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Death and Dying

Story ID:5060
Written by:John Ward (bio, contact, other stories)
Story type:Musings, Essays and Such
Location:Ajijic Jalisco Mexico
Year:2009
Person:Me
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About a week ago I found out that I am going to die; not anytime soon, but eventually, like most other people. A friend mentioned that everyone dies and up to that point I hadn’t given it much thought, but it got me thinking. I wondered what death really is. It’s more than just the end of life, but even as just that, it must be considered an essential part of life, the final act of a four-act play.

There are two things to consider when thinking about death: what will be lost and what will be gained. On the loss side: death will definitely put a crimp in my smelling the roses, but what would I really miss? I have seen trees, magnificent ones and insignificant ones. I have seen the Sequoias in Northern California and “El Thule” the thickest tree in the world, here in Mexico. I have seen sunsets and sunrises, (far fewer of the latter). I have seen mountain ranges, people helping others, people hurting others, war time, peace, beautiful women, ordinary looking men. I have ridden horses, fenced in tournaments, acted in plays, eaten at IHOP at four in the morning. I have loved animals and women, albeit in different ways. I have swum in the Mediterranean, the Indian Ocean, the Atlantic, the Pacific, the China Sea, the Caribbean; I have never swum in the North Sea, though, which is why I still have testicles. I think it is safe to say I have experienced a fairly full life. You know, if I didn’t see another tree or mountain range I wouldn’t lose much sleep over it, so saying goodbye to all this wouldn’t be that hard.
The other side of this coin is: what would be gained in death?

I recall two eighteen-year-old “elders” from the Mormon faith on my doorstep saying “We can offer you eternal life through the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.” I remember saying: “Eternal life! Are you kidding? I’m fifty years old now and I have arthritis in my hands, tendonitis in my Achilles Tendons, by age 400 I would be a pitiably crumpled creature begging people to kill me. Not on your Latter Day lives, I want to die when it’s my time. And anyway, what the hell is wrong with the former day saints like St. Theresa, Saint Swithian, Saint Andrew, Saint Joan… are we to forget them?” As I watched them run from the house, their ties streaming behind them I started thinking of what would be gained in death.
Firstly I would gain peace! Freedom from aches, pains, worries and angst; freedom from bills, identity theft concerns, overcharges, crooked Wall Street bastards whittling away at my hard-earned cash, crooked politicians, and whackos. No more spending enormous amounts of money to buy medicine to treat the side effects created by the other medicines that are prescribed to treat ailments brought on by a tough life of anxiety and frustration. Essentially: freedom from “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.” Pretty good trade so far.

Socrates said: “Death is one of two things: either it is a long, dreamless sleep, in which case I can’t wait to get there because I am so tired, or it’s another life, in which case I can’t wait to get there because this life is so hard.”

Let’s consider both. The first is easy. If death is just the termination of life and like a long, dreamless sleep, I’d be thrilled, because honestly I have experienced nights when I was so tired I slept without dreaming, for about 14 hours. When I awoke, I felt wonderful.

However, the more exciting of the two scenarios is the concept of another life. If there is such a thing, imagine who’s already there! I can see myself chewing the fat with the likes of Humphrey Bogart, Jimmy Cagney, Ingrid Bergman, Edward G. Robinson, Mae West, Charlie Chaplin and W.C. Fields, all in rare form, enjoying the freedom of non-corporeal existence. Imagine meeting Winston Churchill and Teddy Roosevelt, Peter the Great of Russia, Alexander the Great of Greece. The poker games would be fascinating. I visualize scenarios like speaking with Peter Lorre and irritating him with my impersonation of him: “So where deed you get de letters of transfer? Deed you keel de German couriers or deed you keel de man who keeled dem?” The excitement of avoiding people like Ivan the Terrible and Adolf Hitler; making fun of people like Pol Pot and Stalin would be such fun! Imagine talking to Howard Hughes and Montgomery Clift as they ate raw meat off the floor! I would take Latin lessons from Julius Caesar and pin “Kick Me Hard” on the back of Torquemada’s robe. I would spell kick – “keek!”

Then and most importantly, seeing my mother and father again would be wonderful. My uncles, aunts and grandparents who have gone on before me, and who are probably holding a seat for me in the orchestra section, would be thrilled to see me and I them.

Unless you believe in the ancient concept of heaven and hell, death does not look too bad. But to those who do believe in heaven and hell, the good news is a hell of fire and brimstone cannot be reconciled with a loving, benevolent God who is father to us all. A God who understands all and is long-suffering, knows why the bad people do bad things and understanding is forgiving. He knows how Stalin’s father brutalized him and turned him into the monster he became. He knows what mental breakdown caused Caligula to brutalize the Roman people.

The threats of fire and brimstone are just that: threats to keep people on what the temporal spiritual authorities decided the straight and narrow was. In fact that description of hell is first given by Dante Alighieri. He used fire because almost everyone has been burned in his or her life and knows how painful it is. Brimstone is Sulfur, a good anti-infection agent, presumably to keep your burns from getting infected so you can suffer for eternity. Sulfur has the added punitive characteristic of being smelly so hell is a stinky place.

The fact is: there is no hell in your future. The God we imagine wouldn’t allow it and, if you read the Gnostic Gospels, the parts of the bible the councils of Nicaea and Hippo edited from the Bible, it says in there, that in the final analysis, despite its existence, everyone is spared hell and taken to live at God’s side, but this must remain a secret so everyone will behave.

So, now that I know I am going to die, heck, bring it on. I am so curious to see what’s next.