Birth, Death, Reincarnation and the Essence of Life

19 02 2010

I lost my Aunt Goldie this past week.  It was on my birthday. It wasn’t unexpected.  She was old, and had been sick for the past couple of months.  

But, still. 

It was my birthday. 

My family tends to die off in the winter time, when it is cold and snowy.   It is always cold when they go into the ground.  There is always snow cover.  Maybe my family likes the metaphor.  The dead of winter, as it were.

In 1993, I was working for the Department of Defense, in Washington D.C., and I got a phone call.  It was my mother calling to tell me that my grandmother had lung cancer, and that she didn’t have long to live.  I said that I was coming home.  My mother told me not to.  She said that no one had told my grandmother that she had lung cancer and she would surely get suspicious if I came home.  I said that was nonsense.  As much as I travelled back and forth from job to job, I always came back to Chicago.  And, sure enough, she thought nothing of it.  I spent a lot of time with my grandmother in the months before she passed.  She was a hoot and a holler, and we spent long weekend days at the Arboretum, or exploring Hyde Park, or any of the myriad of hidden places of Chicago, and she enjoyed it.  I asked her what she thought of reincarnation.  She said that it just made sense, and that she was coming back as a house cat, because, in her opinion, house cats had it good.  They did what they pleased.  They enjoyed the sunshine.  They were well fed and well cared for.  And, they didn’t have to answer to anyone for anything.

Fast forward to this past weekend.  Siri had put an ad on Craigslist for some part-time help at the store and we had over 200 responses.  I took the first round of interviews.  35 people.  15 minutes each.  I asked them three questions: tell me about yourself; give me five words that you would tell a stranger about you; and, tell me about a weird situation you found yourself in and how it was resolved.  And one of the gals said that she had been working in a store and a psychic had come in and told her that she had had two — count them, TWO — past lives.  He also said that he had a psychic link with his wife, but she was in the shower right now.  OK, yeah, weird situation.  But, I laughed and said that there were two — count them, TWO — ways to look at reincarnation: either you believed that you lived once and then you died, and whether you went into a hole in the ground or heaven or hell, that was it; OR that life was eternal and persistent, and that even if you came back only once in a million years, you still would have come back some 5000 times in this lifetime of the Universe.  There was simply no way that someone would have had *2* past lives.

My grandmother believed that you lived once, and then you went into a hole in the ground, and all there was afterwards was darkness.  Still, she wanted to come back as a house cat.  Reincarnation, for her, was the impossible hope that her life, not all life, but her life, her essence, her soul itself was eternal.

But here’s the thing: matter and energy are both eternal.  Neither can be created or destroyed, but only changed in form.  What, then, is the nature of the soul?  Is our concept of life, of self, only a chemical illusion of the brain, which then fades and dies as the brain loses electric impulses, or is it something separate, which exists within the vessel of the body, which then separates from the body at the time of death waiting for the next vessel into which to lodge in the next life?  Is life both eternal and persistent both in the abstract and in the concrete?

I knew at a very young age that I would never procreate.  My body isn’t built for it, and my attraction was never to men in the first place, so that any life that I might foster would be external to my own body.  What is the purpose of life if one does not form a conduit between the past and the future?  This was the question for me from the time I could form these thoughts.  If I was not a link in a generational path from the beginning of human life to the end, what was I, then?  An anomoly?  A bit of excess taking resources from those more worthy whose offspring’s offspring might be that one in a billion who actually made a difference to humanity?  The next Mozart, or Einstein?  The finder of the cure for cancer?  The person who comes up with the equivalent of “a stitch in time saves nine?”, or was it incumbent upon me to be that one in a billion, the one who changes the world, makes it a better place, because none who come after me could perform that magical function?  Ah. the thoughts of a young philosopher.

But it occurred to me that if I touched people’s lives, if I made things better for people, if I, somehow, made the difference to someone else who might be enriched by me, might I then influence them to tell their children and the children who come after some pearl of wisdom that might, in many many generations to come, make some kind of difference to that little Mozart or Einstein or Salk?  Or was it, somehow, my birthright to eat food that someone else wasn’t eating?  How could *I* be worthy, in any way, of that?  For, indeed, we live in a world of finite resources.  Somehow, I thought, I must make myself worthy each and every day, of the food that I eat, the water that I drink, that others will not have.

But the vast majority of the world’s population does not think that way.  They think, and perhaps rightly so, that the purpose of life is to live it.  To live it everyday.  And, however people may spend their time, working and watching television and watching the days go, one to the next, in an endless stream of days, rarely being memorable enough that even by the end of the week, one day stands out from its fellows as memorable. 

