• Marlowe Emerson

The Wind on the Skin: What You Miss When You Die

Updated: May 26, 2020

"The wind on the skin…" It's a lyric from an 80s song. I would give credit if I could remember the artist or the tune, but those words are all I remember. They have stayed with me my whole life because the moment I heard them, it struck me that they must be describing what you miss when you die. Of all things, it has to be the sense of touch that you miss, the nuance of tactile sensation, like the barely perceptible pressure of being on this earth, or like the slightest impression of a breeze. I imagine when you die, you still live in the upload from your mind - the drama, the stories, the emotions that make up the self. Or if you don’t, it is because you are thankfully free of them and certainly don’t miss them. It is touch that you miss. The warmth of the sun, a brush, a kiss. It is the wind.

But what do I know? What does anyone know? My only impression of death is drawn from something that happened to me in my younger years while under the influence of a psychotropic substance. I was dying, so to speak. But not immediately. First I was filled with an utter, overwhelming joy of being in the world and experiencing it without the filter of the limited identity and perceptions to which human life confines us… to run your fingers through water and truly feel the miracle of it in a way that moves you to tears, or to look at a carpet and not just see carpet, but a multitude of individual strands, each with its own curve and shade, their astounding variety coming together as a whole in grace and harmony. Ok, yes, I was tripping. But the world was so stunning, I wanted to take the time to look at every single thing in it, to see every sparkling form for the first time with these new eyes.

Then came the feeling that I was dying. I felt light, my spirit lifting up out of my body, ready to move on to the source of all this intense beauty. My thoughts turned to my family. I looked down and could see the confusion, panic, pain and sorrow they would experience upon learning of my passing. I wanted so much to communicate to them that this was not at all sad, but the most wonderful of things. I realized I would not be able to reach them or help them understand that the real thing to cry about was the suffering caused by their limited perception. They would never sense that I should be the one to mourn for their souls, not they for mine.

But I did not leave. I did not transcend. I woke in the morning with an excruciating headache on a mattress on the floor next to my boyfriend of the moment. This little side room of his friend’s apartment had several windows. Even the door had panes of glass, streaming beams of light in sharp angles on the wall. It was not the ethereal light of the world, but a harsh glare that exposed the dirty little crash pad of a unambitious man-child whose wife had left him. I think I called in sick to work that day. But the experience stayed with me always - the appreciation for how intense the world can be when we open all our senses to it, and the idea that maybe there is beauty we can look forward to on that mysterious moment when we let go of being in our skin.

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