What is dying
I am standing on the seashore, a ship sails in the morning breeze and starts for the ocean.
She is an object of beauty and I stand watching her till at last she fades on the horizon and someone at my side says: "She is gone."
Gone from my sight that is all.
She is just as large in the masts, hull and spars as she was when I saw her, and just as able to bear her load of living freight to its destination.
The diminished size and total loss of sight is in me, not in her, and just at the moment when someone at my side says,
"She is gone"
there are others who are watching her coming, and other voices take up a glad shout:
"There she comes!"
and that is dying.
Several years before she died, my mother told me that she stopped believing in the existence of God the day my brother Jeff died in July 1989. I told her that was the day that I started to seek again the faith in which I was raised, though I didn't conceive of the search in that way at that time, and though it took me 16 more years to rediscover it.
"Well," she stated, "I think it's all a myth. You live and then you die and that's the end."
"I'll pray for you," I replied, tenderly, and I meant it.
Each of us grapples with the age-old questions in his or her own way. I am convinced by now, especially after recent experiences, that none of us can accurately get inside another person's head and see the world through their eyes, no matter how close we think we might be to them, and no matter how much we think we share in common. Even those of us who share the same DNA and the same close family history are often as different as if we had been raised by different tribes. All we can do is try to explain the world as we see it and hope that what we say strikes a common chord in others, or that others can, by sharing their perceptions with us, shape and inform our perceptions in positive ways.
By the way, I have honored the immediately preceding paragraph in the breach as often, or perhaps more often, than I have in the observance. It doesn't lessen its truth, if it has any.
As to death, I've come to the conclusion that if there is no ultimate justice, if the wicked are not punished and the righteous are not justified, then life is simply a matter of personal opinion and, objectively, ultimately meaningless. I don't want to get into an existential debate with anyone, I'm merely communicating how I personally perceive life and death. I choose to believe that my brothers Jeff and Dan, my sister Kathy (Kate, as she named herself), my mother Marjorie, and my father Joseph, exist in some conscious form in some other realm where truth, beauty, and the good are fully realized. If I didn't believe that, not only could I not proceed to perform the mundane tasks that I must perform today, I would be compelled to take a flamethrower and meet out mankind's notion of justice here and now.
A former friend, who is a close friend of a brilliant neuroscientist, used to tell me that the neuroscientist said that human beings' brains were hard-wired to desire something more than they had, which "evolution" had programmed into the brain as a survival mechanism. It gives us our motivation to plan and anticipate the future. She offered this as an explanation for human beings' seemingly constant search for something more from existence than what they experience with their five senses, and as an alternative to the existence of God. I asked her, assuming that her friend was correct, who or what had created a process of evolution that includes rules and possible outcomes that led to the ultimate result that human beings have the need to anticipate the future through a feeling of discontent as means of survival, but that Rhesus Monkeys do not? Who is the "programmer"? Frankly, she didn't know and didn't care.
Well, I do care.
My belief is close to what a whip-smart (and since-fallen) Franciscan once asserted to me: that we are discontented because we are not made for this Earth. We are all pilgrims, marooned in the land of the enemy, making our way to what we hope will be our true home. It's a common view, not at all original, and I think that makes it not one iota less "true" than my former friend's friend's view that it's all random atoms colliding and reacting in accordance with laws that were created by random chance or an impersonal force.
To me, we're all ships sailing on often storm-tossed seas, struggling to stay afloat until we reach home. There, we'll find our true safe harbor. Until then, we'll never be calm, never at rest, never at peace. In this life, our ships cannot rest at harbor because this world does not provide one, although many of us believe that our faith provides passage to one in the next life. In that next life, I pray that I'll sail with those I once loved and love still, on an ocean more glorious than the mind of man could even hope to imagine.