I was about seven or eight years old the first time I pondered the possibility. It was while I was walking from the milk barn back up to the house on our farm in Todd County, Kentucky.
My toes ached from the cold, my fingers felt like dozens of needles had been jabbed in and left there. My face seemed frozen, and it felt like the wind was trying to drive ice picks into the space between the top of my eyes and my skull. In the piercing pain and growing numbness, I remember wondering what it would be like to freeze to death.
In the next few years, I read stories of Arctic explorers and adventurers to the South Pole, accounts of attempts to conquer Everest (which was still a rarity back in my youth). I could barely imagine and not at all comprehend what sort of lust for quest, what yen for adventure, what inexplicable desire for knowledge could lead men to willingly expose themselves to such relentless adversity.
Each winter would renew the wondering: Would you suffer such intense pain right up to the very end? Would you eventually get completely numb and then just nod off into the nether world? Would you die right in the middle of convulsive shivering?
Walking back up to the house after feeding the horses yesterday on an early Kansas morning with the wind chill below zero, I felt the probe of ice picks again as the north wind bored into my forehead. And I wondered again…
It’s one of those questions I hope to never answer although I am confident that I will one day learn what it is like to die. But I also have a great assurance that I will one day know what it is like to live again. It is that hope that seems to lessen the dread of the first lesson.