My younger brother, who had been appointed the executor of my mother’s estate, mentioned that he had found a previously unknown collection of coins in the attic while cleaning out the house. He had also come upon a decent amount of cash elsewhere. As I already had a coin collection from our father (actually I thought I had all the coins, so this was a surprise), my brothers and I agreed that I would get the coins while my brothers would divide the cash between the two of them – provided the value of the coin collection was about equal to their shares, of course.
So he is leaving for the evening and I follow him out to his car, where the coins were to be found in the trunk. First he hands me a big cardboard box, saying that it contained all the albums and folders that the coins were in, explaining that he wanted to get an idea of the value of the collection by estimating the total silver content. Then he hands me a locked metal safety deposit-type box that weighed at least twenty pounds. I hefted it, hearing its contents rattle inside. My heart sank. My brother had basically taken all the coins out, dumped them in a pile, and weighed them to see how much silver there was! Inside the box were hundreds – maybe thousands – of mercury dimes, mixed in with quarters, half dollars and dollars of various designs from different periods. Then my brother uttered the “money quote” (pun intended): “I saved the albums so if you want, you can put the coins all back in.” Gee, thanks. I knew I would have untold hours of work ahead of me to resort them. Especially frustrating was pulling out silver dollars from the 1910’s and 20’s that had been in rather fine condition, and perfectly stored for over 40 years, only to suffer thin, fresh glittering scratches across their faces as they jostled and rolled about in the chaotic pile. I wonder how much numismatic value they lost due to this short-sighted action. At least I lucked out as the price of silver had recently collapsed to only $19 an ounce!
Later that evening I was talking to my older brother, who had hosted the holiday meal at his house, and we were talking about other objects they had taken out of the family home and distributed or disposed of. I mentioned to him how the last time I had been at the house I had looked at several of the family photo albums, which I hadn’t done in many years. So my brother asked me if I wanted them. I thought my younger brother should have them, as he is the only one that has children, and it is natural to show children such things and for them to have curiosity about their ancestors. So my older brother points to [another] cardboard box in the corner and says, “That’s where the photos are, I pulled them all out of the albums and put them in a big pile. The albums were all crinkly and the plastic was yellowed and sticking to the photos, so I threw them out.” Again, my heart sank. Each album had been in a sequence and filled as the photos were taken, so they were in perfect chronological order. But nothing had ever been labeled, so often the year or even the place could only be inferred. So if you saw some photos from a family vacation – a campground or beach, for example, you wouldn’t know the year or where they were taken (was it the time we went to North Carolina, or South Carolina?). Unlike the coins, I don’t think that even a herculean amount of effort would suffice to restore the order of our family photos. It’s just gone.
As I mentioned earlier, my brothers and I obviously share some characteristics that in theory would make us more similar than we are different: same parents, grew up in the same era and environment, we are all conscientious, diligent, meticulous and intelligent; not only college-educated but engineers, all three of us. And as engineers, we make a career out of battling entropy by shaping our surroundings and creating order. But obviously they see things much differently than I do, and it often seems my system of values is totally alien to them. Different priorities, I suppose.
I was in some version of our family house, and oddly enough the Wife’s youngest brother was there. He has never appeared in a dream before, but I suspect his significance is due to the fact that he is the most religious (conventionally Christian) in the family, so he must be associated with topics like the afterlife and so on in my subconscious, which certainly traffics in symbols.
Anyway, I was walking downstairs to greet him (I think) and we were saying “hi” as I walked into the kitchen and then the entire room changed, and there she was.
There was no discernible transition or transformation, more like a light switch had been flipped. One instant the scene was one way, and the next it was another, which was incredibly jarring. Standing on the periphery of the room, I saw that it suddenly appeared just as it had when I was growing up, with the old orange/green plaid linoleum floor and the 70’s wallpaper – but everything else in the house outside of the kitchen remained as it was before, as if some temporal bubble had appeared transporting just that 10’ x 12’ area back to 1979. My mother - a young early 1970’s version of herself, sat at her usual spot at the kitchen table. I suppose if I could come back as an apparition I would choose to show myself as younger, and not the wasted, sickly version of myself before death, if I had any say in the matter.
She was wearing an ensemble that fit the 70’s period, with a fairly long skirt, and her hair was up and neatly in place, and I could imagine the half-can of “Aquanet” it would have taken back then to get it to stay that way. She had half turned in her seat so that she faced me.
