Everyone has drifted off to go chat with someone or other, and I am left alone again. I look about the room at the furnishings and the decor. The joint has a STANDARD AMERICAN FUNERAL HOME INTERIOR DECOR look, somewhat too fancy for modern tastes. Funeral homes seem to be a hold out of the nineteenth century. Maybe it instills a sense of perpetuity among the clientele. There is a slight ornate vulgarity about the place. It is not helped by the fact that everything is well worn. You can see paths in the carpet, bald spots on the overstuffed chairs, a little rip here and a small crack there. The place is well kept but worn. It reminds me of a mansion of some ancient wealthy family of English nobility, who is running out of money--like the guy in the Schweppes commercials. Of course, this stuff is not some priceless heirlooms, but rather the capital equipment of a company. Most of it looks like it is beyond a depreciation write-off.
As I said before, being condemned does have its advantages. I am free to find God on my own terms. What difference does it make, I am going to Hell anyhow! The first thing I decided is that God is to be loved, not feared. I am not a God fearing man, I am a God loving man. So how can you love someone who wants to damn you to Hell? No problem, discard the concept of Hell and it's easy to love God. I don't believe in Hell. The place does not exist. I do not believe that God will damn me for all my petty sins. God may not be too pleased with some of the things that I do, and in some fashion I will have to answer for them, but it won't be eternal damnation. I believe that Hell is a human institution that has served the powerful well. How better to control us, the dung encrusted masses, than with fear? We will do exactly as the powerful want or else God will send our Souls to broil in Hell forever. The great thing about the whole deal is that God sees everything all the time, so the entire process is automatic. We won't get away with anything, even if we escape the mortal powers, because God will ultimately get us in the end. Therefore, we had better do what the high priests want us to or else Hell awaits us. Myself, I do fear the eternal nothingness, but not Hell. If there is a God, and I believe there is, then there can not be a Hell. God would not permit it. Why?
Defining God is a dangerous business, but in my opinion God is not petty, thin skinned, jealous, sexist, racists, or hateful. Quite simply God is a nice guy, or nice gal if you prefer. I don't think God cares whether we think of Her, or think of Him, or think of It. Take your druthers, but I think that God does like when we do think about God using whatever pronoun that we wish. I don't think that God has any particular religion, but I think She is hurt by all of them. Some religions want to cut out your heart and offer it to God while it still beats. Others, more subtly, only want to cut out your mind. Either way it's human sacrifice that does not serve God. When our religions do good, which they frequently do, I think that God takes a lot joy in that good and is proud of us. Most of all, God has love, time, and patience. I think that She has enough love, time, and patience that He can straighten out the worst of us, without any help from our fellow mortals. That is, I think God would prefer that we worry about that log in our own eye instead of the speck in our brother's eye. So when you have love, time, and patience, of what value is Hell. How can Hell possibly serve God?
I have to admit that here is one thunderhead in the fair skies of my belief in no Hell. In The Light Beyond Moody claims that there have been some Hellish near death experiences. The only represent 0.3 percent of the total cases in three different studies, but they do exist. Now to be fair, if I believe in the good near death experiences, shouldn't I also believe in the bad? Well, I have to admit the it does inspire worry. What could be the possible explanation? Perhaps Hell does exist! Personally I don't believe so because I don't believe that God would permit Hell to exist. So we are back to faith. What else could it be? I see the distinct possibility that these could be bad dreams that parallel the near death experience. The incidence rate is so small as to indicate that the experience is not genuine. Another explanation, although highly questionable is perhaps some Souls need to experience Hell. Nothing permanent, just a nasty resort for the masochistic Soul. I am not sure what the bad near death experience means, but they do not shake my faith that God has no requirement for Hell.
You are probably thinking, well if God is such a nice guy, if Hell does not exist, if God looooooooooooves us soooooo much, what moral imperative do we have for being good? Can't we just raise hell, and the good old Boy will forgive us no matter what?
