When the end is not nigh

On May fourth, I had the opportunity to do a presentation of my novels at the Guadalajara Book Fair. During the talk, I touched different topics ranging from the fabulism as cathartic experience, the relevance of magical realism as a sub-genre in Latin American literature, to the real-life experiences of my family which inspired the ideas of my books. I’ve covered these stories in previous entries of my blog, which can be found here.

It was quite interesting for me to see how the audience listened attentively to my entire exposition, especially drawn to the topics of Death, the afterlife and near-death experiences.

At the end of my presentation, we opened the microphone to receive questions from the audience, and I was surprised by the enthusiasm of the public regarding the topic of Death. Some recounted their experiences or asked me questions about my beliefs after studying the topic for so long. But of all participants, there was one who his inquiry certainly took me off guard and I could not remove it from my mind for several days after.

When he approached the microphone located in the central aisle, the man didn’t resemble the fantasy-reader type to me. He was older, and wore common clothes and a cap, which he removed before asking his question. “With the experiences you’ve shared, and your study about Death, I would like to ask you… I’m 67 years old, and I want to die, but Death refuses to take me, do you know why?”

I was shocked.

Before my presentation, I had mentally prepared myself to answer many questions, but no training could have prepared me to answer that. Not even days after, or even now as I write this, can I elaborate an answer which could appease that man’s heart.

Many things passed through my mind. Considering the background of the man, Mexicans are highly catholic, especially people of his age, and Christianity in all its variants attributes the acts of giving life and taking it only to God, hence considering suicide a sin which prevents us from entering heaven. But what truly puzzled me was to consider that this man had taken his doubts to priests and religion could not offer a satisfactory answer, so he had to stand in the crowded dais to seek the craved answers… from a writer.

I could not tell if the man had attempted suicide or used alcohol or other substances just to speed up his finale, considering he seemed healthy for his age. But what I could tell for sure was that his eyes reflected the insufferable agony of living a life devoid of meaning.

And in this day and age, this has become a more prevalent problem: finding a reason for existence.

During my presentation, I mentioned that for me, the enigma of Death is truly the enigma of life. Understanding why we came to this life for, is to understand why we fated to abandon this existence. Both are intertwined. Life and Death. The ephemeral versus the eternal. One signifies the other.

But for most of us, finding a purpose is the most daunting task of our lives.

But why?

I see many people complaining the current education system “doesn’t prepare students for the true challenges of life”, but in the extensive list of subjects suggested, “finding a purpose in life” never shows up.

It’s easier for us, just to get busier with all the complexities of ordinary life and evade our human responsibility of our search for meaning. And it’s until we approach the sunset of our existence, when our lives slow down, when children have abandoned the nest and gears of labor had squeezed life out from us and we can’t cram more obligations onto ourselves, that we would face the question that we had evaded our entire life… why am I here?

In that moment of frailty, when less things can keep us anchored to this existence, when the weight of a life on our shoulders bends our knees, we, like that man, will wonder why Death is taking so long to put an end to our suffering.

But no matter who you ask, the enigma of death can only be solved… by being born.

M. Ch. Landa

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