by life, you see how you made your own way, walked your own path, formed your own opinions and came to your own decisions each day in a billion different ways. You did great things, terrible things and ordinary things. You ate breakfast and went hungry. There were rewards and punishments for being you.
You populated your own world.
From the beginning of mankind, you looked up to the sun and counted the stars. You were the people who broke records with their longevity, and the babies who barely broke the surface of life. These were, you realise, all your moments. There were strong ideas and brief ideas as you moved from one distraction to another, starting wars and making love.
Looking back you wonder what would be different had you known. Would you have allowed fewer of you to be hurt? Or taken more time to enjoy your own company? After all, you had that time. You had all of history and you had every person who ever lived. Time was yours to fill and waste. And fill it and waste it you did. And spend it and hoard it and savour it and stretch it and squander it.
I mean all of this literally. When you die you do not meet your loved ones because they are you. I am you, writing these words. There is no oblivion either, just you shaking your head at how obvious it was all along and wondering why you never guessed.
You could wrap it up right there and then but somehow you don’t. You look at the lives you are still living and want them to carry on without you.
Because without them, you are nothing.
This story was first published, May 22nd 2013, on InkSweatTears – a site run by poet and artist, Helen Ivory.