Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The Afterlife: So Long and Thanks For All The Fish

Lots of folks badly want to believe that there's something after this. An afterlife.

Heaven, Shangri-la, Paradise, Zion, Arcadia, Valhalla for all you viking dudes. Nirvana for the Buddhists in the house. Falak al aflak. Some beatific Hotel California where all your dead relatives can check out anytime they want, but they can never leave. Just like Christmas time. Pause for a Joe Walsh guitar riff.

I don't know why it's so important to believe there's something majestic awaiting us once we pull up the sod covers. Perhaps people are terrified of their relative insignificance in the spectrum of time, or they believe the combination of a legacy on Earth and celestial potluck dinners will bring them closer to living forever and ever, amen.

My belief system is just that. Mine. I'm not trying to convince anyone it's better, or put the kibosh on what gets the rest of you through the long, cold winters of life. By the time you become an expert on what happens next, your calling card is canceled or there are no cell towers on the other side, otherwise someone from the billions of the dearly departed would have shouted over the fence by now and clued us mortals in.

Life is a roller coaster ride. You get one ticket, strap yourself in, and off you go. Some people love it, Some hate it. A few shit their pants or won't open their eyes. Occasionally some dumb ass falls out and dies early because, well, that's what dumb asses do. The rest of us ride until the cars stop, and that's it. Ride over. You don't need to go home, but you can't stay here.

Someone posted an afterlife question over at Dear Coke Talk, and I really liked her response, so I'll post a snippet. I'm interested to see if you agree. You have to promise to go read the whole thing, though. It's only fair.

I understand why it makes you feel better to believe in some nebulous metaphysical afterlife, but at the end of the day, if you’re claiming to have revealed knowledge about a consciousness beyond death, you’re still just making shit up.

Nobody knows what happens after death. Odds are, not a fucking thing. It’s probably just a vast sea of nothingness stretching out to an eternity that we were never meant to comprehend in the first place.

I know. It’s scary. You’re born pink and helpless into an infinite universe. You experience a narrow, self-centered consciousness still very much tethered to its lowly reptilian origins. If you’re lucky, the grey meat behind your eyes keeps warm long enough for you to experience about forty million minutes of self-awareness. That’s it. That’s all.

When the blood stops flowing to your skull, your consciousness will simply cease to exist. Don’t worry. You won’t feel a thing.

As I study Buddhism and wrestle with the concept of impermanence as it pokes reincarnation right in the eye, part of me pines to see my mom and dad again, my daughter, two sisters who perished far too young. But I also yearn for the occasional Five Guys burger and a jolt of capsaicin on my tongue. One is achievable, although it might hasten my boat trip down the River Styx, while the other is a wish, a hope, blue-sky aspiration.

As I grow older and feel time slipping away, it's important that I live this one life taking in "forty million moments of self-awareness" rather than cruising at certain places, thinking that somehow this is just the first leg of something.

I've known those who voice regrets as their hours slip away, rueful cries of what they might have done differently if given the chance, but none of the alternate storylines changes the final scene. We're here and then we're gone, unless you're into one of those ghost chaser shows on TLC or History Channel.

I've watched the light grow dim in someone's eyes until it flickers out, leaving nothing but two orbs taking in an eternity of darkness. Muscles relax, the face sags, and they are gone. Maybe it's their spiritual energy that has flown away on the wings of angels. Hard to prove either way. The truth is we're not here. We are not we. And once we stop being we, there's nothing to grasp but a biological vessel that begins to decay and smell in the hot summer sun.

So I'm trying to be present, here and now, experiencing as many of the millions of self-aware moments as I can, with family and friends, with strangers, alone at times. This is my ride and there's so much to see before it ends. I don't want to miss bits and pieces while I'm shilling for a good seat in Utopia.

David Letterman was asked what he thought heaven was like, and he said, "It's like a really big gymnasium." When prompted for how we saw himself there, Letterman quipped, "With really bad seats."

I would rather have front-row box seats to my life than to hope for something with sight-lines not blocked by girders in the Everlasting Ecumenical Tostitos Bowl, and I don't think I'm the only one. And that's as equal an act of faith as putting your eggs into the God basket.

I believe. I believe I'm here to live my life and to share it with those who have come before and those who will remain when I'm gone, combination Venn diagram and low fat diet with a Crestor thrown in like an after-dinner mint.

For some, the ride lasts too long. For others, too short. I want to be baby bear. Just right.

But more than anything I want to soak in my minutes, wrap them around me to comfort me when I'm alone and cold, sharing when I see others chilled. The Gospel of Kev: Do Unto Others and Watch Everything You Can, Lest You Perish With Unused Minutes on the Clock And Unsaid Words On Your Lips.

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