The depth guage read 37 meters. I glanced to my left-- the others in my group were ascending along a coral wall. I glanced to my right-- the ocean floor sloped downwards into darkness. A mild giddiness and sense of ecstacy washed over me. I lingered. I stared down the slope to my right and felt a pull- an urge to go deeper. How far could I go? How long would the air hold out? I felt no fear- just a growing euphoria and a strong desire to drift into the depths.
Divers call it "nitrogen narcosis"- a high that sometimes occurs below 30 meters. Essentially, the diver becomes drunk on the elevated nitrogen levels in their blood. They lose judgement and awareness of time. Some linger in the depths when the euphoria takes them. The deep calls them to a blissful death.
As I stared downwards it occurred to me what was happening. I jerked my head to the left and kicked hard towards my ascending companions. We rose to 20 meters-- the euphoria disappeared instantly. Soft coral filaments danced in the current- shafts of light reached down to meet them.
I steadied myself and looked backwards. Stomach and chest tightened as I thought of the urge that had gripped me. Now I felt fear, but I tried to shake it off. I spun and focused my attention on the interplay between coral, water, and sunlight... Lion Fish hovered nearby-- manes of spiny quills. A Parrot Fish darted across my path. My friends drifted lazily-- examining the reef and its inhabitants.
I put the narcosis incident out of my mind- never mentioned it to anyone. But I wonder, occaisionally: how close did I come to death? Could I have succumb to the pull of the depths? Am I capable of that?
My short answer is "no"-- but Im not too sure. Death is always nearer than we like to believe. It is one accident, one unexpected turn of events, away. It is good, I think, to remember this... to remind ourselves of the truth of our own impermanence. Its important not because we should be morbid or defeatist-- but rather because this is THE big truth and THE big lie of our lives. Its important because death puts our lives into perspective-- helps us to judge what is truly important and what is not. Death humbles us by shattering our petty opinions and pursuits. And once we know this, death inspires us... inspires us to discover what is beautiful, elegant, and truly lasting in our lives.