26 April 2021

Near-death experience

It was summer, hot as it always is on Mallorca. I kept my eyes tight shut to avoid the sting of chlorine, playing around in the pool and going under water for no reason in particular. I knew how to swim well enough to not be afraid of the deep end of the pool. Likewise, I would reach the bottom, push down on it and go back straight up.

I sensed the bright light of the sun through the water and through my closed eyes. I knew instinctively I was getting closer to the surface of the water because the light was getting stronger and stronger. I let go of the air I was holding in my lungs. But the surface of the water didn’t come. For a split second which felt like an eternity, I panicked. I managed to keep my mouth and nose shut. I didn’t think. I couldn’t think. I just wanted to make it to the surface. But the surface still didn’t come. In hindsight, it’s likely I was not swimming upwards strongly enough, more probably slowly drifting to the surface. I did eventually make it, gasping for air. And never telling anyone about that experience.

Sounds nightmarish? It certainly felt that way, even though it was no bad dream. It’s a memory I remember ever since it happened when I was 11 or 12 years old. It was the closest I’ve ever been to a so-called near-death experience. It came back to mind after listening to a Freakonomics podcast episode on the topic.

Surprisingly enough, that experience didn’t scare me away from water or swimming. In fact, contact with water has become as vital as feeling the sun on my skin. It’s somewhat ironic that this near-death experience had to do with gasping for air: in 2014, and again in 2017, I would again be desperately trying to breathe. The pneumothoraces I had could have ended badly, to say the least.

Alas, none of those experiences provided me with any life-shifting epiphany. I’m fortunate enough I didn’t go through any post-traumatic stress disorder either, but I sometimes wish I could have felt the positive side which is called post-traumatic growth.

At most do they provide me with the reminder of the inevitability of death – ”memento mori” in Latin, as I had mentioned in an article titled “Alive. Dead. Forgotten.” written 7 years ago about a painting in Melbourne. But the reminder isn’t enough. Time passes. I get annoyed by things I know are out of my control. Six months ago (see section 1.1 of my November newsletter), I believed building a financial model would act as a trigger to help me change my life – and start living it. I don’t want any further near-death experiences, but I’m still not acting meaningfully enough to get out of my melancholy.

Almost every night – because it’s usually when it’s dark and I’m in half-slumber when those thoughts arise – I mentally calculate the time that has passed since the beginning of the year (almost a third of 2021 is already gone – a third!) or remaining until my next birthday. I’m unconsciously trying  to hold time back, illogically reconstructing past events as if I could have shaped them differently, absurdly reliving past memories that are long gone. I’ve always struggled seeing the glass half-full even if I measure my own unfair advantages in life.

Such existential questions are nothing new to me: exactly two years ago, I was writing how I felt “a prisoner of my own mind” despite being otherwise very “free” – from a human and political rights perspective, but also financially and work-wise. “Too weak and too fearful to change the status-quo”, I struggle to either balance or find a way out of my triangle which corners (or vertices, as the correct geometric term would be) would be defined by:
(i) personal finances – in theory already figured out as mentioned above, but heavily dependent on the next 2 aspects below;
(ii) working for money or not – and if so, at Google, for another company or for myself;
(iii) choosing which pursuits, in particular intellectual ones, to follow and which ones to drop – and where on the planet.

Till next time (that I figure it out, or not) – the irony.