I think that we will have to answer for our wrongs, but not forever. This brings us to our third possibility eternal evolution. Evolution, a word sure to raise the blood pressure in many people. Well for the record, I believe in biological evolution, so go ahead and hate me. But here I am not talking about biological evolution, but rather spiritual evolution. So when I speak of evolution don't think that I mean that your great grand father was an orangutan. Instead, think that maybe he was Alexander the Great. Oh no, not reincarnation! Yes reincarnation! There are better than one billion believers in the various religions of the East, why not reincarnation? Again, I am not scholar enough to state what the various religions of the East believe, only fool enough.
The Eastern religions de-emphasize the concept of God. Instead they consider the Soul. In a very general sense, the Soul must repeat human life over and over until such time that Enlightenment is reached. Enlightenment or Nirvana is a state of One with the universe, or One with the Ultimate, it is a release of human concerns and a recognition of the ultimate nature of existence. When this state of Enlightenment is reached the Soul is released from additional incarnations and will remain forever in this state of Oneness.
Reincarnation makes a lot of sense. If you consider our mortal bodies being a vehicle for the Soul, then we shouldn't be overly concerned with the tragedies of the world. They are lessons for the Soul. All Souls must experience all phases of life, both good and bad. Our mortal lives become something of an automobile which the Soul will use and discard as it sees fit. No one gets too upset with the junking of an old car, and so it should be with our bodies. Death is but a doorway to a new life. There are no sins, but rather an automatic recording of deeds called Karma. Bad deeds must be countered by good deeds until the Karmic balance is zero, at which time the Soul will have reached Enlightenment.
Reincarnation also makes a lot of sense form God's point of view. If I were God, I would not want to see a Soul condemned to Hell for eternity. It would break my heart. Yet you can't just be an old softy and let them get away with murder. So why not just sit back and let them do it over and over until they get it right. They will get it right eventually, if not in this life time then in some future lifetime. Why be a big meany and have all this Hell and damnation stuff when you can be jolly and let Karma take care things automatically. It is a great justice system: as a Soul sows, so shall it reap. Each Soul determines its own destiny. If you lust over your neighbor's spouse you can expect to feel the hurt that lusting can cause. But if you axe murder 29 children, you can expect to make 29 very big sacrifices in your future incarnations.
One thing to note about Karma, it does not serve the high priests very well. There is no broiling in Hell for some dogmatic oversight or disbelief. Failure to obey the ecclesiastical authorities results only in whatever unpleasantries they can cook up for you, very unpleasant to be sure, and the vague threat that you will have to come back many life times to make up for your short comings. What the hell, most of us recognize that we got a long way to go anyhow so it is not much of a threat. You see with Karma, the high priest is the ultimate son of a bitch, not God. You may get your eyes spooned out for your theological shortcomings but at least you won't broil in Hell.
From God's point of view, it's a hell of a lot easier to shave in the morning knowing that eventually all of His Souls will rejoin Her. In the end nothing will be lost. All experience good and bad will contribute to the Infinite One. God is relieved of the role of the Ultimate Meany, yet a moral imperative is maintained.
So then what happened to Helen? I think our previous scenario--exiting the body, tunnel experience, beautiful light--would still hold. But instead of a harsh trial by a stern Old Testament God--the Ultimate Meany--there would be a life review conducted by the Being Of Light as described in Moody's The Light Beyond:
After meeting several beings in light, the NDEer [Near Death Experience-er] usually meets a supreme Being of Light. People with a Christian background often describe Him as God or Jesus. Those with other religious backgrounds may call him Buddha or Allah. But some have said that it's neither God nor Jesus, but someone very holy nonetheless. Whoever he is, the Being radiates total love and understanding. So much so, that most people want to be with it forever. . . . It's his [the Being of Light] job to take them on a life review. When the life review occurs, there are no more physical surroundings. In their place is a full color, three-dimensional, panoramic review of every single thing the NDEer have done in their lives. This usually takes place in a third-person perspective and doesn't occur in time as we know it. . . . the person's whole life is there at once. In this situation, you not only see every action that you have ever done, but you also perceive immediately the effects of every single one of your actions upon the people in your life.
So in this life review, there would be no red bordered scenes, no lightening and thunder, no criticism or condemnation, instead just love and understanding. Helen would come to an immediate understanding of all the implications of her actions on herself, others, and the world as a whole. With this understanding, Helen should improve in her next life. At this point, I should imagine that Helen could either come back to mortal life in a new incarnation, or take a respite in the spiritual realm for reflection. When she is ready to incarnate, all she has to do is enter a fetus in any stage of pregnancy.
