Last June we were in the middle of the lockdown and the country seemed to be going crazy (not that it has gotten any better, haha) and I was approached by someone very close to me who wanted to discuss a few of my posts that revolved around death in an interview format. I’ve also added a few thoughts, indicated by a present date. I hope it brings value to you.~Tom
In March 2017, the post, Eulogy, spoke about the impact you make on people while you live and subsequently any potential impact you may have “beyond the grave”, so to speak.” Referencing the “Eulogy” post – What is the greatest value add you believe one can make on the life/lives of another/others? Has that changed since you wrote that piece in 2017? If so, to what degree and why?
I’d like to think that my answer hasn’t changed much at all. Maybe the terms I would have used then have changed, as they reflect my own growth process, but that would probably be all that is different, really.
The “best” answer I can give – I say best because I’m not sure there is a 100% “right” answer – is that the greatest impact one could make on the life of an individual or a group of individuals would have to revolve around their potential for “better”; for growth. Equal to that, I would say (which I think needs to happen for the former to be accomplished) is to truly connect with the person or people involved. I’ll probably get heavy on analogies here, but it’s like being good soil, I guess.
I’m trying to not internally contradict myself here, the cynical part of me is already springing up thoughts of “but what about life that forms in terrible soil/habitats/etc”. I wouldn’t go so far as to claim I know anything of value about the subject used in my analogy. I’m just trying to draw an analogy for the sake of conversation… Well, my neurotic side is showing again, ha!
Sticking with the analogy in a loose form, one could say that the best trees, crops, etc., grow and thrive in the most ideal climate and soil. There is a connection between that growing thing and the environment. Because of the good soil, water, etc., the tree has the best chance of growth and weathering the storms. I’ve seen glimpses of this, had small tastes of it. But I would say I haven’t fully realized it. But connecting with and helping someone to see and then pursue their potential, to see them climb that mountain… what better thing is there?
Before finishing this answer, I went back and reread Eulogy. I’d say the answer compliments the heart of that article. Except I don’t think I cuss as much in my writing anymore. I mean, wow, relax dude! Haha!
03/17/2021: Continuing that analogy – I think we are both the tree and the soil. We need to focus on cultivating our own soil to further our personal growth to “make sure” we can then help and have an impact on others in the best way possible. I do not think you should wait until your soil is “perfect”, it is a matter of doing both. Doing what you can where you are at, but not at the expense of cultivating yourself. Mind and body. Therapy, exercise, nutrition, etc. Having the Compassion, Grace, Humility, Patience, Courage to make sure we are doing well will enrich the process of pouring into someone else’s life.
Referencing “remember that you are but a man”, you wrote – “With so many examples of life in a cyclical nature and so many other examples of transformation where there is a kind of death and a newer life comes from it, it is hard to accept that we would not transform yet again in some way.” And – “You will die. It is coming. It could be today. Act accordingly.”
Given your thoughts above, do you think the pursuit of mastery – adding value to the lives of others (defined value not withstanding), will follow us after death, (assuming there is something after death) and therefore what we do, matters or is it a “clean slate”?
To the latter comment of mine, that death is coming and to act accordingly: This is something I am still trying to do better with. We’ve so many distractions, wait, that is too easy of an “out”. I let too many things distract me that despite “knowing” I will die, I feel as if I still lose sight of it. Though I may have what I call, an existential crisis on a weekly basis, I feel as if I haven’t or am not doing “enough”.
To your question: In short, I don’t know.
That’s really the rub, isn’t it? None of us really “know”. The dead know. The living are left – regardless of the deity one believes or doesn’t believe in – living a kind of life of faith until that final moment when we join the ranks of the dead and finally know what lies beyond. I’d like to think that pursuing mastery of ourselves; pushing towards the best version of ourselves and helping others realize and do the same (adding value) would follow us somehow. I’d like to add that giving those positive aspects of humanity to others: grace, mercy, love, forgiveness, kindness, etc. Is definitely a value add. My father told me many times growing up that, “sometimes the person who acts like they need a hug (kindness) the least, is the one who needs it the most.”
Back to the question – I just don’t know to what extent that plays a part. Could it be, that those things we do from the goodness of our hearts, play a part in being the “soil” that is nurturing the “seed” that is our eternal soul? Perhaps. I’d like to think what we do matters. Otherwise, I’m not sure what the point would be with a “clean slate”, unless we could somehow retain the experience here to actually do something with that clean slate. But even that implies growth and change.
I wish I knew. But then the question may be something akin to: Does knowing make this life, it’s challenges, etc., any better? I’d say that it might, that enduring and continuing on as long as possible, always striving and looking to the horizon could make things more “worth it”.
