Life and death often compel us to ask the most poignant of questions. With life, we wonder what it is all about. With death, we wonder what happens to us after. Perhaps we should consider these mysteries more intently during times of normalcy, but often we ponder them after tragic events.
The questions are usually as vague as our answers and almost always they're a variation of either--do you believe in something greater, a divine plan for our being? Or do you believe in something after death such as Heaven, Hell, ghosts?
Some believe there is nothing. They believe our existence is luck and it's random, and I am not here to dissuade them. I admit I've gone through bouts where I'd have stood should to shoulder with them and decried the concepts that hover around faith and religion and, more specifically, the very human interpretations and flawed guides that serve as teachers, guardians, and enforcers of those interpretations. But this article isn't a hit piece on religion. A bit of a lost sheep at times, I've wandered the different and divergent and, often intersecting paths of deifying. You don't do that unless you see the shiny side of that coin or at least hope to see it. Unless you are resigned that there is nothing, then you have a common thread.
You hope for something.
I'd even wager that many among those that believe in only the here and now, down deep they hope that there's something infinite about our finite time on this planet.
I've had two conversations in the last week alone that circled around the topic of life, death, and life after death. One was with a writer pal of mine. The conversation was spiritual in nature. His dog died and he was understandably very upset about it. It prompted a conversation where he felt that his deceased dog was likely to visit him, as it had happened to him in the past.
"That would be creepy," I said.
"Not really, I think it would be cool" he replied. "It's nice to think of him coming back to let me know he is okay and misses me."
And that is the crux of it. The idea of something after death gives us all a bit more hope. When the dog did indeed come back to visit, letting loose a random bark, pushing open a door, playing invisibly with the other dog left in the house, we are predisposed to ask whether or not it was real.
The real question though should be, does it matter?
When the possible truths are one of following: it actually happened, it didn't happen, or something happened that he misinterpreted as the return of the dog's spirit, and we go immediately to the latter two, we are embracing our inner cynic.
And to what end? To strip someone of a moment of comfort so that we can smugly insulate our own sense of reality?
I pondered, for a moment, the truth of the story. I blame having a very heavy logical influence in my family thanks to a softball team's worth of lawyers in my familial ranks. While there is no hard evidence to support the story, the witness is of impeccably sound mind. Couple that with a variety of stories that I have heard over the years from equally sane people, and I can't dismiss the possibility that, perhaps, it's true. And that makes me smile, because it gives me hope.
The second conversation I had was more on philosophical terms. A scientist that I know, a virologist with a passion for gene therapy, asked me if I believed in "ghosts, vampires, boogeymen, honorable politicians?"
I replied that I believe in energy and, once released, it has to go somewhere. If you stack that idea with dimensions, and degrees of consciousness, you have a wet paper bag of science and philosophy from which I will never escape.
When pressed, I elaborated that I often think of the universe and how precise things had to be for her and I to be having that conversation in that exact place. But then, when I really thought about it, in an infinite vastness, no matter how improbable in a closed set, the improbable in an open set finds its way into a much higher probability. Then also, if there is an infinite vastness and dimensions stacked on top of that with their own infinities, then it becomes probable that if we think it, it exists. Instead of 'I think, therefore I am', 'I think it and therefore it is'.
I made myself nauseous trying to circle within my own thoughts of life, death, and the after. But at least she took pity on me and gave me the compliment of "spoken like a true scientist," which, for a student of the written word, is laughable, but much appreciated.
Several hours and two very distinct conversations later, I realized I'd not made much progress towards an answer and maybe that's the point. It truly is unknown and maybe that's why it's so fascinating. All of our science intersects with religion, superstition, and the irrational. Some of us try and ignore one for the other, and others try to mix them together.
All we get for that effort is a clearer understanding of the fact that we really don't understand much at all. But each, in its own way, provides us with some measure of optimism.
We hold hands in the darkness of our communal unknown, we leap, and we hope.