A reasonable question is why don't we have any memories of our past lives? There are those who claim that one can be hypnotized and recall past life experiences from the subconscious, in what are called past life regressions. I have never tried this myself and I am not sure that I would want to know what I had done in the past anyhow. Which is why I think we can't remember. How would you like to start out life knowing that you were Adolph Hitler and have all that Karma hanging over your head? We start each life with a clean slate. The Karmic debt is still there, but we are unaware of it so that we are not overwhelmed with our past deeds. Also, I don't believe that things are predestined. Even though the Soul has a Karmic debt and has made plans, I feel that life is essentially a collection of chance events. We are not acting out some great play that God and our Souls have written for us. Things happen by chance and we learn from these occurrences. If it were all a play, why not just remain in the spiritual realm and review the play rather than live it. No, it is not a play, we are the masters of our own destiny only to the extent that we can determine our future Karmic debt by our present action. Otherwise, we live in a universe of pure chance. Life is pretty much as rotten or as good as we care to regard it. It is not some meaningless play. But good or bad, exciting or boring, rich or poor, the Soul continues to learn.
If it sounds as though I am a believer in reincarnation, it is only because it makes so much sense. We are relieved of the task of getting everything perfect in one life. God is relieved of damning Souls to Hell for eternity. It doesn't really matter which religion is the True Path, essentially they are all correct and all wrong. It doesn't matter because sooner or later we will have to get it right.
Other things come to mind that support the concept of reincarnation. How about phobias and déjà vu. Why do I have a revulsion for gambling? I have had no experience with gambling one way or another yet I have an extreme distaste for it. Why is my wife terrified of sharks, yet has never been around them? I am terrified/fascinated by electric chairs, but not electricity. I don't think that I want to delve into that one. I suppose that some of it may be from movies or stories when we were young, yet I don't know why gambling would affect a young child.
Still alone, I look over at Helen in the coffin, same blank uncomprehending expression on her face. She probably is the only person here that is not bothered by this heat. I wonder is she floating nearby? Did she watch me sneak my peeks, tune into my morbid thoughts? Or is she gone to some far distant realm? Bill and Amanda have moved off to the side lines. The guests are standing about in various clumps about the room, clumps based on familiarity I supposed. Some people are starting to leave. As I look about the room, there doesn't seem to be all that much grieving going on. Everyone is talking and having a hell of a good time while poor old Helen stares at the ceiling through closed eyes. The bizarreness of this affair once again strikes me. But then again, what would I have everyone do? Stand and weep silently? Pray? Declare bitter lamentations? I don't know, it just seems that everyone is having a better time than the situation warrants.
Do I believe in reincarnation? I think fear would be a better word than believe. It is my profound hope that there is no such thing as reincarnation. Yeah, it's preferable to nonexistence and certainly Hell, but I find little comfort in the notion of reincarnation. I am too damned tired of mortal life to want to go through it all over again. I just don't think that I could take the prospect of doing this again, and again, and again, and again. . . . I'm a long way from Enlightenment, centuries at least and perhaps millennia. The notion of going through life over and over just makes me tired. The thought of being on my death bed and thinking "well gee, in a few minutes I'll be back to do it all over again" is depressing. Imagine--little league, junior high school, getting the shit kicked out of you, religious instruction, wars, finding a job, having children, allergies, arthritis, taxes, old age, death, birth. . . over and over. I am not ambitious enough for all that.
Then consider this, I have been given a rather cushy life in a rich, well fed, western democracy. What have I done with my good fortune? Not much! While I am not a particularly bad person, nor am I a particularly good person. What have I done for my fellow man? I give an occasional twenty to Care or the Salvation Army, but I am not breaking myself. I am no Mother Theresa, that is for sure. So having been given so much opportunity to help my fellow man in a world of such dire circumstances, and having done so little, couldn't I expect to come back in Bangladesh or some other third world hell hole? Somehow going through junior high again doesn't sound so bad. I suppose that I could rationalize this worry away with the thought that I spent my time in hell holes in previous lives and now it's my turn for the cushy life. But does that relieve me of the responsibility of helping my fellow man? When I think of the inequities between the third world and western life, I feel pangs of guilt, but not so much that I am going to turn over my savings account to Care. But I do fear that I may pay a price in later incarnations, especially because I recognize the problem. Shouldn't I cast off my material wealth, modest as it is by western standards, and devote my life to helping the wretched of the world? Yes! Am I going to? No! Bangladesh, here I come. This is a fear of mine. So why don't I do something about it, indeed become another Mother Theresa? As I said before, I am millennia from Enlightenment.