03/17/2021: I wish I had more to add here. A definite answer regarding the afterlife, an offering of hope regarding that. It is still very much an act of faith when it comes to our individual times to cross over. The thought occurred to me, as I was writing that maybe this is why we don’t see as much lasting impacts in this world that we have. We are living as if there is nothing and no one after. What I mean by that is not just spiritual. An easy target example is big corporations – continually grinding, consuming and producing with very little of their profits actually going to making a difference, furthering the existence of the plant, etc. By and large, many of them spend more money on advertising their “good deeds” than they do actually on the deeds themselves. We people, corporately, do the same, very little regard for the world we are leaving behind. As long as I get mine. Regardless of whether or not what we do here echoes in eternity… what we do here reverberates and impacts the world we leave behind when we are dead. Let’s try to leave it better than the way we found it.
“About 10 years ago, I thought I was fully a peace with mortality. But, in the last few years and especially nowadays, I’m not so sure.” ….. “I still get this visceral, adrenal-like rush, at least weekly, knowing that I have an appointment with Death.”
Did your peace originate from a source, lack of concern, or focus on the topic of death or both? Do you attribute the adrenaline rush associated with thinking on the “appointment with Death” to physical event(s), (near death experience) or to continued study on the topic itself?
About 10 years ago, I was deeply involved in Church. I was, what I would call, a lay preacher or something to that effect. I was not paid staff, but I was leading, teaching and preaching. Regularly. I’d wrestled with the knowledge of death many times prior and if memory serves, it was more sad (with fearful undertones) compared to the more inquisitive, dissecting, fearful (read “oh $%&# I’m going to die one day!!) train of thought I have now. Anyways, that “peace” I had actually came from a dream I had one evening. It wasn’t an angelic or Holy visitation or anything. But it was a dream where I had died and I “saw” what lay beyond. I woke with a different peace about me. Obviously, the peace or “help” I received from that dream hasn’t completely lasted.
I don’t quite know how to correctly express that rush I get. It is like getting crystal clear clarity on the certainty of my own mortality, but just in a small enough dose that I don’t run out of my office at work screaming like a madman. I mean it, my heart beats faster and harder, I feel this rush… I don’t know. Have you ever been on a rollercoaster or some other park ride, being suspended in air and you “know” you are about to fall, or go down that first really steep drop? It’s completely out of your control, but you know it is coming and you feel it in your gut and in your chest? It’s kind of like that. But magnified so many more times. It doesn’t happen when I think of an afterlife, it happens when I think of that nothingness, that complete removal of whatever I am; that finality possibility.
03/17/2021: I still have those “Oh Shit” rushes and moments. Back in December I had a nice mental breakdown related to COVID. My mind broke down to the point that I believed that if I didn’t do X, Y and Z before midnight, that I was going to die. It was an interesting experience, to say the least. To be thankful every time I woke up, that I was still alive. I’m still processing it, even thought things are somewhat “back to normal”. But having that experience did something to me. Certain things just don’t mean as much anymore and I’m trying to reorient myself, my priorities and enjoy this experience here before I leave this world.
“Ugh… that nothing part just gets me. Complete finality seems so… unjust, doesn’t it?”
Can you expound for your readers, your thoughts on the concept of just vs. unjust regarding finality of our existence after death?
It seems rather childish, I’ll admit, but it is the only way I can try to condense that feeling. It seems unjust, unfair, to have the beauty of our consciousness, to have the potential that we have… and then for it to be over, forever, without anything more… Think of all the great hearts and minds to walk this planet, they had this one shining moment and probably didn’t even reach the top end of their potential despite all they did… and that’s all? They die and it’s over? The life forms that grace this planet, from seahorses to lobsters to cuttlefish, to lions, elk and cranes…not to mentions all the crazy plants and trees… it’s like they are taken out of a fairytale book. We get all of this splendor… once? No meaning beyond that?
Granted, all of that sounds a bit conceited to think that I, or anyone or anything for that matter, is “that” important that by virtue of merely existing we “deserve” some sort of afterlife.
Yet, on the flip side, think of all the terrible ways a life is cut short. A child dies of hunger, neglect or abuse, or worse… is that really all that child will ever get to experience? Is that really all that child gets to experience? That seems tragic and unjust, doesn’t it?
Complete finality seems unjust because I want there to be more. Maybe there isn’t. And while it is equally terrifying to think about, if that is truly what is to happen, none of us will really care, will we?
