Prior to birth there was nothing.
There were no nouns, no persons or places or things. Nor were there verbs, there were no events because there was nothing to be moved. There were no beginnings or endings to frame the present moment. There was no past or future tense. Nothingness itself was nonexistent because there was no opposing principle by which it could be made into an object of contemplation—even if we set aside the utter nonexistence of a contemplative being.
There is little about this eternal state of prior nonbeing that seems personally threatening to me now. Why is that? Why am I able to calmly imagine an infinite expanse of time when I wasn’t? There is something about the present moment that renders my prior nonexistence irrelevant. I find myself in the present moment occupying a richly furnished dynamic state of being in a universe densely populated with nouns and verbs and tenses—most of which I have yet to discover and many of which I will never know. Contemplating the infinite temporal space prior to birth is little more than an intellectual exercise, the mapping of a mental rabbit hole.
But things appear quite different when I turn my gaze the other direction. When the universe ends for me the same eternal absence-of-even-oblivion from which I emerged waits only to wrap me in its disintegrating, obliterating embrace. I die, but I can never be dead. Death is a feature of the living present moment. Death is a verb. There is no after-death in the first-person. In my mind I can project the universe beyond myself, but this is an illusion of objectivity. After this, there is nothing. Death leads us not just to an end of life, but to a complete annihilation of all that ever was, the universe itself, with its unfathomable substances and uncountable beings never existed. Life doesn’t come to an end with death. With death, life never happened to begin with.
Yet here, now, in the present moment, it seems as if there is something worthy of my attention.