My world has shrunk a little more recently – my mushroom buddy, Allen, died while on a trip to California to visit relatives. Allen was also my next door neighbor, and about the same age as I – I thought of him as a close friend, even though we were worlds apart in our life, and death, philosophies. We would often have interesting discussions about religion – I’m not what the world would call a religious person, even though religion fascinates me – actually, it’s philosophy that fascinates me, and of course religion is simply man’s externalization of a life philosophy.
When Allen and I would talk about religion, our discussion was always on two different levels. This is always true when a “believer” and a “non-believer” (I use these words non-judgmentally here, of course) discuss religion, because the believer will always be “bearing witness”, and the non-believer will be intellectualizing – this pattern typified our discussions. And one frequent specific area of discussion for us was the afterlife.
Our discussions of life after death would go something like this: Allen would tell me he didn’t fear death because he was eager to know what God had in store for him in heaven. I generally responded by saying something like I didn’t believe that there was a life after death – and Allen would say, “Well, what do you think will happen after you die?” I’d answer by asking him if he remembers anything about his “prelife”? (Hey, if there’s an afterlife, why not a prelife?) And I generally said I believed that when a man died, his conscious life was simply over, and he was absorbed back into the vast void of the black, deep universe from which he had once sprung.
I can remember, as a kid, trying to imagine what it was like to live forever. I remember well how that effort would make me feel, and how eventually I came to the point of thinking, “But when do we get to rest?” As I grew older, each time I’d entertain this re-emerging concept, I’d be more and more convinced that mankind simply was not programmed to be able to handle the concept of eternal life – and eventually that conviction led me to add this to my growing list of reasons why the world’s many religions -however interesting- were inventions of man, and not some divine intervention on behalf of a tiny segment of mankind.
I’m also fascinated with dreams. I’d love to have the ability to remember what I dreamed each night, but I’m one of those who aren’t able to do this – maybe no one can. But that hasn’t kept me from wondering about them, and from researching what the world knows -or suspects- about why and how mankind dreams. And the philosopher in me can’t help but think how sleep is somewhat like dying, and it isn’t a stretch -I think- to wonder if dreams play any role when you’re dead!
But actually, I don’t care - and if Allen and I had this discussion, I’m sure I’d have said that once conscious thought was over, dreaming was over as well. And if I can’t remember my dreams now, what hope is there when I’m dead?
I can’t help thinking that J D Salinger, who himself recently exited this world, would have agreed with my own life philosophy – here’s one of his more memorable clips from Catcher in the Rye that suggests to me this is true:“Boy, when you’re dead, they really fix you up. I hope to hell when I do die somebody has sense enough to just dump me in the river or something. Anything except sticking me in a goddam cemetery. People coming and putting a bunch of flowers on your stomach on Sunday, and all that crap. Who wants flowers when you’re dead? Nobody.”