She was aware of me. We saw each other.
She stared at me with intensity – not that unusual in and of itself. But this penetrating gaze, which never deviated from me, had the sense of trying to communicate something. Her face remained fixed and her mouth never moved, but somehow I got the sense that she was worried – for me – and anxious, on my behalf. I wouldn’t necessarily say she was trying to warn me per se, but the whole vision had the feeling of being a harbinger. And that’s not a good thing.
It was as wrenching an experience as one could possibly imagine. I mean, as I have intimated before in previous entries, I don’t believe in ghosts or spirits. I think trying to contact the dead (and expecting an answer) is ludicrous, and here I was confronted with something that threw my worldview into the garbage. It wasn’t one of those dreams where one is like, “oh, this is odd and confusing, but I’ll just roll with it”, or “hey – why are you here, aren’t you dead?” or “This must be a dream because it’s so strange.” No, I felt like I was actually experiencing this, and that in that moment I totally – in spite of all my prior denunciations, believed that I was in contact with a full-body apparition of my mother, that she had somehow forced her way back into the physical world specifically to see me. I staggered, flailing my arms about uselessly. I gasped, trying to force out words. Meanwhile, my brother-in-law looked at me, bewildered at my reaction. It was obvious that he could not see what I was seeing, which was puzzling (although, as he believes people die and then go straight to Heaven or Hell, this might be more sly commentary on the part of my subconscious).
“Can…it…be??” I finally spat out. “Mom?!” I cried. I slowly crept about the edges of the room, taking in the entire surreal scene, afraid to approach her, afraid perhaps that any touch would disturb the field that enabled this encounter or dispel this manifestation that caused me no end of wonder and torment at the same time. She continued to regard me gravely, and at last I broke down sobbing, calling out for my wife, who apparently was somewhere outside or in the garage.
Then my alarm went off and I woke, confused and trembling, taking ragged breaths. It felt like I was having a heart attack; my chest was tight and clenched. Maybe that’s what she was warning me about…
I don’t know what inspired this dream to occur at that particular time. It certainly is not something I would have ever expected, though I have heard of many cases of other people having dreams similar to this featuring loved ones who had died fairly recently. These words I have written in a futile attempt to capture the essence of this “encounter” seem inadequate to relate the resultant profound aura which clung to me throughout the rest of the day. Rational as I am, it is difficult to dismiss this dream as perfectly explicable, given the circumstances, and inconsequential, given its content.
Devil’s Pass [The Dyatlov Pass Incident] 2013
The Last Will and Testament of Rosalind Leigh 2013
The Mad Magician 1954
The Hypnotic Eye 1960
The Haunted Palace 1963
Diary of a Madman 1963
The Devil's Bride 1968
Horror Express 1972
Due to the Wife's influence, I maintain a steady diet of horror year-round, but this is the time of year I catch up on the classics of decades past. They all have their various charms, but I have to say, the synopsis of Psychomania has to be the most appealing, in an outrageous campy way:
"A rowdy gang of British Satan-worshipping motorcyclists makes a suicide pact with a frog-demon for eternal life."
Now that's tough to beat.
The finality of this is still shocking to me. Prior to this year I had always taken it as a foregone conclusion she would be with us for another 10 - 15 years at least. And why not? Her father lived to be 96. She took good care of herself, was knowledgeable about medical and health issues, had regular (and proactive) doctors’ visits, took all the recommended nutritional supplements and ate better than most Americans. But sometimes, cancer cares not for such precautions. Sometimes, cancer comes all the same - and once it arrives, never leaves.
For those of you who have had the singular experience of meeting my mother, you will, I think, understand these words. Others who have heard the stories throughout the years might still have an inkling as to the writhing nest of feelings I am currently confronting with a marked sense of dismay.
I feel it necessary to declare that she was not like other mothers. So maybe I cannot regard her in quite the same way that other children regard their moms. Like the rock of Gibraltar, she has seemed imposing and unshakable; impervious to doubt, she was a strong, sure and certain presence. She had always been a proverbial Pillar of Strength, a being of indomitable Will, a towering figure of terror and power to her sons. She has shaped us, tried her hardest to mold us to be better to her liking, though perhaps only succeeded in warping us instead. It is probably best just to say that she definitely left a lasting impression.
