What a Way to Go
by P. Orin Zack
(Dec 4, 2005)
I’ve heard it said that you feel the most alive when you’re in peril. The adrenaline rush certainly puts a fine focus on whatever you’re doing right then, and everything else in your life fades into the background. For a short time, you’re so ‘in the moment’ that it seems to stretch, and you experience it in slow motion.
But then the moment ends, the peril vaporizes, and either you survive or you die. In life, I’ve had a few of those moments, and remember them as snapshots in the scrapbook of time. I’ve also had some in dream, but they turned out quite differently, because instead of surviving the danger, I woke out of it.
And that got me to wondering.
How many times have you heard that someone ‘died quietly, in their sleep’? That’s supposedly the better way to go, the more peaceful and humane way for someone’s life to end. But now I’m not so sure.
I’ve had innumerable dreams over the years, the vast majority of which ended quietly, and memory of them faded soon after I woke up. Those I recall vividly were the ones in which I had a peak experience of one sort or another. In some cases, it was an event amid the dream, while in others it was the penultimate moment, an adrenaline drenched climax that catapulted me directly from the dream’s world to this one.
That transition is critical, for in the world that I inhabit, reality is what you make of it. The one in which I’m writing this is no more ‘real’ to me, whatever that might mean, than the ones I’ve visited while ‘asleep’ in this one. Each is as substantial as any other while I’m experiencing it, and I’ve found no reason to believe that any of them is inherently superior to the others.
Which is why the moment of transition so fascinates me. If, as I believe, this life is but a dream, then what do we wake up to when it ends? And for that matter, whose dream is this one anyway?
The answers lay in our dreams. While we’re in them, we’re not usually the selves we know by day, and the rules of those places need not be the same as those that limit our waking lives either. That’s why we can fly in dreams, or visit places that would be impossible to build here. But when we escape a dream’s world in a moment of peril, by waking out of it, we don’t feel disoriented upon returning to ‘our senses’. There is a continuity, a sameness of identity, between the self that experienced the dream and the self that stirred suddenly back to awareness.
And when we ‘die’ in this world, what then? Do we rouse in another, toss off the covers and go make some coffee? That may depend on how our ‘dream’ life ended. If it was that ‘peaceful and humane’ ending, regardless of whether it was a natural one or one assisted with sleep-inducing narcotics, that other self may just roll over and drift off into some other dream life, never suspecting that an entire uneventful lifetime had transpired. But end your life in peril, with the final moment illuminated with a wash of adrenaline, and the story of your life may remain in that other self’s memory long after your dream has ended.
Copyright 2007 P. Orin Zack