REFLECTIONS ON MY MORTALITY

Sometimes these days (prematurely, some tell me) I think of the day when it will all be over, when I will call it quits and disappear from terrestrial torments and tea parties, leaving my books and bank accounts behind, and stop going to the grocery store to pick out my favorite breads and cheese. There will be no more visits to my barber of many decades. Movies will be completely out, even late night shows will not be as late as myself. No more standing in the queue at the post-office during Christmas time, and e-mails to or from me will stop for good. I can go on and on listing other trivialities like enjoying ice cream with butterscotch topping, being upset that my neighbor sometimes lets his dog on my lawn for improper reasons, and such.

When they realize I am no longer here, in the more meaningful sense of the phrase, I imagine there will be lots of tears, even sobs from those who may miss me, but that will be <their> problem, not mine. I sure wouldn't be able to console anyone any more, for I am persuaded that exit to eternity, like conversations with God (at least for me),  is strictly valve-like: one way only.  I suppose I will prompt some people to say (mostly) only good things about me in a gathering where they will recall my days. I hope they will quote me: "Ultimately, we all become photographs."

I can be fairly certain of all this. But whether and where this <I> which is generating these thoughts and words now will persist is the billion dollar question. I am reminded of the story of the very rich man who, from his death-bed, summoned his squandering son and said, "My boy, you are wasting away all my hard-earned money. Tomorrow, if I die, where will you be?" To which the inquisitive son replied, "Dad, tomorrow if you die, will not the more interesting question be, where will YOU be?"

Let me reflect on a few possibilities:  I may be kicked up to the penthouse of the universe, guarded by one who is variously called Pierre, Pedro, Piet, Peter, etc., in its Christian quarters, and by equivalent personages in other traditions,  where, they say, things are unbelievably gorgeous and fun-filled, with an abundance of fine food and drinks, including luscious fruits without pits or peels, and chocolates with hazel and cashew with no threats of cholesterol and overweight, and no injunctions to exercise. According to unconfirmed reports, there  will even be in this last resort countless voluptuous houris, curvaceous and perfumed and bejeweled, wrapped in transparent lingerie, dancing away to CD (Celestial Delight) music ad infinitum, and also available for associated joys. I trust management also provides periodic jokes to the residents of Paradise. If not,  that would fall short of my vision of heaven, in which case I may not hesitate to recommend to the powers that (may)be that this be added to the perks.

Or again, I could also be dumped into the abyss of the Cosmic basement where, as per some books, it will all be dark and dismal and dolorous too, and the really naughty ones will be treated like French fries in preparation (if inferno is of the Christian kind). Whether the hellish boiling oil of medieval repute will be of lard or of vegetable extraction, it will be too presumptuous on my part even to guess, and as far as the overall effect is concerned I suspect it wouldn't really matter. In any event, although in my own way I have been trying to evade this potentially very uncomfortable experience, even for a very short while, some evangelists of the Abrahamic tradition seem to be  quite sure there is where I am heading to: not because I have succumbed to more greed or lust than what some of my good and jolly Christian friends,  but simply because I received not been  baptized, nor surrendered to God in his Arabic name and version, even after being duly warned of the consequence of not persisting in idol worship.

Another possibility, as per some Hindu doctrinal assertions, is that  I will be shoved back here below for yet another silly sojourn, but most probably in some very different form and species-affiliation which may not even be mammalian. This is a roundabout way of saying I could, in principle, reincarnate as a crocodile or a cockroach perhaps, though my own preference here is to be reborn as an owl or an eagle for a while, so that I might soar in the skies and zoom down for preys way below. But then, I am informed, this is not a matter for me to choose. Rather it will be determined by some unfathomable law of action and reaction which cannot be tracked down to mathematical precision or one-to-one causal correspondence.

Which of these will be my post-mortem prerogative or punishment, I cannot predict on the basis of what little information I have on this rather serious matter.

But it would be great if after all these years of suspense and uncertainty, of debate and discussion, of ignorance and inability to accept any non-corporeal existence, I suddenly realize I do persist in some higher dimensional realm where I meet countless fascinating things and thinking entities like myself, and perhaps even some sort of a God: very different, perhaps, from anything I have traditional preachers say, but certainly august awesome and blindingly bright, yet exuding some sort of boundless love and joy that is inescapably contagious. I would like that God to ask how I would like to spend the next few eons to which I would say, "Give me a resting place at Castor or Pollux of Gemini, for that, I have been told time and again, is my constellation. I would like my children to stare now and again at the Twins and say, there resides our old man, blinking from the celestial sphere as he promised he would." For, all said and done, the poetic instinct in me craves for a God in my hereafter.

But, in truth, my own suspicion is that when all this is over for me, when the last word in the chapter of my life-book is written out, when I am really finished and extinguished and gone, when this particular spark of the conundrum or confusion or consciousness or whatever that now makes a ME out of zillions of molecules, when all this ceases to be what it is now, with that last heart-beat and vital breath and neuron firing, the atoms and molecules of this my gross body of flesh and blood and bones will get mingled and diffused, like those from the countless other bodies that emerged from an act of love, lived and vanished for evermore into who knows where. My body will for sure be reduced to untraceable particles in the crude crust and dirt of this ancient planet on which we as a species have sported for quite some time now. But the rest of me will be transformed into memories in other minds, love in other hearts, and persist in the words I wrote, and the pictures I am in for some more time to come. So all that matters is to do and say things that will remembered with affection and pleasantness, rather than bitterness and pain.

In none of this am I unique, for others too will continue and more yet will come to  laugh and love, fight and falter, read and reflect, sing and sob, torment and travel, play and pray, marry and mate, dine and dance, act and alliterate, and do sundry other things in between before they too kick the bucket (as we sometimes crudely say)  when someone droops down and dies.

Beyond this, in the modest motto of Montaigne, Que sais-je?: What do I know?

[Jan 2001]