There have been three moments in my life when I thought I was going to die. When I was fifteen I was run over by a car while walking to school, (unhurt despite bouncing off the windscreen and into the gutter). The second time when I was a crane driver in a saw mill and a two ton stack of wood toppled over onto me (broken shin and gashed open thumb only, miraculously) and thirdly when a female police officer drew her gun on me in Boston, Massachusetts (I might tell you about that one sometime, but today I am on other business).
None of these were bad news from a grim-faced doctor telling me how my body was broken down and giving me a time limit to face the inevitable.
These were instantaneous, adrenaline-flooded moments where the vague, far off notion of death that most of us normally have was suddenly cold, hard and looking at me with its big bony face.
It was like suddenly being crash-dumped into my own body, I had a few seconds of being suddenly aware of my own mortality and could feel the weight of my muscles and bones and my heart pumping blood through my veins and the realization that I might suddenly lose all of this.
The point I am trying to make (apart from trying to make myself sound cool and tough) is that for most of my life I seem to be cruising around on auto pilot as though I’m watching a movie of my life rather than actually living it. I’m aware of my body and the people around me but always seem to be, I don’t know, distracted or something.
We walk around talking into little electronic gadgets, listening to iPods or pratting about on Warcraft. We take substances to alter our physical and mental states, we invent various gods in an attempt to make sense of what we don’t understand.
But very occasionally, while lying in bed or sitting on a train I suddenly become aware of the shape that my body makes in the world and all the people around me and how everything is made of the same stuff, how connected and yet how fragile life is.
It’s like a light bulb going on in my mind that fills me with happiness and sadness at the same time and feels like I should be this way all the time, not sleep walking though the only life I’ll get.
It reminds me of something a Russian cosmonaut once said about looking through the window of a spaceship down at the Earth. He could see cities and rivers and farms and forests and deserts but he could also see the infinite blackness of space all around it and he realised that from the surface the Earth seems huge but from up there it is tiny, it took only minutes for him to orbit this little glowing rock.
I try to hang onto this awareness but inevitably the mundane starts crowding out the sublime and I find myself worrying about the mortgage, what I am going to have for dinner or Jennifer Lopez’s cellulite. The reality filter is switched back on..
Time for bed.