Thursday, June 07, 2007


Having been brought up Protestant and then converting to Judaism late in life has given me plenty of opportunities to theorize about what happens to us after death.

Here’s the curious thing about it:

Although I have become more and more established in my belief that we do not continue on in any comprehensible form after we die, I find that I am just as irritated as I ever was by those who scorn the possibility of an afterlife.

You know, the Amazing Randi, Penn and Teller-types who are so proud of themselves when they debunk a spiritualist.

I mean, talk about shooting fish in a barrel. Seances are bunk? Well, duh.

What position is easier to take than to say that you can only believe in what you can see?

I find it easier to sympathize with people whose faith leads them to believe in something bigger, even if I don’t agree with them.

At least they’re taking a shot.

I’m striding a strange fence here, I suppose. The fact is that I cannot believe that any of us has a personality so original and individual that it will survive the death of the body. That is, I don’t think I’ll be bumping into anyone I knew after the fact, swapping stories about the good old days.

And where’s that $5 you owe me?

On the other hand, I think the possibility of transcendence, of engaging the world in an ecstatic fashion, is available to us while we are here.

That death is ultimately meaningless because of the strength and beauty of the human spirit, which is eternal.

That the grace and song of us lies in the human condition, trying to find the best way to go as creatures struggling to be something between animals and gods.

That all of this is dross and anything of value is invisible.

I attended a funeral Mass yesterday and much of what was said assumed that we go somewhere after we die, that a place has been prepared for us, an eternal home.

Each time the point was made, I thought of how comforting it would be to believe it. But this always seems to me to write off what we did while we were here, the ordinary, often unpoetic rituals of living which are, to my mind, all that counts. All there is.

What if they gave you the choice? Would you want to live forever?

Each time we were told to stand up, I found myself balancing on my fingertips which were just grazing the pew in front of me. It reminded me of the way you’re supposed to set your fingers on the planchette of a ouija board as you try to encourage the spirits to spell out some ghostly communiqué.

I listen for voices, the sound of curtains rustling and windows opening, the faint whisper of breath from the other side.

Reaching out from my trench, I find the world.


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