Hamsters (German for ‘hoard’) are humble creatures. Very often they are adopted as pets and occasionally, used in laboratory experiments. One of the first images that pop up in the head when someone says the word ‘hamster’ is that of the rodent running on a wheel, with no escape in sight, other than to keep the wheel going at its own expense, until some generous soul takes it out of the cyclic rut or the Grim Reaper arrives himself
For however long and hard the hamster might have run, nothing was ever certain except the arrival of Death. When nonexistence reduced the wretched creature to decayed matter, breaking him down into oblivion, none of his hard work, sacrifices, trophies, or success and failure alike mattered. The greatest fear of all living beings, amplified by the social constructs of the modern age, is not getting trolled, losing one’s wealth, or letting go of a loved one – it is becoming irrelevant. And Death derives its strength from the very same fear by putting a definitive full stop to a person’s voice. All that remained at the hamster’s funeral pyre were fragments of memory held on to by his peers who swore to carry on his legacy.
In Mad Girl’s Love Song, penned by Sylvia Plath when she was just 20, the poet plunges into sadness after realizing how she had built up castles of hope out of figments of imagination that would never stand the test of truth against reality
“ I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead;
I lift my lids and all is born again.
(I think I made you up inside my head.)
I should have loved a thunderbird instead;
At least when spring comes they roar back again.
I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead.
(I think I made you up inside my head.)”
It also speaks of the familiar temptation to get lost within the labyrinthine corridors of one’s own mind to escape the harsh reality of the external universe outside. Disconcertingly, that is how most of us spend our lives – living superficially with the minimum effort possible while our thought factories are filled to the brim with predictions about the future or while we reach for the deepest recesses of our minds to intoxicate ourselves with memories of yore. Like the drug it is, this behavior numbs us to the present and shields us from reality until we ‘lift our lids and all is born again‘
Death is the culmination of time as we know it – and that is a fact everyone knows about but few realize. Our cauldrons of time cannot be magically filled from time to time. Its contents are a finite, exhaustible resource. Nothing ever cheats the clock other than Death, and yet, the nemesis of demise, life, is often handled by mortal beings with little value as we whittle it away under the veil of busyness, chasing comforts or allowing our minds to wander away as the present slips from our hands like wisps of air.
We live our lives in abject fear of Death, wondering about how nothingness would feel. Would we be transported into our afterlives? Would our friends and family remember us long after we are gone? In the process, we fail to take away the cloak of intimidation surrounding Death and see it for what it is – a timely ceremony to close the curtains on our lives rendering the future inaccessible. To further distill
it down to a lighter shade of reality, death proffers upon life a meaning. It tries to clear our dewy vision with its large hands to allow us to see that whatever we have right now and the time we are bestowed with is not limited to the confines of ‘forever.
The French philosopher Michel de Montaigne knew about the greatness and generosity of Death as far back as the 16th century. After a near-death experience in which he looked at the hooded figure face to face, all his fear melted away, never to return. He realized how thoughtlessly and how disrespectfully we trudge along the trail of time, poorly excusing mere survival as ‘living’. Not until we are forced into a situation that makes us question our fundamental beliefs, ideologies, and images about the universe do we acknowledge how we mortgage our soul at various points of time in our lives to strangers and strange things alike, merely for assurance or promise about a raise, promotion,perks or fame.
Death is not to be treated as a grotesque artifact of horror, it is indeed the very thing that gives our lives a purpose. Had we been immortal, what motivation would we have to educate ourselves? What compulsion would we have to create relationships or marvel at the beauty of nature? When and why should we do the things we need to do if our being was guaranteed anyway with no repercussions whatsoever on the velocity of our lives?
As trapped as the hamsters in the laboratories might look, the raw truth is that we are no different. So clouded are our perceptions about what a good life looks like that we waste our time (and literally life) in front of screens, needless arguments, and spend our emotional energies on petty things like there’s no tomorrow. But there is a tomorrow and the caveat is that the tomorrow we imagine will never come. What will come is the end with all the grandeur of a sunset sky (only if you can see it), snatching away your cauldron of time from you before you know it.
As a starting point, let us begin by befriending the Grim Reaper and voluntarily opting out of the proverbial hamster’s wheel ourselves. We might not have the privilege of living tomorrow, but what we do have is the ‘now’. Nothing is real apart from the present; escaping to any other epoch is akin to tumbling down the rabbit’s hole only to find yourself at the gates of purgatory. And when the Grim Reaper, with all its urgency, finally knocks on our door, all we need to know is that we spent our days in astute presence, weaving together moments of experiences, because living in itself is something worth fighting for. Pick up your scythe today and weed out anything which takes away the sheen from your pyre.