Plan for tomorrow, live for today.

This is about life. Or to be more precise, death and my personal thoughts about it. Like the passing of time itself, we cannot stop it and it's a moment we all share. As my own father always says, “The one thing certain in life is death”. From the grand old tortoises that will outlast us all, to the humble mayfly that has an existence of one day on this planet. 

But what is life? I'm not talking about 'the meaning of' - that is for minds across the generations to discuss at length. For the artists to depict, the poets to write about and the philosophers to imagine. What I'm talking about is the actual biological process. The moment where cells start dividing, following a plan of passed on DNA code that tells those cells what they will become. And what will the cells become? The afore mentioned tortoise or perhaps a tree? Or perhaps a bouncing baby boy? All of us, like the humble mayfly are created in this way.  

What’s with the mayfly I hear you ask? I've chosen the mayfly as a symbol for this first section for no other reason than its very short lifespan. Born of egg or womb it makes no difference, we come into this world, and with luck, grow to maturity, mate - passing on our own genetic code along the way - and then we leave this earth. For the mayfly that can often be less than one solar day. What is life like when the span is so short? At noon on that glorious day does the mayfly wish he'd learnt more at mayfly school? Does Mrs Mayfly wish she'd married someone a bit more attractive? Or does the mayfly simply wish that for that particular morning, on that particular day, for its 'formative years' as a mayfly, it hadn't rained? We will never know.  

But what happens after the mayfly dies? If it's not eaten by an opportunistic bird, becoming part of the larger food chain, what happens to its body? Science tells us that the cells that divided to start the whole process of life finally stop reproducing, and the body decays until every cell is either absorbed by the surrounding ground or disappears into nothing. What happens to all the mayfly's dreams and accomplishments? The songs he wrote between 4.45am and 4.48am after learning four chords on his mate Mike's new guitar? The present he gave to his wife after many happy hours together at 8.23pm? These are the thoughts that have troubled me over the last few years as I reach the halfway point in my own life. Not about the mayfly of course - I hadn't given that song loving, hard-working, long loving little fly a second thought until I was writing this. I've been thinking about death itself. 

I'm obviously a human. Homosapien. 60% water, 15% bone and a whole lot of other ingredients. A biological organism. A mammal. An intelligent species of mammal yes, but like all mammals I need food, water, a safe place to sleep. Sleep, however, had been eluding me for many months. The reason for this was death. Or the thought of death. That I might not wake up in the morning to see my family. Although this was the unselfish part of my thinking. Whilst it pains me to admit it in writing, I wasn’t really thinking about them. Their life, however painful for my passing, would go on. My selfish fear of death is my death itself. How it will affect me.  

I’m a reasonably intelligent person. I know, that I won’t know, that I’m dead. This is what scares me the most. This is what keeps me awake at night. The thought that I won’t ‘think’ again. I won’t feel. I won’t shoot awake and thank my lucky stars that it was all a dream. I won’t dream. I won’t know how I am found. Or who cries at my funeral. Or if anyone even turns up. I won’t know… forever. My life is a passing blip on this planet of rock that our species of mammal calls Earth. The little piece of luck that made my parents fall in love and give birth to a little boy will be all for nothing. My dreams, my aspirations, my beautiful wife, my two boys and my little girl all will be meaningless. All the time that I spend at work, to earn the money that I need to eat food, drink water, keep warm, won’t have mattered. My brain and the millions of cells that make it work, that make me, me, will be gone. Just another number on the ever increasing databases, a side note when, generations from now, someone looks into the family tree. 

I started to think like this a couple of years ago. Now, at almost 40, I’m coming to the ‘noon’ of my life. The (with luck) halfway point. Many might call this a ‘midlife crisis’. I’m not convinced this is the case. At the point I write this I’m married, have successfully passed on my DNA to the next generation, and can feed, clothe and support my family. I am happy. If it wasn’t for the fear that I am about to die any day, I might actually enjoy my life. There have been a few other contributing factors to how I’ve been thinking and feeling. A friend dropping down dead after an asthma attack was the start of it I think. I’ve got asthma and, up until this happened to her, I was blissfully unaware that this could even happen. Then, a few years back, I had to have an operation on my knee and didn’t move around enough whilst it healed. I got two clots that went to my lungs. I found it very hard to breath and I thought I was having an asthma attack like my friend – although my asthma has been under control for 30 years. It scared me. It scared me to the point that every twinge in my chest I thought was a heart attack. Every pain that I was now noticing I was thinking was an omen. Eventually all of this caught up to me and I needed to get professional help. As part of my ‘understanding’ process my counsellor recommended that I write all of my feeling and fears down. And this is what you are reading now. My thoughts on death itself. 

