Consign me to the flames. Set me afloat on a wooden raft at sea. Anything but putting me in a hole in the ground.
Not that I’d know, of course, since I’d be dead. Nevertheless, one does have to express ones wishes while one still can.
My desire, in part, is because a grave reminds me of a foxhole. The reverse is also true. At least, that’s what I thought when I was in Viet Nam in 1969 and 1970. Happily for me, none of the foxholes I dug in Viet Nam over 45 years ago turned into my grave. Some others were not so fortunate.
It seems like I’ve been reading a lot about death lately. A great many people embrace the concept that death is the final chapter of life. I suppose that’s true. Ring down the curtain. Put away the scenery and the costumes and the music. Turn off the lights. Leave, and lock the door behind you.
Yes, dying, death, is the final act of one’s life. Being dead, on the other hand, is just that. Dead. Gone. Crossed over the bar.
Depending upon your beliefs, what happens next is that your electrons are scattered into the ether, to be recycled. Or, you (optimally) ascend to Heaven, to appear before the Pearly Gates and have your soul assessed by St. Peter. Or, your soul continues its round of reincarnations, working off your karmic debt, eventually attaining Nirvana and dwelling thence among the Bodhisattvas. Either way, you are no longer among the living whom you presently know (or may yet meet). Some of you may count this as a blessing, others not.
It doesn’t matter. Whatever is or isn’t out there is already there, or not. For all we know, we will appear in the hereafter before Thoth, who will weigh our hearts against the Feather of Truth, after which Osiris will render his judgement.
That would certainly shock a lot of people; me included, because I have no expectation of one thing or another in the afterlife. After you see that light at the end of a tunnel, that’s it – party over. Maybe.
The interesting thing about thinking and reading about death is the degree to which it makes you think about life; specifically, yours, how much more of it you might have, and what to do with that unknowable quantity of days and years. Thoreau wrote that, “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.” If that is true, then the mass of men (and women) are probably too preoccupied to think about what good they can do, versus ‘what good is it?’ I have certainly been guilty of that, at times in my life.
The last year has been like ascending out of a fog, into the daylight above. There are several reasons for this: the end of a very negative and debilitating relationship; a desire to be more open and optimistic in my life; and, most felicitously, the presence of someone more loving and delightful than I had thought possible in my life. So, my own quiet desperation has been dissipated; purged by the sunlight, and the freedom to be happy.
All of which leads me to return to the question I posed above: What to do with the unknowable quantity of time left me?
I’d love to have a pithy, uplifting answer to that question, but I do not. Just as Thoth weighed the hearts of the dead against the Feather of Truth, I am weighing my own life. In ancient Egypt, if the feather and the heart were out of balance, the heart was given to Anubis to consume. But if the balance was exact, your heart became as the heart of Osiris and you were admitted into the Other World, to begin your journey to Paradise.
That’s all after your death, of course. I don’t want to wait until then to weigh my heart, and I don’t want to wait to rectify any imbalance I perceive. It’s rather like figuring out what your karmic debt is, and doing what you can in this life to shed some of it by your conscious efforts and deeds. Not because I don’t want to come back as a cock roach, or be consigned to Hell. Rather, it is imperative, now, to do what I can for the greater good; to build up, rather than tear down. Just the year I spent in Viet Nam, in the infantry, piled up a great deal of negative energy and deeds. I want to counteract that while I still can.
I don’t know exactly what that means yet, but I’ll let you know when I do. In the meantime, I intend to let my life open up, like a sunflower in the summer sun. Explore the mysteries. Speak the truth. Be kind. Be compassionate. Love unreservedly.
“Alas for those that never sing,
But die with all their music in them.”
— Oliver Wendell Holmes