One Day I Will No Longer Exist
Atom 1: We were the ones
Atom 2: It was us
Music, lights, two atoms run in slow motion towards each other. Collision. Music Cuts. Party Popper goes off.
Atom 1: The beginning
Atom 2: Of all things
The atoms smile and hold hands. Long pause. Slowly they stop smiling and let go of each other’s hands.
Atom 1: And it’s been fucking ages since
Atom 2: Yeah, I mean, a lot longer than we thought
Atom 1: a lot longer
Disgruntled. They make appearances (as usual) but linking pinkie fingers in solidarity, still no smiles
Atom 1: Love you
Atom 2: Love you too
This is a weird theatrical vignette I put on paper about 2 years ago. I found it in my bedroom whilst sorting through some old notebooks. It captures my continual fascination with the nature of the Universe, how it all began and our eventual place within it. One day I’m sure this will make it off the page and on to stage because I seem to have this ongoing preoccupation with the concept of two atoms in conversation. It makes me laugh (I make myself laugh, it’s unacceptable but who cares).
The famous calculation by Carl Sagan says that, if the Universe’s timelines was a calendar year, human evolution from primates would only have begun as of December 30th; which spells out quite bluntly how much history came before us. It can make you feel pretty insignificant knowing your one life isn’t even a fraction of a millisecond in the context of all time. Sometimes I can get quite bogged down in all of it so I write these silly sketches like the one above to counteract the enormity of it all. Some just put their head down, accept that this living thing is legit and loads of people have done it before, and just watch a good Netflix series like a normal person- I’m working on this method also.
Moving away from the science of time (she says as casually as 'moving into the next room'), I come to a place of thinking about how we spend the 'precious' minutes we have on a more emotional and philosophical level. Sometimes this is in the consideration of the literal tasks I undertake over a period of a few months and sometimes it comes in the form of a suspended moment; a feeling that is isolated and captured and seemingly not within the laws of time itself at all. Thinking about the time we have and what we do with it (nearly inserted a Lord of the Rings quote but have resisted so as not to become a parody of myself) provokes a near on existential crisis (which is, by the way, one of my most over-used terms in all my blogs- should we all be concerned?). In contrast, all this thinking can also be soothing; a space to reflect and be mindful and ponder on how we wish to be remembered by the Universe.
It struck me when I was a child that I wouldn’t be around forever and the feeling came quite suddenly too. I have been writing about this- semi-fictionalising the moment for the sake of a play I keep putting down and coming back to. I thought I would share an excerpt:
‘She turns the light out. I didn’t mind the dark. And I have my special star light that projects the galaxy all over my bedroom ceiling. I listened to the sound of cars passing, older children making their way home from extra curricular activities, dogs barking in nearby gardens. The galaxy above me. Everything is so … huge. I lie there feeling comfortingly insignificant. Vast darkness. And tiny lights. Like a map. The universe was born and it cried out. But no one can claim it as their own. Even though humans try to. I thought about the uncontrollable chemical reactions. The coincidence. The chaos. My tiny five-year-old body and brain torn between now and everything that has come before.
And then, a new sensation.
Like someone had taken an ice cream scoop and cleaved out the bit from between the top of my ribcage, dropping it into the bowl of my lower abdomen. The feeling of happy softness had been ripped out and replaced with something hollow. It was so sudden that my heart raced instantly, a sweat broke out all over my body. I sat up, searching in the darkness. I thought it might be what it normally is, what I’m used to. I brace myself for the anger but its doesn’t come. It’s something else this time. The knowledge washed over me like jumping into a freezing pool of water, sudden and clear; swift and painful. I shook my head, hoping the vigorous movement would expel the gross realisation from it. With my blood pounding, my pulse seemed to beat the words out one at a time into my tightening chest. Despite all this. Despite everything. Despite always knowing. Always understanding it. A part of me already gone and somehow still here. I had never truly felt it until now.
One. Day. I. Will. No. Longer. Exist.’
Reading that you might think it’s a bit mad that a child could or even would ponder these things just before sleep. I didn’t expect it myself and I do return to this feeling regularly in my adult life. Sometimes it scares me, like it did then, but at other times I feel I am now more able to accept the transient nature of ‘being’.
