I guess it’s time to talk about it. At eighty-five there is no refuting my turn on the deathbed; it is inevitable; my time will come. And for sure, no one my age can pretend they haven’t thought about it, either fearfully or blithely.
Most of my life, not being a religious person, I thought of death as a final sleep; one day, I would take my last breath and be no more. I never gave credence to the ‘better life in Heaven’ palliative. Still, I can’t help but wonder, what happens next; is there something on ‘the other side’?
In recent years I’ve become a more spiritual person, allowing for the possibility of a soul existent beyond the corporeal. I’ve begun thinking that our sentient life is a form of ever-lasting energy. My thesis is that when we “wear out our outer body” our inner energy returns to its source, then reappears again in a different “carrier,” the process continuing lifetime after lifetime until we reach “enlightenment” and become fully reabsorbed into the cosmos as liberated spirits.
It’s not as frightening to talk about dying when I can include the idea of being re-created in the same sentence. But it may be bullshit of the most refined variety. I recognize full well that fear might be behind my notion of spirituality, or soul, as a synonym for undying energy.
Perhaps you’re familiar with Matthew Alper’s book about precisely that subject, entitled “The God Part of the Brain.” As the one species with a perception of consciousness, Alber writes, we are aware of the fact that we exist, and equally aware of the certainty that one day we will not. He goes on to postulate, the anticipation of death creates a constant mortal peril, a state of unceasing anxiety, which we humans deal with by means of an evolutionary adaptation that compels us to believe that while our physical bodies will one day perish, our “spirits” or “souls” will persist for all eternity.
It’s as if our brain is hardwired to undergo spiritual experiences the same way honeybees are compelled to construct hexagon-shaped hives. In essence we humans have come to have faith that there is something more “out there” as a way to survive our debilitating awareness of death with the belief in some form of immortality.
It makes for interesting reading but I’m not so much concerned with my next life as I am with the monologues when it’s Open Mic at the memorial to commemorate this time around. How will I be remembered for the life I lived, is the question; not some hypothesis about the existence of life in the hereafter that Houdini himself failed to prove.
I think there’ll be good energy in the room, more upbeat than gloomy. I’d like the antidotes about my life to refer to love given and received, undiluted and unconditional, without the impediments set in place by pride and conceit.
On the way home I’d like my granddaughter to say, “Papa loved me. He’s not here anymore but I still feel his loving presence.” That’s immortality!
Howard Englander is author of an ongoing blog for the Chicago Tribune’s ChicagoNow blog: Cheating Death. Howard has no interest in the early bird special at the pancake house. After a life-long career in advertising and marketing, he remains active writing about the realities of aging, making it a point to debunk the Hollywood and television stereotypes of “ the grumpy old man” and “the ditzy grandma.” His collection of short stories, entitled 73, probes the true feelings, inevitable problems and unexpected opportunities that lie ahead for America’s growing senior population. As the stories vividly express, when old age hits, you can either fall down or hit back.