425 elephants flying in the sky

Every now and then I try to remind myself - sometimes to the point of scaring myself - of death, of life's choose-your-own-adventure! attitude at finding your purpose, and of the sheer luck that I am still a living, breathing human being in the age of late capitalism. I think of bizarre car accidents, of endless convoluted dreams - the kind where you thought you already woke up only to figure out after a couple of years that you actually died in your sleep - or of surprisingly inane lumps or aches from unknown causes that would soon become my death sentence.

It was easy to think of these years ago. I didn't have a wife and a kid. I only had myself and the pent-up angst of a nineteen year-old pothead. So naturally, I thought I will be fine, and that people's lives after my death is going to be fine - maybe a really small wake tuned to a hipster playlist, a cremation. But death meant going back to where I was before I was born, wherever that is.

I used to have this worldview - and share this with a set of friends - that everything is futile. What's the word? Nihilist. 

Although having a kid and a wife in tow gave me a new reason to live - that I have to work and support them as much as they support me - there still are days, mostly nights, when I sit back and think: what's the point? Maybe the whole point of life is scaring yourself to death so you kind of urge yourself to finally arrive at a purpose - no matter how haphazard or frivolous. 

At times like these I turn to memes and disreputable facts from the Internet, one of which was from my wife. She said, and this was seven years ago: The only time a hug can make a huge difference is if you hug someone for 16 long seconds. The number itself is magical: 16, a number plucked from some trivia book? (Although maybe, just maybe, this is how we find comfort in fake news?) It has always struck me since then: how it's not 15 - or 20 seconds.

She always wondered how I still remember this tidbit seven long years ago. I'm sure it has to do with the 16 seconds - and I quote Gabriel Garcia Marquez, who said in Paris Review: "If you say that there are elephants flying in the sky, people are not going to believe you. But if you say that there are four hundred and twenty-five elephants flying in the sky, people will probably believe you."

Somehow, it takes a long hug - 16 seconds, to be exact - to finally calm myself down.