Who among you can say you have ever met someone like my Mom? No one. It is no cliché to state that she was truly one of a kind.
One of her defining qualities was a certain grimness, a wary and coldly practical outlook on life. This was well-earned. Someone whose earliest memories were of running to air raid shelters to evade Allied bombs, who spent the first four years of her life in the middle of World War II, and then the rest of her childhood and adolescence in the wreckage of its aftermath, marked by scarcity and poverty (real poverty – not the sissy kind we’ve got here), will inevitably have their character hardened, stamped with a focus primarily for survival, with little patience for frivolity or foolishness. And she passed on her values accordingly, instilling in her children a disposition for free-thinking, nonconformity, discipline and hard work, and contempt for cowardice, injustice, carelessness and indolence. Who among you can deny she was successful?
Throughout her life she had always been fierce, and proud, and very determined. But in these final months….? To see her, bitterly moping all through these last days, was akin to seeing an eagle with clipped wings confined in a cage – miserable, resentful, outraged by the unnaturalness of its abject conditions. There was a palpable sense of the whole situation being wrong.
In truth, prior to her illness, the last couple years she had been the happiest I have ever seen her, which no doubt only served to make her unexpected diminished circumstances that more galling. After retiring – which she had been literally looking forward to for decades – she spent more time with friends, she joined a choir, she attended (and later ran) a discussion group at the local senior center, she went swimming – in short, she was making the best of her golden years. And when my nephews came into the picture, she was every inch the doting and adoring grandmother, a transformation I found bemusing, as have many who have witnessed their heretofore stern parents mysteriously changed into indulgent and beatific persons. But as the cancer progressed, and the entire loathsome process unwound – the diagnosis, the biopsies, the surgeries, the radiation treatments and the fitful “recoveries” between them, the accumulation of discomfort and indignity took their toll. She had had her fill, and at the end was ready to move on. Now, her family must somehow learn to do the same.
To the obvious loss I experience I cannot but help think of other related ones – the resulting imminent loss of the family home, for one. This place I grew up in and where she has tended the hearth has been another constant throughout my life. Other than my own house, it is the only other place in the entire world where I can show up whenever I want, without prior reservation or announcement, and walk right in and belong. Even now, I still have the key to the front door in my left pocket, where I have kept it since college. The family house has provided me a treasured tether to my past, and a vital link to my hometown that I could visit at will to refresh a troubled spirit or steady a shaky soul.
With admitted anxiety, I wonder what will happen to the remainder of our small family, what her absence will mean to the fragile ties my brothers and I have. For some reason I fixate on Thanksgiving, that most familial of holidays, and how it will never be the same – or even remotely similar to what I have come to rely upon as a tradition, a seasonal rite I have savored and dreaded in turns through the years. We will soldier on somehow, I am sure. After all, she would not want us to succumb to weakness. It would be unseemly.
This is not, precisely speaking, a eulogy. But it is a proclamation, a remembrance and a meditation – on the injustice endemic to life: how something like the passing of one’s parents can simultaneously be “the natural order of things” on one hand, and just plain indecent on the other. Thanks for listening.
So as a special treat today, I will let her relate it in her own words, interspersed with illuminating comments by yours truly.
First, however, I shall briefly set the scene: recently she has been undergoing some regular medical treatments that require her to be picked up from home and dropped off at a hospital in downtown Cleveland. As she is quite chatty and has absolutely no social fears whatsoever she has been slowly getting to know her driver, who as it turned out lived on the east side of Cleveland like my father’s family did long ago.
“Coincidences keep multiplying. Now the latest one nearly blew me away. My driver, a Hungarian, who grew up in the Buckeye area, knew grandpa. [My paternal grandfather died in 1977, so this was clearly quite a while ago! Could you remember someone you worked with more than 35 years ago?] They both worked at the Federal Department Store on Lee Rd. The store is long gone, because when the black avalanche hit, more goods were stolen than sold. Janosh was a stock boy at the department store at the time. He remembered grandpa as always wearing a white shirt, tie and lots of pens in his shirt pocket. [That sounds like me – of course, he is also the one that I got my artistic and musical talents from.] He also remembers that he worked very fast and really hard. He remembers how he looked like. He also remembered Ernie, who was the boss there at the time. Through Ernie we found out about the cheap house on Highland Drive in Solon. [This was my parents’ first house, and how we came to live in Solon, which was back in 1967.] It was sold 8 thousand dollars lower than all the other same houses on the street, because it was a “handymen’s special”. When the sale fell through, Ernie told us immediately to see the realtor and make an offer and so we got the house. The buyer was one of Ernie’s relatives; that’s how he knew about the sale.”
