I believe in the truism that we can only appreciate life when confronted with the irrevocable finality of death. I have never loved life more than in the immediate aftermath of when I was certain I would die. On those rare, few occasions everything changes. The concept of free will — acting without the constraints of fate or the anesthesia of passivity — becomes the primordial raison d’être, the bedrock upon which we decide our every daily action and reaction. I will improve my relationships with all of my family members, I tell myself. I will strive to understand the greatest aspirations of my closest friends. I will love my work and I will work for love. I will always look at the passing countryside through the eyes of a painter. I will examine each social situation with the empathy and curiosity of a novelist. I will listen to every song as if were Mozart’s last concert. I will make love with the enveloping desire that stretches our senses taut and leaves behind the less holy, savage world of honking cars and passing jumbo jets. I have seen death, I tell myself, and now I know how I want to live the rest of my life.
Months and years go on. For our sanity, we, the non-believers, repress even the slightest reflection of death and the road between right now and the eventual day when whoever remains will stand solemnly around our grave, the vessels to carry forth any influence or wisdom we may have imparted; perhaps even the very DNA — that mysterious computational code of life — that has been handed down from generation to generation since our zoological ancestors. Which is to say that we repress the overwhelming evidence of our constant biological decomposition.
This is a novel about biological decomposition. About our bodies breaking down even when our minds are not ready to; even when we are intelligent enough to know that there is, in fact, no distinction between mind and body. About the loneliness and regret that await us when we are able to take stock of every wrong decision, of every selfish act, of the detriment we’ve caused others, and thus ourselves. At 75-years-old, atonement (“reconciliation between God and man,” says the OED), must seem absurd to the non-believer. Eventually I assume that we reach the age where we simply try not to think about such things and we wait for our time to come.
Everyman is the most metaphysically depressing book I have ever read. It only took two days to finish, yet every ten pages I asked myself, What is this all for? This highlighting of pages, this reading of newspapers, this traveling around the world, this working toward slightly more transparent governments. Why? I still have no answers; only that it is usually better to not ask such existential questions. Or, perhaps, the remedy is to come face to face once more with death. We are all emotional philosophers after all.