03/17/2021: I still wrestle with whether it is just or unjust. From the theistict to atheistic perspective, it is still one to wrestle with. I don’t quite have the answers, but I stick by what I’ve said already.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe version of The Vision, portrayed by Paul Bettany, said in “Age of Ultron”, “Humans are odd. They think order and chaos are somehow opposites and try to control what won’t be. But there is grace in their failings. I think you missed that. (They’re doomed! Ultron replies) Yes… but a thing isn’t beautiful because it lasts. It is a privilege to be among them.” He is speaking here to Ultron. Both of them, if you just look at them as they are, were Gods, they literally could have outlived humanity. Ultron, the more destructive god, set on destroying the humans, speeding up as it were, the inevitable. Vision, is more curious, inquisitive, seeing their flaws yet looking for the beauty in it. I think this is important here, yet I haven’t found the full tie-in yet.
A Christian writer whom I still admire, John Eldredge, once said to look at the Creation as a reflection of the Creator. Taking humanity out of the picture for a moment, the entire known Universe seems, completely impartial, at best. In the kingdoms of the animals, there really aren’t any interfering forces. Go look at the Instagram account, “Nature is Metal”, it is a fascinating record of Nature’s impartiality to what humans would describe as cruelty. But the world keeps moving. Humans, back into the picture, don’t seem impartial, they seem more selfish. Collectively, a very very small sliver does anything to really change the plight of humanity and the unnecessary suffering. The history of the “civilized” world seems to be that of continual conquest. It’s hard to think of these things and not grow cold or hopeless and just think that the Creator, then, is completely impartal.
Regardless, whether there is a Creator or not, whether the Universe is impartial or not: It is a privilege to be here.
“Forces beyond our control created the life that we now possess and through those prenatal trials, our time came, and we were unrelentlessly pushed out into this new realm. And what’s more, forces beyond our sight and control seek to both continue life as long as possible and seek to bring us towards death.”
Do you believe the forces you mentioned are eternally existing forces beyond time, space, and matter or those born from TS&M? Do you think your answer influences the existence of life after death?
To the first: Yes.
To the second question: No. I could be anywhere from 0 – 100% right or wrong in my answer but it doesn’t influence what IS. Whatever death is and whatever after death is has been experienced by the dead for hundreds of thousands of years before I was even conceived. It is what it is and regardless of what I think or hope, I cannot change the answer I will get on the other side.
I guess that perhaps begs the question: If you cannot change it, why worry, then? Why question and think and ponder and give yourself gray hair over it? To quote George Mallory, who was asked why he wanted to climb Everest, “Because it’s there.” Death looms over us as the great inevitability, it’s there. Always. We are all going to have to ascend that mountain. Might as well try to understand it before it is our time to climb.
03/17/2021: When I referenced the “forces beyond our control”, I meant that in a very natural way first. However you were created, you had zero control in that factor. A sperm met an egg and the creation chain block was executed. The female body did it’s thing, including giving the fertilized egg its own version of hell to try and weed it out – if my knowledge is right. Birth happened and we were pulled into this plane of existence. All beyond our control. There are natural processes that keep us alive beyond our control, too. We, by and large, don’t need to focus on breathing. We definitely cannot mentally manipulate our heart to beat, it just does. If treated well, the body does it’s own thing for quite awhile.
Time, completely outside of our control, brings us all into the ground in the end. What was it Chuck Palahniuk wrote in “Fight Club”?
“On a long enough time line, the survival rate for everyone drops to zero.“
Farther out and more grand, none of us control the conditions for life to survive on this rock. Though we definitely hold within our hands the potential for our own destruction.
Be humble. Eat good food. Real good food. Taste it. Savor it. Drink good drinks in the same fashion. Use your eyes and ears, skin and brain and heart and soul while you still have them. Try to reduce any misery in your own life and seek to help others do the same. Be in awe of the chaos and order all around us. Be humble that we cannot control but a very, very, very small fraction of it all. Sit outside in the sun. Jump in a creek. Make love. Fuck. Hug and hold. Enjoy the laughter of innocently naive children or the laughter of a senior citizen, wisened and enriched by joy and suffering. Learn. Expand. Try new things. Find something you love to do and do it, even it you aren’t “good” at it. Do it because it’s there and it brings you joy. Challenge yourself. Treat the world like you would a friend’s house if you stayed overnight: leave it better than when you came in. All of this, and so much more. Because it is a privilege to be among it all.
2 thoughts on “Interview”
“My father told me many times growing up that, “sometimes the person who acts like they need a hug (kindness) the least, is the one who needs it the most.” This about broke me in half. Beautiful, thoughtful piece. Thank you, Tom.
Thank you so much for taking the time to read this, Allison, and for your kind words. Humbled it had such an impact. You’re welcome. ☺️