That is an amazing story, and will give me food for thought for some time. I have happened upon some really convoluted “coincidences” before, and it leads me to believe that I am getting a brief glimpse of some overarching, ordered richly woven epic tale, where cause and effect ceaselessly weave in and out of each other while we blithely go about our business.
There are hints of such things that peoples in the past have noted. For example, the ancient Roman adage that “bad things happen in threes” or the widely acknowledged phenomenon of serendipity, or thinking about someone out of the blue and suddenly having them telephone you, or humming a song you haven’t heard in a long time and then inexplicably hearing it broadcast on the radio when you get in the car. (One of my most annoying and common is when I say that I should call my mother because I haven’t in a while, and she beats me to the punch – once even literally calling me as I was reaching for the receiver to do it myself. And then, of course, when I say I was just about to call her, I get branded a liar!)
Such a glimpse behind the curtain imbues the humdrum minutiae of everyday life with a charged glamour. It’s like being 8 years old again and enthusiastically picking through a gravel parking lot, convinced that a great fossil will turn up in the crushed limestone beneath your feet, or that the field of green before you certainly contains a lucky four-leaf clover that you will find if you just persevere…
I have been slacking off in this regard, but I need to keep looking.
and above is Spring putting on a show over my backyard. I'm starting to get quite adept at identifying the meteorlogical conditions conducive to forming rainbows, even if I can rarely fetch my camera in time...
And here is the view from my bedroom window, where I paused for a brief moment to appreciate my surroundings while getting ready for work:
Not a bad place to be, eh?
I was gratified to recently learn that my sister-in-law has begun telling her daughters bible stories before bed time. Since the older child is in 4th grade, I’d say it was about time. As they are not church-goers, this seems the only way they would learn and close this gaping hole in their knowledge base.
In the late 90’s I had a colleague (a few years younger than me) who was a perfect example of what to avoid becoming. Don’t get me wrong – he was an affable and intelligent fellow, but he was, as many are, merely a product of his upbringing and circumstances. His family was affluent and progressive, his father a surgeon, he was sent to expensive private schools growing up, on the weekends his family took their sailing vessel out onto Lake Michigan and competed in regattas, he traveled extensively, had an eye for art collecting and a taste for fine wine, and so forth. One day he came into the office and mentioned that he had just seen The Prince of Egypt, which had just opened in theatres. I asked him what he thought of it, and he said, “Oh, it was pretty good. But some parts were just ridiculous – I mean, what was the deal with that talking bush that was on fire? That was one of the corniest things I’ve ever seen!” Yes, he had never heard of the “burning bush” from Exodus. I explained to him that, rather than being devised by some nutty screenwriter just for the movie, this tale in fact was in the Old Testament, and he actually refused to believe me!
Though we are currently living in a post-Christian society, it is undeniable that Western Civilization was founded on Judeo-Christian principles and tradition, and part of being a fully educated individual is to be familiar with the basics of Scripture, regardless of belief. To be ignorant of them is to willfully deprive oneself of important tools of expression and be ill-equipped to fully communicate and identify with the people around you.
Just off the top of my head, I think anyone living in the West should be familiar with at least the following:
Adam and Eve
Cain and Abel
Noah and the Flood
Abraham, Isaac and Jacob
Moses and the Exodus (i.e., the plagues, parting of the Red Sea, manna, the Ten Commandments, trek through the desert)
David and Goliath
Joseph, Joshua, Job, Samson, Jezebel and Jonah are optional, but also would be nice.
Lacking knowledge of these stories is at least as bad as being unaware of Robin Hood or King Arthur – they are cultural touchstones we dispense with at our peril. Imagine if your son was watching a basketball game and the announcer said this was a “real David vs. Goliath match-up” and your son had no idea what that meant? Yet due to parental neglect (because they sure as heck aren't going to learn it in school), I suspect millions of children all over America are being shorn of what is essentially their birthright.
