"May All Your Nothings Hold Up Something and Sing"
As an agnostic, I’m open to possibility, skeptical of surety, and don’t feel too judgmental about anyone’s version of what happens after death. Sudden blackness? I am blinded by the idea of it. Transcendence to Heaven? The notion transports me. Limbo? My opinion hangs in the balance. Reincarnation? I’ll get back to you next time on that one.
All I know for certain is that something happens when the animating life force exits the body. That “something” might be as straightforward as An End resulting in a corpse. It might be as complicated as the spirit pinning on a bib and noshing on a platter of babyback ribs before swirling out into the Milky Way, where it melts into all other former and future energies in a tie-dyed time warp of smoosh.
I dunno. To pretend that I do know would feel presumptuous, over-reaching, arrogant.
What I can concede easily is that I’m taken with the idea of a Heaven, and not in a religious way, not as a payoff for following edicts that are, at best, contradictory and exclusionary. But I am warmed by the possibility of an alternate plane where consciousness can cavort. Without attaching the caveat that demands acceptance of a prescribed Lord and Savior, let’s call this place—for ease of reference—Heaven.
Play along with me now, lest you force me to hurl my toys out of the pram in an unattractive display of temper.
Because I am essentially a testy toddler—or, on a good day, an arrested juvenile--my post-death play place for consciousness, this Heaven, is a place of wish fulfillment, a place that starts with a tall glass of beer and ends with a deep tissue massage.
My pal Pammy, who is a Christian, also hopes for a Heaven where dreams are the reality. In her case, Heaven will be a front porch with a good view and a soft rocking chair, where she’ll sit and relive the most profound moments of her life: nursing each of her babies one more time, feeling their pudgy hands knead at her neck, running their toes through her fingers, blowing softly through their downy hair, connecting with her boys again in one of Nature’s most finely-attuned and heart-stopping relationships.
For me, in Jocelyn’s Customized Heaven, I would hope to sit in a darkened theater and watch, in minute detail, a replay of everything that’s ever happened on planet Earth since the beginning of all life…
from the first cell combining with another, to a clump of cells somersaulting out of the ooze, to a reptile slithering across the forest floor, to the first monkey discovering its thumb, to the second monkey discovering a bone in the jungle shaped ominously like, er, Adam’s rib, to the third monkey popping a napkin on his head and calling himself “Pope,”
right down to every second of every life of every last human being,
up to and including Simon Cowell standing in a dressing room deciding—wrongly!--that, yes, the black t-shirt does successfully camouflage his man-boobs.
I want to see it all, as it happened, in slow motion when there’s a particularly complicated shoot-out.
Incidentally, as this modest vision of Heaven might suggest,
I’m a bitch to buy for on my birthday.
And if the universe can accommodate various versions of Heaven, can accept that all eventualities are possible, can allow for individual feeling to affect outcome,
then I just might be able to keep my dollie in the pram after all.
Some, like my husband’s grandmother, Bestemor, ascribed to a traditional religious view of Heaven. Her entire life, which ended last Tuesday at the age of 91, drew energy from a step-by-step movement through worship and liturgy. At her funeral today, the words read and spoken will celebrate her beliefs, will comfort her like-thinking 96-year-old husband as he realizes the end of their 65-year marriage and applies the scriptures to an anticipation of seeing his wife again in the near future.
As a fan of alternate approaches, however, I would like to take one small moment to commemorate this solid, curious, appreciative woman’s life without religious words,
for many who loved her deeply, who continue to live on as Bestemor’s legacy, nourish their spirits through art, asparagus, humor, wild flowers, conversation, irreverence, sunlight…
rather than a prayerbook.
In a quiet memorial, then, where no one wears black, no one stands on shaky legs, and no one cries into an already-damp hankie,
but where everyone gathered communes through a shared perspective of humanity
and joy at the host of possibilities,
I give you this, to honor Bestemor and to honor those exhausted survivors who love her still
in their own, secular fashion:
And the Cantilevered Inference Shall Hold the Day
by Michael Blumenthal
Things are not as they seem: the innuendo of everything makes
itself felt and trembles towards meanings we never intuited
or dreamed. Take, for example, how the warbler, perched on a
mere branch, can kidnap the day from its tediums and send us
heavenwards, or how, held up by nothing we really see, our
spirits soar and then, in a mysterious series of twists and turns,
come to a safe landing in a field, encircled by greenery. Nothing
I can say to you here can possibly convince you that a man
as unreliable as I have been can smuggle in truths between tercets
and quatrains on scraps of paper, but the world as we know
is full of surprises, and the likelihood that here, in the shape
of this very bird, redemption awaits us should not be dismissed
so easily. Each year, days swivel and diminish along their inscrutable
axes, then lengthen again until we are bathed in light we were not
prepared for. Last night, lying in bed with nothing to hold onto
but myself, I gazed at the emptiness beside me and saw there, in the
shape of absence, something so sweet and deliberate I called it darling.
No one who encrusticates (I made that up!) his silliness in a bowl,
waiting for sanctity, can ever know how lovely playfulness can be,
and, that said, let me wish you a Merry One (or Chanukah if you
prefer), and may whatever holds you up stay forever beneath you,
and may the robin find many a worm, and our cruelties abate,
and may you be well and happy and full of mischief as I am,
and may all your nothings, too, hold something up and sing.