I had a friend, at one point, who lost both of her sons very young, one in an extraordinarily dramatic way and the other just because that’s the way life goes.  I asked her how things were, and she said that there are bad days and there are good ones; but that isn’t so.  There are bad minutes and good minutes, and the days are comprised of these many bad minutes and good minutes, and the more good minutes and the better they are, the more that was a good day, and the more bad minutes and the worse they are, the more likely that would be counted as a bad day.

On my birthday, my aunt died.  Was that a good day, or was that a bad day?  Yes, it was.  A good day *and* a bad day.  But my aunt, like my grandmother, had a good life.  A long life, a healthy life, a life filled with love and with loss, with good days and bad days.  And poker. 

I had a cousin talking to my grandmother before her passing, she said, “Grandma, after you die, come visit me.”  And Grandma said she would, but my cousin continued, “but, when you visit me, you don’t get to tell me that I’m fat, or complain about the men that I’m dating, or what I’m doing at work.”  At this point, my grandmother told her, “to hell with it, I’m not going to visit you, I won’t have anything to talk about”.  My grandmother visited me, just once, after she passed, and she visited another of my cousins, one who, kindly, told Grandma that I had moved and what my new address was.  But that cousin, the one who didn’t want Grandma to tell her she was fat, her, I don’t know.  I doubt Grandma ever went to see her.  Grandma was that way.

This Universe, in this rendition of it, is 4.6 billion years old.  There are individual hunks of rock that are three times that old.  How is it that those rocks so predate the Universe, unless the Universe itself expands and contracts and has Big Bangs again and again and again?

And if the Universe does it, why not us?  So, if anyone out there is keeping a tally of reincarnation believers and non-believers, you might as well put me in the believer column.  Because life is eternal, and it is persistent, and, in all that time, without Reincarnation, it would just be boring.




One response

19 02 2010
mette damgaard

5 words about myself literally
Imaginative, happy, helpful, outgoing, govern.
A curious situation?
I have many of the shooting, but the latest is you and Siri.
I love to solve problems, to exert my short term memory. I have had a virus on the brain. My ballancenerve is still not quite right. I became vassal, under one of “my children” in the “Knighthood”. He lost me in a battle, and later I was just robbed. Thrown around from one to another. I even went on trips and stole people’s gold. But the idea of the game, I could not exactly find out. I’m not good at English, and had (like now) use my dictionary. I also train my brain, playing Bridge. I have great pleasure from. Best of all, as my companion and I were really good, and match each other, she becomes ill. 22. February 2009 is the first time I may have substitute for her on Bridge evening … and then it strongly … she died 26.marts , cancer . And I lost the ground connection. Not because I was crying so much, nor because I am afraid to die. But because I had lost. Everything there was built up as a support around my own situations, was gone. I loved her and her eccentricities. It was really bad. I hardly could manage to stand up for emptiness. And then there was a friend Bambi, which I did not know, but as knowledge and wise … provoked my curiosity.
I awoke suddenly, and could laugh at to speak to someone who does not even show his face for me. Subsequent “talking” with the guard-dog Checker.
I felt love.
The love has led me to live. and the strangest thing is my pleasure in the imagination.
I take myself to talk to “pictures” of dogs and cats, and occasionally fills the lot. Checks urged me so to find people on Facebook that I know.
You would think that is a lie. But I really found my old sling-girlfriend of teenage time. We had not seen each other since around. 1975 … and beyond Bambi and “dog” I would not manage. I’ve had the opportunity since we got on the Internet around the 1995th
Eternal life is wonderful idea. Live has both forever in physical form (as atoms) and forever in abstract form. The latter is what we call spirit.
Mind can play you a tricks, but we never find out the reason. It is the spirit, an idea, so do it. I think it is therefore some meditate .. I use it even at Farmville (which I first convicted as stupid, but must admit that I can enjoy the peace and quiet with my friends)
It is great to be able to recognize that one is not created to perpetuate his family. It’s also just a heritage, precisely through rebirths, we can bring something to the next generation that Dali Lama is not born to perpetuate the family, but as a man with a mission in mind. To help in the love of other people. It is life’s essence.
For me, philosophy, a matter of imagination. It is the authors use.
But Bambi has once been larger. What you create is more wonderful than any words can describe.
In this blog, I am glad that your grandmother says “Go to hell with all good”.
It is not exactly nice, talking to himself, through a dog / cat.
But it is wonderful. I believe in the spiritual power of imagination the power to help each and thus eternal life. So the living can talk to you, and the dead can chat to you 😉 It depend on your own imagination.

“In yong at Heart”… Doris Day and Frank Sinatra

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