So to all you secular humanist/godless/progressive parents: I implore you, unless you want other people to think your kids are ignorant - and I know aspiring liberal elites would never want THAT, make a biblical storybook or anthology part of your child’s summertime reading. Or something.
Just completed them today, which is the absolute closest I've ever come to missing the deadline. Now that I have all the official numbers, I thought I would take a moment to ascertain the damage and enumerate for the record precisely how much I am actually "rendering unto Caesar":
Using my "adjusted gross income" as the basis, for the year 2012 I paid:
15.1% of my income for federal taxes,
3.3% of my income for state taxes,
2.6% of my income for local taxes,
6.9% of my income for property taxes,
- for a grand total of 27.9%. Now, if I take into consideration that the county sales tax is 6.75%, and that I spent probably a third to a half of my disposable income on purchases that are taxed (i.e., not food), that is an additional 3% or so, making the effective tax rate on my income 31%. And that doesn't even count additional costs like vehicle registration/license fees, nor mandatory deductions that I will only theoretically be reimbursed for, like money taken for social security (which I will in all likelihood never see when I retire). So Mr. President, am I finally paying my "fair share"? Ah, but think about all the fantastic benefits I get from the government in return.... Such as.... [Hm, I'll have to ponder further so I can have something to fill in there at some point.]
Someday I will account for the rest of the mandatory costs that reduce my disposable income, like health, home and auto insurance, and calculate the actual percentage my discretionary income is of my gross income, but not today; I don't want to become totally depressed.
When I was younger, I used to have rather well-defined goals and elaborate plans to achieve them, but the last couple years I have been coasting, or more accurately, reacting to various crises and then snatching hibernating/recovery periods between them when I am able. But other than a nagging sense that I should have some goals, I don’t feel very motivated to alter my current behavior. The ultimate destination – the grave – will remain the same regardless of the path taken. If I had children I suppose I would hold quite a different view. But now? The world can burn, as long as I can eke out a somewhat secure lifestyle complete with a few well-earned creature comforts.
This is the first time I have disclosed this to anyone. For the last twelve months I have been increasingly fixated on the tragedy of the finite nature of existence. There are no doubt multiple reasons for this. My wife has been enduring some serious on-going medical problems, and there have been a couple moments where things could have easily gone in a different – and very bad - way. My great-aunt (my paternal grandfather’s sister) has been in declining health and living in an assisted living facility for the last 15 months – which she hated. A couple weeks ago she finally died. She was almost 97. Of course, it’s easy to merely say that she had lived a long time and that this is “just the natural order of things”. But she was the last relative from my grandparents’ generation, so it’s like some door clanged shut with impenetrable finality. Also, she didn’t die well, if that makes any sense. She was in total denial about her inevitable end despite her two months of hospice care, was uncooperative and often nasty, and all-around difficult. Also, I have turned 40, and am quite aware that there are probably fewer years now remaining to me than the ones I have already lived, and they will be characterized by diminishing vigor. Mentioning this is undeniably cliché, but nonetheless unquestionably true. It is, at the least, a sobering realization. I am an agnostic – a reluctant one, and thus dwelling on this topic has caused me no end of angst.
The unshakeable truth that one day my life will be over, and that I will never, ever, ever, EVER be here again, now perpetually sits on my shoulder like some leering demonic imp. Mentality, I can assure you that I have always been remarkably stable, even stolid. I have a phlegmatic disposition. Yet I have had several anxiety attacks over the past eight months, which have been increasing in frequency. These are dreadful occurrences, almost paralyzing in their acute intensity. I fend off despair with as much fortitude as I am able, but it is difficult.
