Does anyone else among the billions of people on this planet share that secret emotion with me, that emotion I cannot adequately describe in words? The emotion is a hybrid between longing and terror; between dispassionate acceptance and vehement denial. It resides somewhere deep inside the fissures of my brain, well beyond the reach of cold logic and calm rationality. I suspect it formed in the primordial soup of the beginning and lingers, unchanged, beneath hundreds of millennia of evolution. If I’m right, then on occasion we all share that nameless state of mental ambiguity. But if I’m wrong, it is my affliction alone.

The lack of a word, or even a phrase, to describe this obscure sensation amplifies the problem of understanding it, much less explaining it. But I will try. It involves the sense that the universe is hurling toward an oblivion so dense and complete that everything—all matter and space and time and all dimensions, whether we know of them or not—will cease to exist. This oblivion is not death, for that’s simply the conclusion of an organism’s existence as a life form. Oblivion in the sense of this emotion is far more cataclysmic than the death individual organisms or our planet or our solar system or even our galaxy. It stretches far beyond even the limits of our ability to measure distance in billions of light years. The emotion connected to this sense is akin to what I imagine is the fascination of watching a slow motion train wreck; simultaneous horror and what some might call morbid curiosity.

Three years ago, I began writing a short story that tried to describe the sense of this ‘event,’ with an eye toward evoking in readers the same emotion I feel. A few weeks ago, I retrieved the story and tried to modify it toward the same end. I could not accomplish the task. I did, though, give a name to the ‘event.’ I called it celestial conflation. That term, though, suggests a new entity emerging from multiple entities; that’s not quite it, because the result I’m looking for is not a thing, not even emptiness. It is a void, yet because suggests the existence of a vessel in which there is emptiness, but it’s not. It’s inexplicable, because there’s nothing to explain.

Back to the emotion. It involves wanting to know how this celestial conflation looks. Rather, it involves wanting to know what occurs in the instant before it happens; because, of course, nothing occurs in utter oblivion. And it involves wanting to know whether this oblivion is real or just a figment of the imagination. Yet this emotion fights against this desire to know; it rejects knowledge of something so terrible. At the same time, though, it rejects the concept that celestial conflation would be terrible, because terrible requires a context. Context is irrelevant in the face of, or in the midst of, oblivion.

In examining my reaction to the proximate cause of this emotion, I find myself both wanting to know and wanting to erase the idea from my head. If I could accomplish the latter, the emotion would disappear with it. I am not sure which desire is stronger; wanting to know or wanting not to know.

The more I consider this matter, the more I think this affliction is mine, alone.


About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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1 Response to Affliction

  1. LTL JMY says:

    Well, I don’t know that I have the same affliction that you have, but I DO often experience an emotion that lies between the longing for a beer and the terror that I may not be able to get one! The struggle is real. Please don’t turn your nose up at the people who suffer it as I do.

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