When my sons come to stay for the weekend, the elder one, who's nine, sleeps in here, in the study. When he was younger he always had trouble getting - though not staying - asleep; now, he seems to drop off more easily though he doesn't appear to need as much sleep as I expect, able to get by on eight or nine hours a night. He usually reads for a bit before asking for the light to be turned out but sometimes likes to listen to music instead. He selects a few songs from his folder on iTunes, turns the visualizer on and drifts off to something alarming (to me) like Outkast's Bombs over Bagdad ... or anything by Simple Plan, Good Charlotte, Green Day and such like.
Saturday night, he was settled, I thought, listening to the first of his nominated tracks, Positive Contact by Deltron 3030 aka Del the Funky Homosapien, when he suddenly reappeared in the sitting room saying he didn't want to listen to music after all. We turned the electronics off and I sat with him for a while, talking about what was wrong. He said he'd suddenly had the recurrence of a thought that scared him. The gist of it was that he would end up having done everything that could be done, thought everything that could be thought, experienced everything ... and yet still be alive. It was a vision of decrepit age without the relief of death.
It felt strange to be reassuring him that he would, in fact, die but that's what I did. He was relieved but still not entirely untroubled, saying that while he was glad he'd die and not have to remember everything, still ... I'm not quite sure how we arrived at the notion of reincarnation but, when we did, he felt much better. You mean, he said, I could have a whole new life, a whole new body and no memory of who I'd been before? Yeah, I said. That's fantastic! he replied. I might have lived millions of lives without knowing it! Thanks, Dad! He was asleep in minutes.
Next day I went through the conversation with him again, wondering what the song had to to do with it? Turned out that the first time he'd had the thought was while listening to that song the previous (= Friday) evening, and hearing it again had brought it back. I told him that some people claim to be able to remember their past lives but he didn't seem to find that thought very interesting. It was the notion of a new life, unaffected by the old, that intrigued him, and pointing out that you wouldn't know it was a new life unless you recalled the old left him unphased.
It's well known that children don't experience intimations of mortality before about age seven at the earliest but I find this particular take on it fascinating: it was aging and the loss of his powers that frightened him, without the benison of death; immortality struck him as a fearsome concept (which it is); but reincarnation solved all ontological problems at a stroke. I guess what impressed me most was that it was the persistence of ego that bothered him, not its evanescence.