Maybe it was the thought that Jesus died at 33. Maybe that’s what did it. Although now that I think about it, it’s probable that Jesus didn’t have a damn thing to do with it. Maybe it was that at 33 I realized that I had already achieved most of my goals in life—I was old enough to be disillusioned with success yet still young enough to be really bothered by that disillusionment. But maybe that wasn’t it either. Maybe it was just stress. Or maybe there actually is such a thing as Fate. I really don’t know. All I know is that it was at 33 that a certain shift occurred, a shift which first showed its strange face when, at 33, I really started thinking about DEATH.

That’s right. DEATH.

Now don’t turn around and walk away. Please. I promise you that these DEATH thoughts were just a starting point. After all, if you want to start thinking differently you first need to have a different thought. If you want to gain enlightenment you first need to open up your eyes and look at what you don’t want to see. So, as twisted as it sounds to be thinking of DEATH these morbid musings opened up some other part of my brain which ended up thinking some much better stuff later on. Trust me. But there in the first weeks of my 33rd year all I knew was that I could not stop thinking about DEATH.

Not just thinking about it, obsessing about it. DEATH is usually one of those subjects that you just kind of shove into the background. Who really wants to think about it? I don’t imagine that anybody does. It’s just not the type of subject that you like to dwell on for any length of time. But I dwelt on it. Constantly. DEATH. DEATH. DEATH. DEATH. DEATH. DEATH. DEATH.

By the way, have you ever been impaled on a fence? Just asking.

I think this time saw my first inkling of The Flow—what I like to call The Flow—but at the time it was just this strange feeling that I couldn’t put my finger on. It was as if there were puzzles pieces floating around in my head but they refused to connect themselves. I could almost feel it, a physical sensation of things floating around inside my head. The puzzle pieces floated in slow motion—imagine swimming though molasses, that’s the physical feeling these thoughts produced inside my skull. Floating. Floating...

Before all of this I had always been proud of my ability to focus, focus, focus. You don’t get to where I’d gotten in my career without focus. Without drive, without single-minded determination, without constantly paying attention to your goals you simply do not become an upper-level executive at a large corporation. I was a professional, dammit: smart, driven, successful. Yet there I was... floating. 

Let me give you an example: one day I realized that the image on my computer screen was made up of thousands of little dots. So what? Right? But I stared deeply into my screen, entranced by the dots. It seemed like there was something deep about the fact that the dots were always there yet you never saw them. You only saw the picture they created. And in my head I could feel those puzzle pieces floating around. This feeling felt wrong, yet it felt right. Every day a different strange thought. Every day that floating. And behind it all, every day were thoughts about DEATH.

Now, let me clarify that earlier remark about Jesus. It was during my 33rd birthday party at this fancy restaurant downtown that someone stuck the idea of Jesus in my head. He meant it as a joke when he said that if I survived this year I would have lived longer than Jesus. But something about that got to me. Though I’ve never considered myself to be particularly religious I couldn’t get the image of Jesus’ death out of my head. It wasn’t the religious aspect of Jesus that got me, rather it was the Crucifixion that wouldn’t leave my head. Can you imagine what it must feel like to be crucified? To be strapped to a couple of cross beams then to have sharpened stakes explode through your hands and feet? What pain there must be. What blood.

Through the rest of the party I couldn’t get this image out of my mind. At one point I felt a sense of moisture on the back of my hand. My mind immediately screamed, “blood!” But as my glance shot down to my hand I realized that I was shaking so badly that what I had felt was my drink spilling over onto my hand. I quickly put down the glass, jammed the quaking hands into my pockets and dashed out of the room. For quite some time I stood on the balcony overlooking the city lights and shivered. Shivered uncontrollably.

I began to imagine what DEATH might be like. I would lie in my bed at night, staring at the ceiling, terrified that if I closed my eyes they might never open again. I thought of how cold DEATH must be, like a layer of ice covering your entire body. Forever. I thought of the darkness inside of a casket. Occasionally I thought of Heaven, sometimes of Hell, but mostly the terror of fading to nothing. The coldness of oblivion.

Again, please hang with me. Morbidity was just the beginning which led into something much better. I swear.

Just so you know, as far as I’m aware I’m not terminally ill—except in the sense that we are all terminally ill, all headed toward the end—so that wouldn’t explain anything. Certainly you would expect someone going through chemotherapy to have those thoughts. But a healthy person? A relatively young person? A well-off person with a loving wife and a beautiful home in a well-to-do neighborhood and all of the fancy toys he could ever think of possessing? My cars were fully loaded and fully paid for. So why the DEATH thoughts? What in the world was going on here?

Searching for Meaning with Classics of Literature

Classic novels and e-books devoted to finding yourself...

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The perfect soundtrack...

Neal is also a musician, and this collection of quiet, lyrically contemplative songs was written and recorded during the same period of his life as the writing of The 33rd Year. As you read, listen on Spotify or download (or preview) from