Let us suppose that reincarnation does indeed exist. Now we can ask this question: how nutty, how bizarre does it sound for me to give my savings account, my home, all of my possessions to charity, join the Salvation Army, and devote my life to the poor, sick, and wretched? How insane does that sound to you? If it sounds real nutty, if you think that I am a real wacko for entertaining such ideas, then I should think that you can look forward to a long career of many Earthly incarnations. The less insane this idea sounds to you, the closer to Enlightenment you are. If it sounds like a damn good idea for you to do, then I should think that you are damn near there. To me it sounds like a fair idea, but I don't have the courage or the conviction to do it. Yet if I heard of someone else doing such a thing, and (here is the crux) being perfectly happy and contented with themselves for doing so, I would envy them. If I were to cast off my possessions and devote my life to the poor, it would be due to fear and guilt, not love, compassion, and the pure joy of helping one's fellow human being. The entire time I would feel that I was crazy for doing this and that the world owed me something for it. All the wrong reasons for doing the right things. My modest wealth would do absolutely nothing to the curve of human misery, what perhaps feed one millionth of a percentage point of the worlds population for a month? Allow 50 children to die of starvation next year instead of this year. And I would not be contented with myself. As I said before, I have a long way to go to reach Enlightenment, and I am unhappy with the prospect.
From both God's and the Soul's point of view, reincarnation makes a lot of sense. From my point of view, it stinks. The elements in my life that I find least satisfying are those that are directly related to mortal life. First possession of a body. In my case an ugly, achy, bald headed, potbellied, piece of biological compost that I well could do without. What advantages do I get out of body ownership? It certainly is no joy to look at in the mirror. My back hurts, knees ache, sinuses raise hell continuously, and I got M.S. You got to feed a body. I don't much care for eating, digestion, elimination, nor food shopping (worse yet agriculture), cooking, washing dishes, and taking out the garbage. A body must have shelter. I have found home ownership worse than body ownership, at least the body fixes itself some of the time. A body must be transported, automobiles are another pain in the ass. A body must be clothed. Spending money on clothes is the pits. A body must work to provide all of the above. My job is no joy to me. In fact any concern of the body and its requirements I find to be nothing but a headache (with the exception of sex, that I do enjoy). Bodies, houses, cars, clothes, (my wife adds child birth, gynecological exams, and cottage cheese to this list). . .mortal life is nothing but a wallowing in the second law of thermodynamics--things tend to go from a state of order to a state of disorder. Entropy! You live life and watch things fall apart all around you. Then you experience the queen mother of entropic events: lay down in a coffin and go for a ride in a Cadillac station wagon. No thanks, I can well do without mortal life. The things I enjoy--learning, contemplation, classical music, science, philosophy, religion--I could do better without a body (except sex and I hope there is some spiritual version of sex that will make mortal sex look boring). The prospect of owning hundreds of these pain ridden contraptions before I finally get it right is not a happy thought. I hope and pray that there is no such thing as reincarnation.
OK, if I don't want nonexistence, Hell, or reincarnation, then what do I want? How about levels of spiritual evolution. When you die you go to the bottom level. You clean the spiritual toilets so to speak, do spiritual good deeds, earn your wings. If your name is Mother Theresa, you could expect to spend a day on this level. If your name is Sextant maybe you'll be there for 50,000 years or perhaps a million years. If you're Adolph Hitler, expect to clean toilets for the next 17 trillion years. No matter who you are, you will spend your time, pay your dues, make up for all the rotten things that you did, and move on to the next level. The first level will be something less than Heaven, but better than Earth. As you evolve, you will move upward through the levels but you will never reach the top. There is no top, God is Infinite.
