The American novelist Susan Ertz says, “Millions long for immortality who don’t know what to do with themselves on a rainy Sunday afternoon.”
I’ve been thinking about this quote since I read it this morning. It reminded me of another about what human being is arrogant enough to want an eternity with himself? Not sure of the author, but the thought is provocative. The skeptic appreciates the comment of another writer who said the real question was not whether there was life after death but rather is there life after birth.
If we knew we would never die, what would we do with our time on earth? Would it make us value life more or less? Would we want to live forever? What would we do knowing nothing ended? Dr. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, one of the earlier interpreters of the dying experience, concluded later in her life that her chief thought was: There is no death. But, of course, she died, and I have no way to see what she has to say now.
I have often thought if I wanted to sell a lot of books to write about life about death. Better, to claim I died for a few moments and came back to tell my story. How would anyone question my experience? They could say I made it up, but unless they were there with me after I died they would have no way to say I was making the story up. And, of course, were I a medium and could communicate with the dead, perhaps I could come up with some better evidence. But I am just a poor mortal (“one who dies”).
There are many views about what happens to us after we die, from not existing at all to existing as unique individuals. When we die, some say, we cease to be–body and mind. Others say we continue to exist as extended personalities, while some claim we come back to try it all over again. So when people say they believe in life after death, I want to know what kind of life they are talking about. And what kind of afterlife do we envision–bliss, punishment, or a time to decide what to do next?
I’ve read a great deal about near death experiences (N.D.E) and find the stories fascinating, some almost believable. They represent one step forward to looking at life after death from a scientific basis, although eternity is hardly something easily studied scientifically. But the question here remains whether the experiences are of another post-death reality or simply the last workings of the human mind facing extinction.
Another writer described what is beyond this life as “the Great Perhaps.” Maybe that’s the best way to end, with a question on our lips and an unspoken expectation of what might come next. After all, it is possible to suggest from this side of death that learning how to die is also learning how to live a richer, deeper life now knowing we don’t have forever.
I think the attitude of the philosopher Socrates about his death makes the most sense. He said if there is nothing beyond this life, he viewed death as he would a long, well deserved sleep. And if there is something, he looked forward to be reunited with his family and friends. Take away the fear and life becomes quite precious.