What do I not want to think about in my last seconds of life?* A lot of things, obviously. I wouldn’t want to waste my last seconds thinking about inconsequential things like whether or not I’ve turned off the stove or errands that I’ve left unfinished. I wouldn’t want to waste that time thinking about regrets or things that I’ve never had the chance to do. You know, trivial stuff in the whole scheme of things.
Then again, it’s human nature to wish that our lives aren’t trivial. That we have more meaning beyond the seemingly small random events which make up the bulk of our lives. In hindsight, we can assign meanings and influences to what has happened to us. And we can speak about it as a narrative. Usually when someone asks us to tell them about ourselves, we are able to shape our past into a story that we find interesting. We have control over the details, filtering out anything we might deem irrelevant.
But those last seconds are out of our hands. And I think that’s why it may seem unsettling. The implicit lack of control may be one of the reasons why we even have preferences for what we want to think about in those last seconds. Because in those last seconds, any thought could cross the mind. If the thought is about something inconsequential or about things not done, one’s end fizzles into a non sequitur. If it was the ending of a book, it would be a wall-banger because it doesn’t make sense in the context of the story. For storytellers, that would be unacceptable. The end should involve some kind of grand, profound statement. An insight. A koan. Or at least something that is related to what is happening at that moment.
However, this is reality. And real life isn’t a neat outline with all the causes and effects mapped out. The saying that fact can be stranger than fiction is true. Characters in fiction must be “believable”–in other words, their actions must flow logically from what was established about them in the narrative. Real people, on the other hand, can behave randomly and irrationally. I could act randomly and irrationally. And who’s to say what thoughts will logically float into my consciousness at any time, let alone in those last seconds?
Let’s step back a bit, though, and perhaps ponder if there is a more fundamental question than asking what sort of thoughts I would want or not want to have in my last moments. I think a critical question is, does it really matter what I think–whether it’s trivial or profound? My instinctive answer to that question is no. Or at least it doesn’t matter in my case. Unless I somehow get a case of verbal diarrhea on my deathbed (or that somehow in the near future, someone develops technology to upload everyone’s thoughts for all to see–like Twitter with a neural interface), no one is going to really know what I will be thinking. And after I’m gone, I wouldn’t be here to care about what I thought anyway, would I?
*Written for a writing group prompt.