I think now that there are more options for people – what we can and should with our time is a bigger lucky dip than it was before and because of this we actually find (well, people my age certainly do) that the crisis of 'purpose' becomes even more exaggerated. There are all these potential versions of yourself existing in parallel universes - which one do you choose? The problem is. in stressing out about your purpose, you don’t really end up making the most of the life you have. Because time doesn’t stop to facilitate these moments does it? Things move on. And the world is a noisy and harsh place. Do you ever get that feeling when you suddenly realise you’ve been on auto-pilot for days and you are charging head first through everything almost not coming up for breathe or to stretch your limbs? And then you realise you need to breathe deep, much deeper, and perhaps stare at a blank wall for a moment with nothing extra to occupy or distract you. And it's only then that you ask yourself the question: ‘Am I okay?’
Recently I’ve been stopping to have these moments- actively allowing the space to check in with myself. It’s remarkable what 5 minutes of conversation with inner you can do. Sometimes, of course, you don’t make time and these moments catch you off guard- you falter or slip a little under the weight of them. I found another piece of writing of mine (presents from past me) that I think illustrates this point:
'I burnt the inside of my elbow on an oven tray. It was so hot it was like molten lava. I thought at the time, this is only a fraction of how hot the centre of the earth is, at the core. When all the continents broke apart and collided and formed complex labyrinths. Lava oozing in amongst them. I was making fish fingers. And I burnt my elbow as I leant across the counter and it only caught for a second but it hurt. A lot. And I started to cry as I ran it under the tap. But it was the strangest feeling. It was like the source of the pain wasn’t from the burn on the inside of my elbow but instead from somewhere deep inside me. Like a damn breaking under the weight of a river. And it just flowed out of me. Torrents and torrents of rushing water streaming from my eyes and from the tap and mingling together in the plug hole. And when I turned the tap off, I stayed there for a moment head bowed, almost in shame. I did not recognise myself. But I recognised the slight touch of the oven tray had nudged me over the edge of an unknown precipice. A void where time and space did not exist. The quiet summer afternoon breathed back at me. Some traffic in the distance. The world moves on. Unaffected by this moment in my kitchen. I get some ointment for the burn and, as I carefully press it over the thin red line that has drawn itself there, I imagine I am sealing up all the sorrow and pain in every lonely soul in the world, that time forgot to stop for'.
It's a bit sad that one. I hope that doesn’t leave you feeling too sad. I actually read that now and see hope. There is no shame in expressing the more complex parts of ourselves. Giving the space to do this only means we are actively processing the difficult nature of being alive in this world- it is a privilege and a burden- always in contention with itself.
A final angle on my mind in terms of my relationship with time (it’s #complicated) is linked to self-expression. We all have different ways to put our perspectives out into the world. What happens internally must find an external release so that who we are is not forgotten too easily. This is the way humans have allowed themselves to be preserved in time- by leaving something of themselves in the world for others to witness. People want to be remembered for different things- for what they did, for what they said, for how they made others feel. We don’t necessarily want to be remembered for what we didn’t do, what we didn’t say and what we failed to make others feel. I am troubled by the notion of wasting time and wasting the opportunity to make a difference with my time on this planet. It’s a high expectation on a single life but one many of us feel. I suppose by taking the time to sit and write for others to read has been my way of channelling that feeling so that the five year old version of me who realised that I would no longer exist one day, can at least be soothed by the act of leaving footprints in the form of creative expression.
Journalist, Brigid Schulte, sums this feeling up better than I could (please see link at the bottom for the full article). She has written about how women in particular are pressured to use their time for certain means and how if, throughout history, we had been given more space and means to express our inner worlds, rather than taking care of children and scrubbing the floors, then current society may have a very different set of books and records on the shelf in every home. Let’s finish with her wonderful words about how, if we took the time, we could all do great things and leave magnificent marks on the Universe.
‘Sometimes, I dream that I’m sitting in a dusky room at a kitchen table across from another version of me, who sits, unbound by time, quietly drinking a cup of tea. “I wish you’d visit more often,” she tells me. And I wonder if that searing middle-of-the-night pain that, at times, settles like dread around my solar plexus may not only be because there’s so little unbroken time to tell my own untold stories, but because I’m afraid that what may be coiled inside may not be worth paying attention to anyway. Perhaps that’s what I don’t want to face in that dusky room I dream of...What would happen if we decided women deserved the time to go to their dusky rooms and stay awhile at the kitchen table? What if we all decided to visit more often, drinking a quiet cup of tea with ourselves, listening to the coil of stories as they unspool, knowing they have value simply because they’re true?’