So where is Helen? I hope with all my heart that she is happily cleaning the spiritual toilets of Heaven, doing her spiritual good deeds. Perhaps, she is a guardian angel for someone, helping them through the rough spots, the hurts of life. Maybe she is helping Bill with his new life without her. Perhaps she is guiding my pen. I think it would be an appropriate first spiritual step for the Soul, the guidance and assistance of those still living on Earth. I think I could enjoy doing that for the next 50,000 years. I would like helping someone do the things that I never had the skill, talent, creativity, or courage to do. It would be a way that I could make life better for someone in a lasting way, and make up for my own failings in life. This is my hope and this is my faith.
Mom comes over and whispers in my ear that we ought to leave now. Viewing will be over in 15 minutes, let's beat the rush. She has a point, this place is loaded. While she gets her coat, I go over and sign the book for both of us. What is the purpose of this book? Does anyone actually look at it, or does it get tossed in a drawer and forgotten? Mom walks over with her coat folded across her arm. Oh shit, time for good-byes, another crisis time in the lives of the socially awkward. Fortunately, Bill and Amanda are talking to strangers. As Mom and I approach I sort of slip behind Mom, let her do all the talking. Mom takes Bill's hand and gives him a condensed version of the earlier condolences, but now there is an air of finality to what she is saying. Bill thanks us profoundly for coming and wishes us well. Once again I am struck with the innocent simplicity of this man and the grace in which he conducts himself. Here comes the lump again--shit! As I shake Bill's hand, I mumble something totally inaudible--I don't even know what it is. Bill thanks me heartily. Another quick hug to Amanda, and we start for the door. There is no one else near that we know, so we slide out the oversized front door, go down the steps, and turn a corner around a large beautiful rhododendron, its leaves dark green and waxy.
The air is fresher now, a little less threatening than before but still dismal. In the air you can feel rain, it's coming, but also a hint of spring. You can smell the early vestiges of spring in the air. It feels great: this fresh, spring, rain smelling air--especially after the ornate, vulgar, dark, hot, stuffiness of the funeral home. For a brief moment, it feels really great to be alive. It is wonderful to pull the clean, cool, spring laden, fresh air into my lungs and feel it there. I pull another big breath of fresh air into my lungs, and think about it--gases are exchanged, blue stale blood turns red and fresh. Life courses through my veins. It feels good. It is such a contrast to poor Helen, lungs collapsed, chemicals stagnating in her listless veins, heart still, cold and dead. I take several more deep breathes to try to purge the nineteenth century and the death out of my being. I feel
more alive than usual, noting the reaction of the asphalt against my feet, the pure joy in being able to walk, the cool breeze brushing my face and hands, the rub of my clothes against me and, of course, the ambient noise. It's rainy day noise, louder than usual. It is good to be leaving this place.
As we pull out on to Greentree Road, Mom says that she does not want to come back for the funeral tomorrow. Neither do I, but in some fashion I feel that I should. Mom's tone of voice indicates that this is not up for discussion. So I let it drop. There is no reason why I can't go. I don't want to. I don't know these people all that well. I showed up, did the respectable thing, why wallow in this? Nobody mentioned the funeral tomorrow, it's not expected. Me showing up, will just underscore that Mom isn't there. These are just Mom's in-laws, but they are my family--I should go. She is just my cousin. What the hell, I never went to see her when she was alive, nor did she come to see me. Would she bother with my funeral? That is neither here nor there, the fact is that I should go. It is time for me to start behaving like an adult, I should go. I don't want to go!
I make a value judgment. I draw the line tighter around me. Helen in her casket lies on the other side of that line now. I am not going to the funeral. No excuses, no rationalizations, Helen's funeral is not worth the bother. That sounds so harsh, couldn't it be said more euphemistically? Yes, but it would be watered down bullshit. I have had enough of death and socializing. I don't have the courage and the stamina for another day of this. How easy it is to write someone off--too much bother, to hell with it. Doesn't Helen's life and death have any more meaning than that? Perhaps, but the decision stands, I am not going tomorrow. I am not very proud of these thoughts. An old sage at work, now retired, once told me that I cause myself much unhappiness by thinking things through too much. He was right. I don't want bothered with this funeral, but I am going to thrash myself the whole way home for being immature, a coward, socially awkward, a louse, and generally an uncaring no good son of a bitch. The decision still stands.
