As I was taking a stroll down a winding mountain path in the late hours of a pleasant evening in the hope of catching a glimpse of a beautiful sunset, I saw a figure in the distance standing perilously close to the edge of what seemed like a cliff. He was standing with arms outstretched overlooking the valley. A thought flashed across my mind that this person was about to jump. I ran towards him as quickly as I could.
I shouted. “Hey. Stop”
“Hey. You there. Wait.”
He heard my voice and turned around. I reached there almost panting. I noticed his face was calm with just a hint of a smile. I almost bumped into him as there was a slope near the edge of the cliff and if he would not have held me, I would have gone down the edge myself.
Catching my breath, I said, “What.. What were you going to do? I thought you were going to jump.”
He said, “Yes, I was going to when I heard you.” He answered as a matter of fact as if it was the most natural thing to do at the edge of a cliff.
I blurted, “WHAT!. You were going to jump.. You mean you were going to… commit suicide. No. No. You can’t. You cannot do that!”
“Why not?”, he asked in the same calm tone. Something about his calmness had an effect on me and I gained my composure.
“Uh. I mean, you cannot just jump like that and kill yourself. It’s illegal to commit suicide.”
“You mean to say I will be punished if I commit suicide and die?” he looked at me with amusement.
I suddenly realized the stupidity of my question. I tried to gather my wits. He did not seem to be in a hurry to do anything and in a way was even enjoying the moment. What kind of man was he who was going to commit suicide and did not even show any sign of being troubled.
“Why? Why do you want to kill yourself? Any financial troubles?”
“Any trouble in your relationships”
I did not know what to ask next. Most people who commit suicide do so under great emotional duress caused by financial or emotional problems and here was a man who claimed to have no such problems and yet wanted to die. I was confused and curious at the same time.
The sky was beginning to get dark and the moon was a shining crescent. But I wanted to get to the bottom of this. I knew if I left him now, he would certainly jump. So I decided to engage him in a conversation.
“So why do you want to end your life? Are you not happy?”
“Are you happy?”
The question took me by surprise. I did not expect that.
“No I meant aren’t you happy in life? Why are you committing suicide?”
“I can never be happy. That is why I am killing it.”
“Yes, that’s why I am asking. What is the reason for you being unhappy? Look. It is a beautiful life. One must live and not end one’s life just like that.”
With a deep sigh, he looked at me and then looked at the horizon which was now turning pink and orange just after the sunset. He sat down stretching his legs in front of him. I also sat down beside him.
He said looking at the clouds in the distant sky, “Sooner or later, everyone has to die”
I said, “Yes, that’s right. We will all die but let life take its natural course. Who are you to kill yourself?” I felt some inconsistency in my question the moment I asked it. Does one need anybody’s permission to die? Does my life belong to somebody else that I need to take approval for ending it?
Agreed that my parents gave birth to me and raised me and now the organization pays my salary. Still, I am an independent individual and I don’t think anyone else can have a say about my life, definitely not the government.
God maybe. After all, God or nature or whatever is that force that created me is the only one that can or has the right to take life away from me. I cannot complain to anyone when I die of old age.
Come to think of it, I have no clue when I will die and under what circumstances – old age, accident, cancer, who knows. But surely, I will not end my own life. I have many things to do in life. I want to travel and visit different countries, experience the pleasures of life and fulfill my responsibilities towards my family and society. I also have to complete that project on which I am working.
“Do you know the story of the businessman and the fisherman?” his words broke my thought process.
I remembered the story quite well. A businessman advises a fisherman, who was happily relaxing under a tree to work harder and harder until one day he could earn enough money to happily relax under a tree. The fisherman asked him – what do you think I am doing now?
I said, “Yes, I know that story. What about it?”
“You see, Alexander conquered the whole world and still died. Julius Caesar was king of the world and still died. Genghis Khan dominated the whole world and still died. Everyone who ever wanted to rule the world ended up dying. In the course of their conquests, they became the cause of the death of millions of people. What is the meaning of their life?”
I almost began to explain how their life is a great example and what a great achievement it is to conquer the world but I stopped. The way he framed that question against the outcome of their conquests made me hesitate and reflect.
History is usually presented to us as a one sided story. No doubt, Alexander conquered the world but it is also a fact that he killed millions of people in his way. To prove what? Were these people posing any problem to his kingdom? Definitely not. I instantly lost all regard for all the people engaged in war and battles through the ages. There was a contradiction created in my mind. I was arguing that it is not right to end one’s own life and here I was unconsciously appreciating all those who killed others. If I cannot end my own life, what right do I have to end someone else’s life?
He saw the puzzled look on my face and smiled. He got up and started to walk away from the cliff back towards the mountain path. I quickly got up and started following him. I was relieved that he might have changed his mind about jumping off the cliff. Some stars were visible in the sky now although it was not completely dark.