Since childhood I have always been unpleasantly aware that death was a foregone conclusion, but I was able to successfully employ a couple coping mechanisms. I reasoned that I was young, for example, and that in all probability my death was far off, and therefore nothing to concern myself with. In my teens I read the holy books of every religion I could get my hands on, but no epiphany was forthcoming. Nothing took root in my soul. In my early 20’s I turned to science and read selected works of certain physicists who had cobbled together rather creaky models that left room for a God who could supply an afterlife, but these hopeful models simply required another form of faith. I dabbled in philosophy, and briefly thought Pascal or perhaps Kant might give me something to “hang my hat on”, but again, their clever words gave me no solace in the small hours of night. Throughout the remainder of my 20’s I tried to keep myself mentally occupied by attempting to develop all of my talents to their fullest. In almost a frenzy I painted, played guitar, wrote a novel and some poetry. I was insistent that my time not be wasted. Then, somewhat concerned that I would spend my entire life alone (as all my friends got married and started having kids, etc.), I made an effort to date in my 30’s and got married myself. This is what normal people do, yes? Surely the obligations and bonds of marriage and family would distract me from this unusual, and presumably unhealthy, obsession with the STILL approaching end of life? No, these coping mechanisms no longer work. In the grip of an unlikely mix of simultaneous desperation and ironic detachment, I have even became enamored of the various paranormal shows on television that purport to show spiritual activity and evidence of existence after death (don’t laugh). In addition, I am a bit mystified how other people can be so cavalier about all this. I do have some friends who have inexplicably become church-goers in the last couple years, and thus have their faith to comfort (or delude?) them. But other people I think either are too shallow to concern themselves with the matter, shrug at contemplating outcomes they are powerless to change, or have successfully distracted themselves with the burdens and petty tasks of everyday life. Furthermore, the fact that many people regard death and the permanent end of their consciousness as “the natural order of things” is completely unacceptable and repellent to me. Fuck the “Cycle of Life”.
I completely grasp that happiness can [yet] be garnered by experiencing the world through all one’s senses, and the implication that seemingly small and simple things yield bliss. Being around living things like trees, trite as it may seem, is reassuring. I can get a great deal of contentment still with the small pleasures of life: a good cup of coffee, seeing goldfinches fuss about in the spent coneflowers during a September afternoon, sunlight filtering through a leafy canopy, a bike ride where I can take in all the details of the town where I live, the hearty laugh of my wife. But I occasionally look at everything in my field of view with wonder; all these houses, with their respective families, the yards with their flowers and the birds, the screaming children at play, the cars zooming past, the joggers and the dog-walkers, all this bustling activity and the evidence of Man’s Works, all this LIFE, must be for something – can it really be to no purpose? And I feel so immersed in “Being”, I fully acknowledge at that moment in time, “I am alive –Alive! I am so glad to be here!” There will never be enough of that knowing fulfillment, and for me, there can never be enough life. And that is the tragedy. I will never be one of those old people who resign themselves that “their time is up”, or who are tired and regard death as the ultimate rest.
I get a small amount of satisfaction with the notion that I can at least live a life imbued with some meaning. My credo is that whatever place I am in, I should strive to leave it in a better state than when I found it, whether it is my house, or my neighborhood, or place of work. I work as an engineer, and have convinced myself that I am producing works of value for the good of society, some of which will endure when I am gone. For now, this must suffice.
The [Temporary] Struggle With Mortality
Until recently, in a strange sense I have been fortunate. Growing up, my mother’s family was on the other side of the Atlantic, and hence they were hardly ever seen, while my Father’s family, though much closer geographically, was not close emotionally. In addition, neither side could be described as prolific. Therefore, growing up I went to very few funerals. In kindergarten my paternal grandfather died, and if I had been older this no doubt would have affected me deeply since we were quite alike in many respects, but at such I young age I couldn’t grasp the gravity of the situation. When I was in my mid-20’s I attended the funerals of my grandmother and father, but after my parents’ divorce my relations with both had soured a great deal, and so other conflicting feelings clouded the occasions. The loss was felt, but more as a loss of what could have been - a normal family life.
Likewise I have never had a close friend die; even while in school, I never personally knew of any one of my peers to die. And yet inevitably this must happen. Indeed, if I am “lucky” I will see all of my friends perish one by one as an entire generation vanishes, as it must. See, I am not delusional!
Even having pets seems a proposition fraught with heartbreaking drawbacks. My wife has two black cats of rather sweet disposition, and since we have moved in together six years ago I have grown quite fond of them. The fat one, in particular, has a special place in my heart. But they are getting up in years, and I can’t envision a scenario where they will both still be with us five years from now. And contemplating this fills me with anxiety.
How will “it” happen? Will it be a long, drawn out decline, coupled with increasingly desperate and expensive treatments before one of the cats expires? Or will one of us enter the house one day after work, or come down the stairs one morning, and merely stumble upon a stiff, lifeless thing instead of an affectionate furry companion? It seems better to not have pets at all, to be honest. The toll of multiple deaths that pet lovers must suffer to me seems unendurable. Either you outlive your pets time and time again, or perhaps you die before them, and chances are slim that you had the foresight to make provisions so that they are saved and cared for in time…
In consequence of all this I now view the future with barely concealed dread, even loathing, for the inevitable tragedies it will contain.
