Blog

On second thought ...

A week ago I wrote a blog on a topic that has been simmering in my subconscious for some time. Over the past two years, there have been a series of deaths among family, friends and acquaintances. The urge to finally write about it was triggered by recent passings in quick succession. They reminded me that I am now of an age when this is going to happen more frequently to many of my contemporaries and thus myself. Not to mention those that die “before their time.”

I held off on posting the blog because it explores my own uncertainty about what happens after I die. In it, I questioned the various prevailing beliefs about the hereafter, most of which no doubt bring comfort and hope to both the dying and the people they leave behind. I felt the need to be sensitive to the rawness of grief that survivors are suffering. Why throw the cold water of my own angst on their pain?а

On the other hand, firmly held beliefs should not be threatened by opposing or questioning positions. If anything, it should strengthen those beliefs. Perhaps it will give rise to compassion for my unbelief.а

So here goes …

а

What comes next

A lot of people I know have been dying lately. I say this in the most objective, unsentimental way possible to be as direct as I can. Death is the one sure thing we can all count on, yet some of us are so reluctant to face it that we hide the act itself and its aftermath in euphemisms. “He’s gone to a better place“ or “She‘s at peace now.”а

I envy the people with their belief in an explicit form of life in the hereafter. As a kid, schooled in the Catholic version of heaven, I imagined it as a place where God sat on his heavenly throne bathed in a holy light, surrounded by angels and all the people who died in a state of grace. That was their reward – to be in the presence of God for eternity. If you were one of the unlucky ones that didn’t die in a state of grace, you went to hell to suffer fire and brimstone for eternity. For a child, the prospect of hell was terrifying, and I dutifully hit the confessional box every week to confess my transgressions – venial (minor) and mortal (seriously bad). I was so afraid of not being in a state of grace that for insurance, I made up stuff (I had bad thoughts or lied or was mean) just to be on the safe side.

I have a vivid memory of lying in bed and looking out my second floor bedroom window at a particularly clear and starry night sky. My Sunday school idea of heaven’s geographic location was that it was up there in the sky somewhere. As was God. From some deep place in my child’s mind, a question popped up: “If heaven’s up there, is that where I go after I die?” That night, the usually friendly sky seemed a vast, cold and lonely place. I think I must have shut down the question as fast as it came up, as it was too big and scary a proposition for an eight-year-old mind to grasp.

Over time, I began to question the Catholic version of life after death. Every major religion has one. According to one source (religioustolerance.org), while there are no recorded details on how religions were formed, there’s speculation that the first ones were a response to human fear. It was a way of giving people a feeling of safety in an unsafe world, and a sense of control over their environment. Of course, the $64,000 question was where do people go after they die?

Groups began to invent their own answers based on their best guesses and whatever traditions they’d developed for the tribe. In addition to the Catholic (Christian) response, there are others that include complete annihilation (you are done, kaput), transmigration (your soul is reborn in another human), and reincarnation (your soul is reborn in another living entity, not necessarily human). But none of these answer the question for me. Oh ye of so little faith!

It’s a scary thing to face because I suspect that regardless of our belief system, many of us still have that gut-tightening fear of the moment when we will have to let go. What is really there to greet us after our last breath? My biggest dread is that there is absolutely nothing. How could everything that makes me who I am just disappear? What was this life for anyway?а I suppose I’ll find out – assuming there is something there. If that’s not the case, sayonara. Sorry if I’m depressing you.

One of the hopes/beliefs that sustains many of us is that we will be reunited with the ones we’ve loved and lost. To me this is far more appealing than just going to heaven – that nebulous place of bliss where you’ll be in God’s presence for eternity. I find that prospect a bit boring. (If this offends you, you’re welcome to delete me right now. No hard feelings.)

These musings are simply my way of looking beyond the pat euphemisms for a story (because that is really all it will be) that helps me come to terms with the unknowable nature of the afterlife. Whatever one’s beliefs, and lacking evidence to prove any of it, the only thing I know for sure is what I am experiencing in any given moment. Keeping in mind that the next moment is not guaranteed, I’d better make every one count.

And on the off chance that the life I live now will have an effect on whatever follows, I will accept the Buddhist belief that:

Buddha silhouette

I am of the nature to grow old.

There is no way to escape growing old.

а

I am of the nature to have ill heath.

There is no way to escape having ill health.

а

I am of the nature to die.

There is no way to escape death.

а

All that is dear to me and everyone I love are of the nature to change.

There is no way to escape being separated from them.

а

My actions are my only true belongings.

I cannot escape the consequences of my actions.

My actions are the ground on which I stand.

а

With that, I will try to live each moment the best way I know how and hope for a brave and peaceful end when it comes.

а

With no guarantees,

Surrendering to the void

Is an act of faith.

а

ай Maya Leland 2014