We are on the Parkway now, heading down the hill, moving through time and space. Time still exists for Mom and I. We have a future, a present, and a past. Space still exists for us: we see it fly by, photons firing the neurons in our retinas, images processed in our brains, we are conscious of the surroundings slipping by, the motion of the car below us. We are aware of time and space, time ticking away, the car sliding through the three dimensions of space. The noise of the engine marks time as it pushes us through space. You can feel it--accelerations, decelerations, the centripetal acceleration when rounding a bend. I have never thought of it before, but it's strange, you can't feel simple velocity. You can feel the changes in velocity, the accelerations, but not the velocity itself. Nor can you, for that matter, feel space. How can you feel the space around you? You can't. Even if you are squashed in a hydraulic press, the space hasn't changed. It is still there, it is only occupied by something else. It is not the lack of space that will smash the life out of you. It is the tons of steel driven by thousands of PSI of hydraulic pressure that kills you, not the lack of space. The space is still there.
Imagine standing on the edge of the universe. What would happen if you tried to step over the edge? Would you simply drag time and space with you, would you become the leading edge? Or would you explode like a super nova in some horrible reaction of ordinary matter with super space? Perhaps you would suffer a gravitational collapse and become a mini black hole, quite literally dying from the lack of space. Mom and I have active memories, current thoughts, and expectations for the future. What does Helen have? Only a past that is remembered by others. No present, no future. She occupies space-time now as a thing, an object. Space and time can act on her, but she can not react back. Why am I thinking this? I believe Helen is fine in the afterlife, don't I? Or has the reality of Helen's lifeless body lying still and cold in that coffin shaken my well thought out beliefs? I accept no one else's word on matters of the eternal, I have to figure these things out for myself. Standing next to Helen and staring down into the depths of the lifeless alabaster, the only thing I could physically verify was that Helen was not there. Did she cease to exist? Is it so wise to determine all of these things for myself? Maybe having faith in someone else's religion is not so bad. Perhaps I do think too much. Maybe I should sit back, relax, and accept word for word someone else's dogma. I could find no evidence that Helen did anything but die and cease to exist. It's odd, when considering the truly important questions, we are not much further ahead that the ancients. Everything is a matter of faith.
I do think Helen is OK, don't I? Yeah, but it is good to entertain doubts and think through them, it tempers your faith. I am feeling depressed though, I guess mostly for Bill. I got my old milepost feeling. It is an odd emotion I get at graduations, weddings, retirement parties, funerals, and airports. These are major transitions in our lives; things will be different after them. Change is the mileposts of our lives. The feeling that I get is an admixture of melancholy, happiness (if appropriate), uncertainty, loneliness, and perhaps fear. It is difficult to dissect a feeling, to smash it into elementary emotions. The milepost feeling is the milepost feeling. It is bittersweet, as most things in my life are. . . . Why airports? The partings mostly, but also the arrivals. Airports can be very sad, very happy, and often very lonely places. Helen's death is certainly a milepost. I suppose from our point of view, her last. But I do have faith that for Helen, her death was the first milepost on an endless road through eternity. But there is change, there is sadness, there is loneliness, and there is fear. We will all have to pass that milepost one day. I feel really bad for Bill.
It occurs to me that I didn't take a last look at Helen. I left without a farewell glance. I'll never see her again. That is an odd realization that always occurs to me after a funeral. It always knocks me over for a moment. I'll never see her again. I'll never hear her voice again. She is gone and I didn't take one last look. It doesn't matter though, I told you before, Helen was not there. What is the point of looking at a dead stranger one last time?