It is so strange now, though perhaps not surprising, that as I have become increasingly sensitized to death I feel more alive than ever before - and therefore more acutely cognizant of the passage of time.
The Indifferent Creator
Out of the various classical arguments for the existence of God – the teleological, the ontological, and the cosmological, the last is the only one that holds any weight for me. Clearly, the universe is here; it exists and has form. And it strains the limits of my credulity to believe it has always existed, rather than have a beginning like anything else (i.e., any of its constituent components). Naturally, this raises the possibility of a Creator. And yes, I have always been fully aware that this begs the question: if God created the Universe, then who (or what) created God? But if the Creator is spiritual – that is to say, noncorporeal, or at the very least existing "outside" our universe, then somehow this strikes me as more reasonable than the alternatives. It just DOES. Sorry to disappoint you, atheists.
Then the high priests of Science struck a cynical blow: Stephen Hawking wrote, in his Briefer History of Time (2005), that he had crafted a theory that envisioned a manner in which the Universe "came into being" spontaneously. And that therefore, the concept of God was no longer required as an explanation for the existence of our material surroundings. The origin does not need to be explained because there is no origin. Very elegant.
It occurs to me that the people who accept his theories are basing their conclusions on merely using a different kind of faith – the faith in the ultimate/eventual infallibility of the human intellect expressed through the Scientific Method. It’s still faith, though. So with all due respect to Professor Hawking, I can assign no weight to his dour proclamations and give them no further consideration.
So perhaps there is a Creator. But what sort? Once you “step off the reservation” and leave behind the wishful notion of a Christian god – or even a muslim or jewish one, all sorts of other disturbing questions arise that other people very rarely pose. We have assumed God loves us. But what if that is not true? And even if he cherishes all his creatures, why would he feel compelled to raise us from the dead – or grant us continued existence in another form? Merely because we desire it? Such thoughts make the contents of my stomach curdle. The irrevocable consequence of such thinking instills an uneasiness that constantly threatens to burst forth at any moment, making continuance of a mundane daily routine impossible, and palpably ridiculous.
This essay is getting long and well on its way to becoming a treatise. But so what? It is important. The most important thing I have ever written - if that means anything.
If therapy could help me, then I would schedule an appointment post haste. But to the best of my knowledge, no counselor, psychologist or psychiatrist can aid me in solving the intractable problem of mortality. What is the best they could do – give me a prescription for Adavan? Keep me pleasantly drugged up for the remainder of my days, so I can avoid confronting the awful truth? I can not choose such cowardice, despite the comforts it may afford. I come from hardier, or at least, more obdurate stock. I shall face the howling Tempest and stare at it with unblinking eyes, or I will shatter into bits. There is no other possible outcome.
I suffer all this silently. It might seem normal, even natural, to go to one’s spouse with such concerns. But I know my wife so well that I know what she would say: that who am I to complain, since in all probability I will outlive her by decades? This petulance misses the point. As if a difference of degree alone tips the balance in my favor. For despite how greedy it may sound, the fact is that for me, even a life of 90 years would not be enough. In fact, I can not envision any finite span of longevity that would suffice, such is my hunger for continuance. Is 90 years so much better than 60 years, or 70, when such time is compared to the boundless stretches of eternity that follow death? Hardly.
This entire screed is getting ludicrous. Yes, the Earth itself must die one day, taking the human race with it, swallowed by a swollen, aging Sun. And no doubt the galaxies themselves will flicker out one by one, leaving unimaginably vast tracts of cold particles to drift without purpose for untold millennia. The savvy reader will no doubt catch this reference to the “Heat Death” theory of the universe, and here I can’t help but feel an intense kinship with the young Woody Allen character in Annie Hall, who tells his [smoking!] pediatrician that he is depressed because one day everything in the Cosmos will flicker out, and so nothing can possibly have purpose. If Woody Allen depicts the height of neuroticism, then I have surely scaled that pinnacle myself by now. Better to be at this end of the mental spectrum, I suppose, than the sociopaths on the other end – at least for the sake of other people. To be Cont'd...