Now you can’t talk about death without mentioning religion. For thousands of years it has been part of every culture, of every civilisation that has been and gone. It’s what we all face at the end I imagine. The hope and dreams that there might be something else after. Something to look forward to as the body starts to slow down, wear down and eventually gives up. It’s probably quite obvious but I’m an atheist. I don’t believe that there is an all-powerful being, or beings (depending on what religion you believe in) up in the sky looking down on us. I firmly believe that it was a lucky chance that we happened to evolve into the species of animals we are now. Indeed science shows us that, in a single extinction event of our planet, about 450 million years ago, only 4% of all life survived. Imagine if 6% had survived? Would there have been a more dominant species in place of us? Would our species have evolved at all? It has all been a series of lucky breaks that we exist at all. 

I am firmly of the opinion that religion is outdated in this day and age. Over the centuries most religions developed into a way of controlling the populace. A way to tax them and feed on fear of the unknown. That is why I don’t think religion is relevant anymore. A lot of the first religions were based around paganism, being at one with nature. Gods of trees, fertility and thunder. If it thundered, the gods were angry. Now, due to advancements in science we know why thunder happens. We know about thermal winds and hurricanes. All the reasons that religions were created originally – to try and explain the unexplainable, can now be explained? 

But what if there is a deity somewhere, perhaps in a dimension we can’t see, that created our species? What would they think of how we’ve turned out? We still use religion to kill other people. Because they’ve not had the same indoctrination that we’ve had. They’re non-believers. We still use religion to persecute other people because they dare to love someone of the same sex. As a species we are cruel, barbaric and vindictive. How could a deity believe THAT  was the master plan for our species? Or is he, she, they, it, as cruel as we are? And if, when we die, our ‘spirit’ goes on to be with them… would we truly want to, if this is the case?  

And what about our humble mayfly? Do they have an afterlife? What about an elephant? Why is our species of mammal so certain that we were made better than every other species – that our life is destined for greatness after death? Is the mayfly’s spirit better or worse than ours because he’s smaller and less intelligent? Is the afterlife covered in millenniums worth of ants? Or mosquitoes? These are questions we will never know the answer to – even with our science advancing daily. And it’s the not knowing about death that really scares me. 

I often wake at night, shaking. Tomorrow I could walk out of the door of my house and a roof tile could fall off and kill me instantly. Crushing my skull into fragments of bone and squashing flat the cells in my brain that make me breathe. I’m just a bag of skin, holding together the squidgy bits that allow me to survive and start the process all over again the next day. I often cry out in the night, when the thoughts of not 'being' overwelm me. The thoughts of what I might miss out on, that I won't wake to see the next sunrise, that I won't get to see my children grow up scares me so much. 

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At the time of writing the above I was in quite a dark place. It was affecting my day-to-day life. I would think about death on the way to work, at night, almost every waking moment. I am pleased to say though, I am starting the process of healing. Not in the Deadpool kind-of-way (that would solve all my issues) but to try and sort out all my feelings on this. I know that, like the moon going around the Earth, the day of my death is inevitable. However I have started recently to change how I see this. As my therapist said, it's time to start concentrating on actually living my life.

We've just taken a holiday and are planning for more work to be done on the house. If I let my fear win then I won't get anything done. I've not got much time on this green planet so from this point on I am going to enjoy it. To focus on my children and my wife. They are my reason for living. As a biological organism I have technically done my part to continue my species, but that doesn't mean I can't enjoy the ride. I don't know what my life will bring. Whether I will be rememberd fondly when I'm gone. But I'm going to try my hardest to make every day count. Do my best in whatever I do.

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