AS I LAY DYING (by Joshua Omenga)
How was I to know that this day will ever arrive when I will look back at all my years of living, all my strivings, all my loves and hates, all my desires and loathing, all my years of devotion to religion, all the pains and travails of my life, and the moments of laughter with friends and wild jubilations for things achieved – that in this moment, as I lay dying, I would look at them all and sum them up in one word: Vanity? Not a prophet could have foretold this…Now I see clearly the road which I have traversed in this life, the crooked and the straight, the ones in which I have made diligent efforts to choose, the ones I have chosen impulsively; that all of them, the road taken and the road not taken, lead, in this inevitable hour, to one end. Wherefore is that voice that in life warns man of making bad decisions? Is this not the fruition of it all, this narrow end at which all life’s journeys converge? What means the telling of different stories when each man’s story must have this sad ending? O child, do not wet my deathbed with tears! Don’t weep for the life which has ended; weep instead for your life, and if the mist may clear from your eyes, learn what you may of this unvarying tale, for one day, you will find that all life’s end is the same.
I cannot say, ‘Life has given this to me’, for none of life’s gifts is permanent, and none of them is of any use to me now. Shall I talk of the wealth that I have acquired? Shall I remember my tardy expectations, my shrewish bargains, my unreserved husbandry? What do my toils mean in this last hour? What consolation may I derive from them? That they will be for my children? What joy is there in this knowledge, when I shall close my eyes to all affairs, to all sensations, to all knowings? No, there is nothing in it for me except the knowledge that I once had, that I once possessed; yea, that I have…
As for these children that I have shed many tears, spend untold hours to wipe their noses, wrung my heart in worry over their sick beds, held their little hands as they took uncertain steps in this uncertain world, smiled at their full-throated laugh – what are they to me now, when I shall behold them no more, when I shall think no more of them? What does it matter that they think of me when I don’t know that they think of me? Where is the truth in the aphorism that they are an eternal heritage, these children which this closing night will erase their memory from my head?
O child, listen wisdom is nothing! Knowledge is nothing! I have accumulated knowledge, known many secrets, read many books; but O child, they are to me like all the rest of my acquisitions! What is the knowledge that will decay with my brain, the wisdom that will not circumvent this moment? Ah, the philosophers are to blame for elevating wisdom, for parading knowledge as though it is anything. Don’t listen to them: they all lie! When this moment arrives, you will find that there is no difference between the brute and the sage.
All is lie, child; all the things you hold sacred are nihil. There is no recompense for them all. Shun that voice that tells you to live good; shun that voice that tells you to live evil; shun all voice but yours. Choose that life you will, live it, and when it comes to an end, when this inescapable moment arrives, you will have nothing to regret. Yes, child, for in this last hour, all life is the same. I testify that when life has come to its end, it will not matter what road you have taken to reach it.
What dreams I will encounter in this eternal sleep I do not know. I hear the Voice, the Voice which had sustained my faith; It says, ‘Sleep and be with your God.’ I have believed this Voice, this God; I have laboured in this affair called religion – but what is religion when I close my eyes? What is God when I cease to exist? Is he not for the living – the living who go on suffering for Him, the living who hope to reap the reward of their devotion when they are dead? Whose then is God – the dead who will not have him or the living who will die for him? Ah, where are you God? Will you lend me your hand to feel, tell me what lies ahead in this inexplicable journey of my embarkation? Do not forsake me now, when all else has become nothingness. Or are you too, like them, nothing in the end? Are you merely the conjuration of religionists?
I have heard that it is the soul that you care for, not the body. But of what use is my soul without my body? I want to have my body; preserve that for me and you shall have justified my years of religion. I have tried to imagine the abstraction called spirit and if it is real, if ever in this vast cosmos one may point at a thing and say, ‘This is a spirit’, I see no reason why I should desire it more than other vain things that I have desired in life. I see no reason why, for the promise of a life away from my body, I should spent years of penance and self-abnegation, seek after the justice that the whole world is bent against, and endure persecution for the sake of pleasing you. How clearly I see all things now, when there is no remedy for lost things, when I cannot turn back and follow a different route. But all routes are the same. O vain, this life; one may plan and pray and still come to the same abysmal end. Wherein lies this hope that faith infuses in the heart which believes?
I have been told that sometime in an indefinite future, a vast celestial trumpet shall awake all dead to life and souls shall be restored. Which body will the restored soul occupy? A new created flesh? O God, you may keep my soul, destroy it even; but let this flesh of mine be there, this brain, this me, imperfect and ailing – let it be the object of my resurrection. What is the ‘I’ if I look for my being and not find it? I don’t want that soul whose substance have eluded men; I want this body as it is, this sensate ‘I’, this brain with all its knowledge and unwisdom, not a purified soul worthy of walking beside you.
Grant me immortality! Let there be no time that I will not be. What does it mean to not be, to cease to exist? Tell, O ye immortal – but can you, always existing, know what it means not to exist? I long to know! I long to understand this void for which I am destined! I long to foreknow, to anticipate; else how do I know when I cease to exist, when I have arrive at death’s destination? O God, if you are, if you know, teach me!
I look but I cannot see, I listen but I cannot hear, I touch but I cannot feel; everything is melting away. Nothing remains but this chasmic feel. There is peace around me, bliss ineffable. Am I this floating, unfeeling being in this vast impersonal space? What is this great luminary that provides no light and yet dazzles? I strain for this ethereal sight but I cannot reach it. All things are fleeting. All shapes, all colours, all tastes conjoin in one indescribable swirl and around me they circle; no, they are me. But there is no me – nothing of what once I called ‘me’. And yet, and yet… I grope, in my brain? I strain to think but think I cannot. Ah, this… where… may I... O? Cr… h…