The pink hummer of fate is coming
Or, how to practice dying.
I heard a blaring horn as I stepped into the broad white lines. Looking up, I saw the lumbering shape of the grim reaper. Without a moment to think, I had to make a choice that would either save my life or end it.
Backing up two minutes, my friends and I walked to the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston. White-winged doves make a distinctive “Coo Ooo Coo Ooo!” sound that, to this day, brings back memories of my time living in Houston. The air was wet and colder than expected, so I ran home to grab my coat. I lived only a 5-minute walk away. I glanced at the glowing little white man and assumed I was good to cross, my mind occupied with what joke I would tell my friends when I returned.
The grim reaper, it turns out, is a pink stretch hummer. He's barreling toward me at about 70 MPH, trying to "goose" through a yellow-light-too-long-ago-turned-red.
I remember blinking. Literally, I can still remember a single blink. It's funny how much you can recall these moments of life or death. When you might die, all surrounding actions are branded on the inside of your skull.
Also, when your entire being suspects it is likely the end of your time in a biological suit on the planet, you speed up, and everything “out there” slows down. I watched the pink stripes of the grill grow ever larger as the horn whined.
Strangely calm thoughts lilted through my mind: I would have happily gone into the grave, I realized. Death is not nearly as scary as my mind has made it out to be. That's a massive relief. Paradoxically, it makes me feel more interested in being alive. More on that in a moment.
The pink limo is coming, carrying who-knows-who in the back. Some teenagers heading to prom. Somebody who just won a $15,000 lottery, blowing it all in one night on his idiot friends. They certainly don't know that the momentum of their night is about to end the momentum of my entire life. If they did, they might share a moment of silence. Or just keep partying, I don't know.
Somehow, I know to keep my eyes on the tires. A millisecond feels like a breezy 10 seconds to my ascended state of mind. The very instant I see which direction the driver is swerving the wheel -- to the left, I take a calm and gentle step to the right.
The horn does a doppler effect as the stretch pink hummer rolls on by, missing me by a literal inch. The wind of the vehicle whips my hair around.
I want to be clear about this — I am generally not James Bond-level cool in a deadly situation. But something about my entire biology being convinced of my imminent death put every faction of my being on the same page. No longer at war with myself internally, I'm suddenly capable of animal-level instinctual moves — superhero-level stuff.
Humans are gifted with big ol' brains, but it's also a never-ending curse. We are always asked to overcome the would-be crippling fear produced by the brain's ability to forecast danger into the indefinite future until our ultimate death. That gives us our tell-tale chronic anxiety. People, as the philosopher Martin Heidegger described us, are beings toward death.
Fear of death shuts off our deeper, unified instincts. But in special pink death hummer circumstances, they come alive again.
That's what I felt. Alive. What would it take to always be constantly awake superhumans?
Instinct + intellect - fear of death = truly alive
Walking up to the edge of death seems to be the only way for human beings to have a sense of what it means to be alive.
This helps me understand the otherwise inexplicable behavior of a minority of lunatics, like base jumping, skydiving, and motorcycle ownership. If it makes them feel like I felt that night… I get it.
It all seems so clear in the middle of that walkway on that Houston evening. The stars are out. It's a cool night. People are wearing nice clothes and showing each other a good time -- going to look at some of the most beautiful things humans have ever produced, all collected in the museum. I can see that people are smiling.
With my fear of death gone, I realize how entitled I usually am. The universe owes me nothing. Every moment of peace we’ve earned is the most extraordinary thing in the world. And there I was, mostly taking it for granted. Why? Because usually, I would rather not consider that it could all end very soon -- and it will certainly end sooner or later.
"The sudden appearance of the pink stretch hummer reminded me of the unpredictability of life and the fragility of human existence. It was a wake-up call to embrace every moment and live authentically, for we never know when the hummer of fate might come crashing into us."
– ChatGPT hallucination of what Martin Heidegger might have said about this situation
I felt like a survivor, which is much different than feeling like I'm surviving, which is how I felt just a few seconds prior. I felt an overwhelming sense of gratitude.
Chronic fear of death was humming away in the background of my consciousness like a box fan I stopped noticing. Now that the humming has stopped, I heard the sound of silence for the first time I can remember.
I walked back to my apartment in a state of awe. My brother is home, watching TV. We chat for a moment. I grab my coat and head back out.
I didn't mention the pink stretch hummer that night. We looked at the paintings. We laughed. We made jokes. We made fun of each other. I felt more at ease with myself – nothing to prove. Nothing to gain. Nothing beyond the dance of the moment.
It's all going to end. If you're not enjoying what you’re doing, you might as well stop. This isn’t leading to anything.
This is it. This is all we get.
That's not a depressing thought. Not when you really feel your pink death hummer is coming.
I'm looking at the title of your newsletter, The Creativity Gap. It seems you've just described the heart of it—having surrendered into a gap of timeless presence by willing to let go of everything, even your own life, and then being flooded with the gift of wakeful perception, seeing the sublimity of what has been there all along. Real spirituality seems to be the practice of being able to extend our stay in such a gap when we stumble into it. In the absence of a culture that has the type of rituals or wisdom traditions that Michael Dean described in his last newsletter these accidental "trips" into the heart of reality are precious indeed. May it linger long.
Your dad’s photo of beautiful, as I happen to like blurred (and unfocused) photography. But to me his idea, his thought, his intention to take this photo in his condition and send it to you is even more beautiful. Almost a reminder of the humanity of every imperfect gesture disguising a perfect thought.