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1/26/10

What Comes After Death?

In our planning for tomorrow,
it has the final word,
which is always beside the point.

It can't even get the things done
that are part of its trade:
dig a grave,
make a coffin,
clean up after itself.

Wislawa Szymborska, part of her "On Death, without Exaggeration"


"During my mother’s final weeks of illness, a rabbi told her that she could choose to imagine death as an exciting possibility. His intent was to comfort, and perhaps he did. As life’s end nears, religious faith is, above all, utilitarian – a passport through regret and fear to a destination that is still unknown, uncharted.

What wouldn’t we give to know it? Better yet, to know it without being compelled to visit.

In SUM: Forty Tales from the Afterlives (Pantheon Books), the neuroscientist David Eagleman does what the rabbi urged on my mother: He lets his imagination run free. In 40 pithy vignettes, he offers variations on the theme of immortality – sketches of theoretical heavens and hells that are really philosophical musings on human striving, yearning, and fallibility.

In his search for meaning, Eagleman casts a cold eye on both life and death, thrusting us into universes tinged with sadness. The presiding deities in these stories are less often omnipotent than blundering and defeated. Their plans dazzle, but veer into blind alleys. The meticulously constructed ideal keeps colliding with reality." Found here. Click here for a Mind Shadows piece, "Whistling Past The Graveyard," on William Hazlitt, who said you have no fear of what happened before you were born, so why be afraid of what happens after?

On that somber theme, here is a wise metaphor on the metaphysics of the afterlife:

A man fell off a cliff and, tumbling down, he grabbed a small rock. He looked up at the cliff rim, so far away. He looked down at the bottom, its trees tiny in the distance, its earth waiting to flatten him. In desperation, he turned his head toward the sky and shouted for all he was worth.

"HELP! IS ANYBODY UP THERE?"

A majestic voice boomed through the gorge:

"I will help you, my son, but first you must have faith in me."

"Yes, yes, I trust you!" cried the man.

"Let go of the branch," boomed the voice.

The man paused, and shouted again,

"IS ANYONE ELSE UP THERE?"
--------------------

And finally, there is this, found on a church bulletin board:

The sermon this morning: "Jesus Walks on the Water." The sermon tonight: "Searching for Jesus"

and this, a limerick:

I get up each morning and dust off my wits,
Pick up the paper and read the obits.
If my name is not in them I know I'm not dead,
So I eat a good breakfast and go back to bed.

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