Note: This entries deals with death, suicidal thoughts, depression, gun violence, and other similar topics. If discussion of these topics trigger you in any fashion, do not read on.
My freshman year of college there was a school shooting on my campus. I was standing in the building next door when it happened, the doors locked and all of us in the classroom staring out the window watching the crowds and then the emergency vehicles arrive. Our instructor had abandoned us to “do the journalist thing” with little more than that comment and a backwards glance. I still hate him for leaving us alone like that, even half a dozen years later. Six people died that day, including the shooter who turned his guns on himself.
If you’re subscribed to this blog, you read my thoughts on the anniversary a few months ago. You’ll know that I’m still shaken up about it and that I still haven’t fully dealt with the gravity of the situation of that day. You might know – I can’t remember because I deleted the original post out of anger and fear – that if it had been the next day or one day earlier, I’d have been sitting in that classroom at the exact moment he walked into the classroom and started shooting at the same cluster of seats that I would drop into three times a week for my classical mythology class. I realized that only a few hours after I got home, hugged my parents, and the details of what had happened that day began pouring in. It was then that it really…hit me, what had happened. Until then, I’d spent most of my day laughing or smiling, like any other normal day, disconnected from the horror and tragedy that had happened, my mind not wanting to take in what had happened.
Today I caught up on last week’s episode of Glee, entitled “Shooting Star.” For those who aren’t regular viewers of the show, this particular episode deals with a school shooting. In truth, no one is hurt and no one dies in the episode, and even though I knew going into it that no one died, it was still nerve-wracking to watch the fear on the students’ faces, watch them – even while acting – going through the thought process of “I could die today.” and knowing that it is extremely likely that something could happen to them and they might never see tomorrow.
Since the event of my freshman year, two other shootings occurred close to me: one in my own residence hall, across the building, and one just outside my apartment complex. In the latter case, I could see the man across the street as he bled onto the pavement, the shooter long gone. I had heard the gunshots and was staring out the window, head low, trying to figure out where it was coming from as I dialed 911 to report a shooting. The next day, I finally sought therapy after turning in my assignment to my first class with trembling fingers and stammering to my professor that I couldn’t stay at class that day, I had somewhere I needed to be. After four years, I was finally seeking out the help I needed, only justified to myself with the belief that 90% of the students who had been there that day were graduated or transferred.
I’ve had other, more personal near-death experiences since then, like the time my car hit a patch of black ice at the tail end of one of the longest highway bridges that I’ve ever seen and we ended up spinning 180-degrees and staring at oncoming headlights halfway down the bridge. I jerked the car again and spun it around before we went off the road and into the grassy median. Then, too, I laughed as I slowly peeled my hands from the steering wheel, the lacing and stitches engraved into my palms. Later, I’d realize that this happened just before midnight on the first anniversary of the school shooting my freshman year.
Death terrifies me. Perhaps this surprises you, seeing how my patron god is Anubis, the Egyptian deity thought to lead souls to the afterlife, and often thought of as, in secular circles, as the Egyptian god of death (wrong, but not completely incorrect). What business do I, a devotee of an Egyptian funerary deity, have with fearing death?
For years I would lay in bed and stare at the ceiling as I contemplated what came after death. I was thirteen or fourteen maybe, staring at my posters that I’d pinned to the ceiling after having run out of room on the walls. I’d try to imagine what it felt like to feel nothing and be nothing, sending myself into panic attacks at 2am while trying to imagine the sheer vastness of nothing.
I don’t know what happens when I die. As a non-Christian, I don’t have the luxury of a belief that if I am a good person, I will ascend into some place we refer to as Heaven where everything is supposed to be beautiful and wondrous and happy; or if I’m a sinner, that I’ll burn forever in a bottomless pit called Hell. As a non-anything, I don’t have any set belief or idea of what might happen when I die.
This weekend I had a bad night (note: I did not DO anything, simply had a very rough thought process.) and I wondered at whether Anubis would come for me as I died, if he would take my hand and lead me on to whatever comes next. I could picture him in my mind’s eye, his hand reaching out for mine, and helping me up.
Death terrifies me. I don’t know what will happen when I die. My body will fail and my mind will…what? Do I have a soul or is it simply my mind making something deeper of electrical impulses in my brain? When my brain fails, does my mind go with it; are they separate things or intrinsically linked?
What does it mean to die?