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The Other Side

When it comes to humanity, there are few universals. We all need food and water, we all need air to breathe and perhaps most importantly, we all will eventually die.

It is one of the elements of our lives that define us as people. We have a finite existence on this rock, and it is one of the motivators for us to accomplish as much as we can in the short time that we’re here. Because none of us know exactly when our tickets are going to be punched, we proceed through life with a certain amount of caution although there are those who use that not knowing as a motivation to take chances and live more fully. There are times when I kind of envy those people.

Death is the great unknown for all human beings; to understand death we almost certainly will have to die. Nobody knows exactly what happens once our bodies expire; there are a goodly number of people who have been clinically dead for short amounts of time who report out of body experiences (seeing their own dead body while floating or standing above it), bright lights, a feeling of well-being and the presence of loved ones who had died before them.

There are also those who debunk such experiences as either self-delusion or self-protection practices of brains that are terrified that their bodies are dying. Obviously there’s no way to quantify what happens after we die, no way to send probes into the afterlife.

Most humans believe in an afterlife, having been promised by their religious faith (Judeo-Christian, Islam etc.) that there is one. There is a significant number who believe in reincarnation instead, that souls are reborn as new people in a cycle that repeats over and over again until that soul finds true enlightenment and becomes one with the universe. And then there are those who believe more pragmatically that when we die, we just end. Our bodies decay and rot and that’s that.

Personally, I don’t believe that the latter is true and I use a scientific rationalization. Physics teaches us that energy can only be created, not destroyed. Within all of us is some kind of energy that powers our bodies to move, think and feel. If that energy can’t be destroyed, what happens to it?

Perhaps it is that which leads us to our fascination with ghosts. There are those who spend their lives proving or debunking the existence of ghosts. While we don’t have definitive proof of their existence as of yet, there is certainly much evidence that there are unexplainable events that have occurred that could certainly be caused by beings or energies that we call ghosts. On that subject, I have an open mind – I’ve never encountered anything supernatural myself, but I’m not arrogant enough to say I know definitively that they exist or not. In this beautiful, complex universe, anything is possible.

When I was younger, I was afraid of dying. It bothered me that I wouldn’t live forever and that I wouldn’t live to see the future which I always imagined to be very “Star Trek”-like, with starships taking people vast distances to strange, exciting worlds different than our own, meeting intelligent beings different than ourselves. I have always had a curiosity about travel; not only do I want to see our own world, I long to visit others as well.

Unfortunately, that’s not going to happen for me. Unless there is a radical development in the next 20 years, the technology won’t exist that will allow me to see alien vistas with my own eyes during my lifetime. I’m going to be 50 this year; given medical technology and my own health issues I figure I have about 20-25 years of travel left to me before it will become too arduous for me, although that figure can change given medical advancements and paying attention to my general health and well-being more than I did as a younger man.

When I was younger, that concept would have filled me with terror but I guess my perspective on things is different now. My disability has taught me to be more accepting of things that are beyond my ability to control, and patient with things that in years past would have frustrated me. Death doesn’t seem as intimidating to me as it once did. In some ways, I’m actually curious about it and while I can’t say I look forward to it, I do look forward to finding out what actually happens to us. Unfortunately, I probably won’t be able to blog about it.

I do believe that we don’t just end, as I mentioned earlier. I think we continue in some form, whether it is as a ghost or spirit, or in some kind of afterlife which we travel to when our bodies die. I tend to suspect that whatever happens to us, it is something radically different than what religion or science has taught us. I have a feeling that we all end up being surprised and perhaps thinking “Wow, I really didn’t expect that.”

We will all get there eventually, some sooner than others. It is living with dying that is in many ways more important in our lives. We must endure the death of friends and loved ones, sometimes unexpectedly. These are the tragedies of our lives, losing those we care about – parents, siblings, friends, spouses and sometimes children.

When we mourn for the dead, it is for us that we are really grieving. We are sad because these people are no longer a part of our everyday existence, even if our contact with those people was somewhat limited, we feel the loss of their presence. For some, it reminds us of our own mortality and that may bring that fear of dying to the surface.

I have been fortunate in that I have lost relatively few people in my life, although there have been some important losses – my father, my grandmothers and grandfathers for example (although I was very young when both my grandfathers passed and didn’t have time to develop as full a relationship with them as I did with my grandmothers). Still, in that sense, death has touched me.

Don’t get me wrong – I do miss these people, particularly my father and my maternal grandmother who both had major impacts on who I am but I don’t mourn them so much as feel a sense of gratitude towards them, that I was able to know them and hopefully have some impact on their lives as they did on mine. Wherever they are, they are where they are supposed to be. It is an indication that the universe is working the way it’s supposed to.

Most of us will never make an impact on the human condition in the way people like Albert Einstein, Mohandas Gandhi, Nelson Mandela or Robert Frost did. We only impact a relatively small circle of people, and those we impact profoundly are a smaller circle still. We cannot cheat death; someday our loved ones our going to mourn our passing the way we have mourned those who have passed before us.

Therefore it behooves us to celebrate life while we still have it, to enjoy the good things in life while we are alive and to live in a way that causes us as few regrets as possible. I refuse to go into death with the thoughts that I didn’t do the things I wanted to do, that I didn’t say the things I needed to say and that I didn’t make the impact on those I cared about that I wanted to make.

We cannot control when or how we die for the most part, unless we take our own lives which seems to me to be a travesty except in the circumstances where death is inevitable and pain is a certainty. Like Jack Kervorkian, I believe that there should be some dignity and compassion in death whenever possible. That aside, what we can control is how we live. I’m not one who dwells on mortality; I have learned to accept that I will die someday and so will all those I love, some before I do. I will get to the end of my road when it is time; until then, I intend to celebrate life and celebrate those who share it with me. I will take joy in the little things. I will hug those I care about and tell them how I feel about them, and make sure that each and every one of them know how important they are in my life – and how grateful I am that they are in it.

It may sound like I’m writing my own eulogy, but truly I am not. Death is not the shroud that infuses our lives but the exclamation point at its end. Whatever becomes of us after it we will find out in due time. Until then, let us truly live and make life better for those we can. Give the world a reason to miss us when we’re gone.


One Response

  1. ahhhhhh very good, bookmarked 🙂 keep it up, JusyKassy. http://www.flightsrhodes.org

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