It scares the hell out of me…death. Not my own, in a very vague sense I almost look forward to it--the end of a less than happy bodily existence that I spoke of earlier. It is the prospect of my wife's death that frightens me. What if my wife goes first and I have to be the master of ceremonies at one of these God awful affairs? How am I going to handle choosing a casket, telling the sad tale, listening to condolences, meeting people that I don't know. How am I going to handle the tears, the damned smell of the flowers, the lumps in the throat, the sight of that yucky vanilla fabric? But most of all, how am I going to be able to stand back and look at my wife and see a lifeless stranger lying still and pale in a coffin? I won't be able to do it. I could do it for my father, will eventually have to do it for my mother, but not my wife. I just will not be able to go through with it. I couldn't stand to see the sweet warm face that I have kissed so often--the body that I have loved so passionately--lying cold, dead, still, pale, and expressionless in a coffin. The woman I love gone, the body I love a stranger. I can't do it, I won't do it. I hope I go first. And that is purely a selfish notion because I know she feels the same way. Yet I couldn't bear the emptiness.
Quite actually, I hope we go together. In a car accident? No, too simple. I should think that it would be thrilling to be somewhat of an embarrassment to our heirs. When we have outlived our usefulness, I hope that we die together--while making love. At the moment of truth (you know when I mean, that point that the "how to" books make such a big deal about, and which she and I have always had this amazing synchrony) the furnace explodes. Blows sky high. The force of the explosion instantly slams the life out of us. The heat of the explosion and the ensuing fire melts our bodies together in an inseparable mess. The mortician gives up trying to separate us, and places us--ventral flesh fused as one, pleasure locked on our faces--into one closed coffin. Another closed coffin, filled with sand bags, is provided for the sake of decency. "The caskets must be closed because of the terrible condition of the bodies from the explosion," everyone will be told. Yet the pall bearers can not understand why one of the caskets is so heavy, almost twice the expected weight. Hopefully, the rescue workers that showed up after the explosion will be a bit gabby--strange rumors will keep surfacing. Can you imagine the hem hawing around that will go on during the telling of the sad tale? Think of the gossip that our mutual arrival at the ground floor of the Great Beyond will cause. We will have the place buzzing, and I think God will be amused. What a way to go.
At the bottom of the hill, we plunge into the Fort Pitt Tunnel. Again I imagine that I can sense it passing overhead, all that family history. Overhead and a quarter mile to the right, Helen lived for 10 years. My mother met, fell in love with, and married my father overhead. Both my sister and I were conceived overhead and to the right. Until I was five, we lived directly over the Liberty Tubes, another tunnel about a half a mile up the river. I owe my existence to events that occurred on top of that hill in space and over 40 years ago in time. All of that history passing overhead at 59 feet per second. A history that is remembered in progressively fewer of us. One day all that will remain will be a few tombstones and some entries in long forgotten dusty volumes in the county records.
I accelerate. The walls, sliding by at 73 feet per second, constrict and the ceiling drops a little. I hit the gas a little harder, the pitch of the engine increases, Mom glances at me. The tunnel narrows again, it and the history overhead are streaking by at 88 feet per second. I wonder if Mom can sense it, the history? I would never ask her. A hard realist raised on a farm during the depression, my artsy notions have always irritated her. I accelerate again, but chicken out. What the hell am I trying to do, join Helen? The narrow tunnel walls continue to fly by. We can see the bright light at the end of the tunnel. We rush through the mountain, dirt and history roaring by. My history on top of the mountain is but a speck of the history in this hill. A few feet through the wall of the tunnel lies sedimentary rock that was laid down 300 million years ago in the Pennsylvanian period, some 80 million years before the first dinosaurs. It was the coal age and there is a lot of coal in Pittsburgh. All that history, all that geology, all that time flying by at 88 feet per second.
So is this what it is like, dying? Rushing through a dimly lit tunnel toward the light. Your life, your history, your passions, your sorrows all rushing past and behind you as you move forward to the bright and lovely light. We burst out into the intense glorious light. And there it is! The suddenness of its appearance always surprises me. It's beautiful. Heaven? No, just downtown Pittsburgh suddenly appearing at the end of the Fort Pitt Tunnel.
This is the end of the 3 part series titled Tunnels. Click here for Part 1 , and here for Part 2.
This is part 3. Please read parts 1 & 2 first. Click here for Part 1 , and here for Part 2.
Image: Downtown Pittsburgh from the portal of the Fort Pitt Tunnel.
Moody, Raymond A. The Light Beyond. New York: Bantam Books, 1988.
Pirsig, Robert M. Zen And The Art Of Motorcycle Maintenance. "Afterword." New York: Bantam Books, 1974 & 1984.