When I Die…

I know what will happen when I die.

There is a chemical process which occurs in the brain in the brief moments immediately prior to death. It is believed that a person’s perception of time slows to a near-stop. This is due to the release of a chemical called Dimethyltryptamine (DMT), which is stored in the brain for persons entire life, only to be released in the final moments prior to brain death. Instances of people saying, “My life flashed before my eyes,” is a possible reference to the premature release of this chemical into the brain of someone who was not yet dying. But the theoretical concept consists of the possibility of a person’s comprehensive collection of memories replaying themselves in the fading consciousness of the dying person as a result of the release of DMT. Thus, in that instant — perhaps only a few seconds or maybe even a few minutes — a person could relive a bygone life, in-whole or in-part.

I believe this will happen to me in the moments before I die, and I know exactly what it will look like and exactly how it will feel. I will drift from my consciousness as I know it, fading into the deep slumber of eternity.

And I will emerge in a long, endless, dark hallway; an amalgam of the hallways in my high school — the place from which I graduated, at which I taught, and from which I was banished. The hallway will extend as far as I can see, and there are doors on either side of the hall. All of these doors have windows, but all of these doors are locked. Each door on the left side of the hallway are a light tan, almost brownish, rustic. Each door on the right side of the hallway is black. Along the walls between the doors are lockers, some open and some closed; an indicator to any teacher that not only is the school day over, the school year is over — ♫ “School’s out for summer; School’s out forever!” ♫

It will smell like ancient dust and pencil erasers and chalk and old textbooks. The sun will shine in the windows dimly, like a late weekday afternoon after all the students have gone home. The pale sunlight will reflect the shadows of the past, and the dust will hover in the air, like a motionless reminiscent haze.

In these rooms are my memories. I can look into each window and see the memory, like an observer from the past; like an old man watching a rerun of a TV show he both loved and hated. The rooms on the left side of the hallway contain my happiest memories. The rooms on the right side of the hallway contain my deepest darkest regrets. I will walk down this hallway for an unclear and indeterminate amount of time. I will gaze into each classroom window and see the memories of my past. The inside of these classrooms won’t be classrooms. Instead, they will be glimpses into a world that I created or nurtured or destroyed. Each happy memory will bring a smile; each regret will bring a tear. The only sound I will hear will be the muffled shuffling of my own slow and reminiscent footsteps. Each gaze into a classroom window of memories is muted, and the only sound I hear coming from the classroom is the sound that’s in my own mind.

The lockers along the wall contain all my secrets — some good, some bad. I don’t know what secrets are hidden in the closed lockers, because I spent my life hiding those secrets, and no one ever knew. But in the open lockers, my secrets — my discovered and exposed secrets — stare out at me, taunting me, reminding me that each secret was something I wanted no one to know, yet someone found out; the bigger the secret, the more wide-open the locker door stood — a few lockers didn’t even have doors. But still, more lockers are closed than open, and this will give me a slight bit of solace.

And so, I walk. This is my “memory lane,” a high school hallway with no end in sight, and all I can do is walk. I look into each window, recalling the memories kept locked away in those rooms, only to be viewed in recollection. I smile at some, I grimace at others. I’m drawn to the left side of the hallway — my happy memories — yet I cannot ignore the regrets of the right. So I peak into those rooms as well, seeing myself build upon my life of regrets and remorse — and repentance.

And when I finally reach the end of this hallway, I will be met by a stairwell. This stairwell will be split, the left side leading upward, the right side leading downward. This, for me, will be the fork in the road, the divide in the path, Frost’s “Road Not Taken;” and yet, the choice will not be mine. One stairwell will be blocked, allowing only one of them to be accessible: Up, or Down.

Before taking my designated stairway, I look back, taking one final look at my memories, good and bad, lining the hallway of my checkered past. I will take immediate notice that one side of the hallway has considerably more doors than the other, and I will draw a solid conclusion from this, which will make my designated stairway make perfect sense. And in the end, I will turn my back on the past and walk the stairs I spent my life earning.

And then, I will die.

There are two things about this I don’t know: I don’t know which side of my hallway will have more doors, and I don’t know which stairway I will walk.  But what I do know is this: I have the rest of my life to make my hallway brighter; to lengthen that left side with as much goodness and happiness as I can. And at the end of my hallway, when I walk my stairway, I want it to be an ascension.

Kevin Spacey says it perfectly at the end of American Beauty:

“I had always heard, your entire life flashes in front of your eyes the second before you die. First of all, that one second isn’t a second at all; it stretches on forever, like an ocean of time. For me, it was lying on my back at Boy Scout camp, watching falling stars. And yellow leaves, from the maple trees, that lined my street. Or my grandmother’s hands, and the way her skin seemed like paper. And the first time I saw my cousin Tony’s brand new Firebird. And Janie—And Janie—And Carolyn. I guess I could be pretty pissed off about what happened to me, but it’s hard to stay mad, when there’s so much beauty in the world. Sometimes I feel like I’m seeing it all at once, and it’s too much; my heart fills up like a balloon that’s about to burst. And then I remember to relax, and stop trying to hold on to it, and then it flows through me like rain and I can’t feel anything but gratitude for every single moment of my stupid little life. You have no idea what I’m talking about, I’m sure. But don’t worry. You will someday.”

Which side of your hallway will have more rooms?