“Every person is born in a certain environment, a certain atmosphere imbued with certain potentials.” I heard him saying. Although he was a few feet ahead of me, I could hear him clearly.
He continued, “Alexander was born in an environment where he had swords and spears as his training tools and playing toys. Young men in his time aspired to be in the army as that was honorable and prestigious. Further, even if he had the idea in his imagination, he could not have come up with a usable rifle or a battle tank. He was limited to horses. Follow me?”
“Yes, I do.” I said. I could see some sense in what he was saying. My thoughts started associating. Alexander Graham Bell could not have invented the iPhone. The technology simply was not there in his time. All he could do in his time and age was to invent the telephone. The industrial revolution of the early 19th century would have inspired many desirous young men at the time to get into the rapidly growing manufacturing industry to seek out a fortune.
In our times, we see young men aspire for a life in computing or information technology. We have now a well-established school curriculum to inject students with all the knowledge needed to be able to make a career for themselves. Most end up doing jobs and some enterprising ones become successful in creating new companies and new products.
“In the end everyone is going to die.”
Did I say that or did he say that? I was not sure. Was he reading my thoughts?
I asked, “What did you say?”. He did not reply, just kept walking.
I tried to connect the ideas. We are born, we are influenced by our environment, we pursue those ideals which the atmosphere around us projects and ultimately we die. Like there is no fun in watching a suspense movie when right from the beginning you know who the culprit is, there is no fun in living a life when you know the end result.
If I am anyway going to die someday, why not today? Why not end this? What is the point of accomplishing a hundred things and then dying? Like the fisherman said to the businessman – what do you think I am doing now, I asked myself, what is the point of living if I am going to die?
Suddenly he turned around and coming closer said, “Exactly. That’s the question.”
We had reached another higher spot on the mountain. The wind was blowing fast and I had started to feel cold. I wish I had brought my windcheater. Obviously I had not planned on meeting this person and staying out so late. As I saw him moving closer to the edge of the precipice I felt another chill. Had he changed his mind again? He probably wanted to jump off from a higher spot after all. Maybe he was aspiring for a higher death. Shut up, I said to myself.
I decided to divert his attention by asking, “Hey tell me one thing. I do see the point that since I am going to die anyway, I see the futility of all the struggles and achievements in life even if all my craziest desires are fulfilled. But at the same time, something in me is definitely not convinced that the only option is to end my life right now. So if suicide is not an option and living is also not an option, what option do I have?”
“Did you have any choice in your birth – to what parents to be born to, in what year and age to be born in, in which country to be born in?”, he asked.
“Do you have a choice in your death – with what illness to die, at what age to die, in which country to die, in which accident or disaster to die?”
“Then what makes you certain you have a choice in anything that happens between the two points of birth and death?”
I frowned. I did not understand what he said but I knew he had said something of deep significance. I reflected on it. I am born in this year and age, to my parents in the social and economic environment of my times. All my aspirations and desires are molded by the atmosphere in which I live.
If today for instance, I decide to take a sword and spear and announce my mission of conquering the world, I would be caught and put in an asylum. I do not desire a telephone but an iPhone because that is what is available.
I may desire to travel to space one day because that is on the horizon of being a reality but I cannot desire something that I have no idea about. I have a desire to earn money but now the atmosphere is in the process of creating the desire to earn cryptocurrencies.
I started to feel a strange sensation. I realized that I am aware of the atmosphere and the environment more clearly than I am aware of who I am as a separate entity from the rest of everything. I knew a lot about the universe, the earth, countries, languages, economics, politics, history, science, mathematics, people in my life, my experiences and memories. But who am I? This I do not know.
“You want to know?” He again seemed to have mysteriously read my mind.
I did not have to answer. He knew I wanted to.
“Come up here.” He asked me to come close to the edge where he was standing. It was already night and the lights from the city down below was the only way to know how far up we were on the mountain. It was scary.
He stepped back and asked me stand on the edge. I hesitated. He asked me to close my eyes to keep the fear away. The cold wind was blowing hard on my face.
All of a sudden he pushed me from behind. Was it that he pushed me or was it that he entered my body. I could not make out. I was not falling. I opened my eyes instinctively.
The sky was full of stars like never before I had seen. Every inch of the sky was filled with stars. I could feel as if in slow motion I on this earth was moving in this celestial vast emptiness of space. I did not feel my body or hands or legs. Just plain awareness of being. Infinite. Timeless.
That moment I realized, there was no birth, no death, neither me, nor another.
“Stop reading those spooky stories”, my wife shouted from the bedroom. “Switch off the lights and sleep. Have to wake up the kids for school at six”. I quickly closed the book and jumped into the blanket with her.