Tag Archives: death

Understanding Empathy

One of the ways I’ve been working on upping my writing game is by paying attention to what people are reading here on my blog so I might get an idea of what moves my readers. I have now posted well over six hundred times and about 90% of these posts are essentially essays regarding my thoughts about various things, e.g. politics, religion, life, the universe, and everything. The other 10% are tests and sharing things I’ve come across but have little to say about. I also occasionally have reason to look back myself, even if no one has recently read a particular post of mine I find interesting.

Suspension of Disbelief
To Open Up And Believe

Because there have been many highly emotional news stories lately, and emotions are high to begin with, I’ve been giving a lot of thought to the role of emotions and, especially, how they relate to empathy. Turns out I had written about empathy over eight years ago, long before Donald Trump’s presidency. Since the reality has hit us that he is entirely without empathy, I would like to share a concatenation of the two posts I wrote in late September of 2012. It’s my hope these two are as pertinent today as they were when I wrote them; perhaps more so because I was only writing then about my feelings and now what I wrote seems so pertinent to what we’re all experiencing in the waning days of this disastrous presidency.


The willing suspension of disbelief. What a powerful, magical, and exceedingly frightening thing it can be – at least for me. Not always, though. It’s been quite a while since my last venture into the genre but, a long time ago – in a galaxy far, far away – I read a lot of Science Fiction. Reading it can’t possibly be enjoyable if you aren’t able to suspend your ability to think critically. Nevertheless, I enjoyed the hell out of what many an author hated being called Sci-Fi.

I’m normally somewhat cynical and am a fairly skeptical person, so I’m continuously surprised at how easily I can get sucked into a compelling story, especially if the characters are even moderately complex. I think it actually frightens me to realize how deeply I have disappeared into many a television drama.

This tendency has no doubt been exacerbated by my becoming a father at the ripe old age of 55, when my wife and I culminated a decision we had made a couple of years earlier and traveled to the People’s Republic of China to adopt our first child. We repeated the process four years later and, at the tender age of 59, I once again became a new father.

I now find myself immersed in shows where children are involved (it happens far more often than one might think) and I can’t help but identify with the parents, which sometimes brings me to tears – occasionally racking sobs of grief.

It has always been this way. I’ve been told the men in my family – many of them – were blubberers. Though I couldn’t have been older than five or six at the time, I recall the first time I saw my father cry. He had just received news that my Bubbie Jennie, his mother, had died. He hadn’t seen much of her since moving to Southern California. She had remained in Chicago, where both my parents were born. It was eerie, and not a little unsettling to see my father, a young boy’s tower of strength and resolve, break down like that.

It was made more difficult because I had only met her once, when she came to visit for a week, and she was unfamiliar to me. On the other hand, my maternal grandparents lived with us and I felt a strong emotional tie to them I could not summon up for her. She was by Bubbie, though. My mother’s mother was just Grandma.

I frequently ask myself, however, why I am so deeply and painfully drawn into these stories. I’m not entirely certain I have the answer, but I’m pretty sure it’s not so much the story itself as it is the relationship those stories bear to my own life.

Dictionary.com defines empathy as follows: the intellectual identification with or vicarious experiencing of the feelings, thoughts, or attitudes of another. That seems pretty straight-forward, yes? I am a fairly empathetic person and I tend toward the second part of that definition, i.e. I feel the pain of others vicariously. However, I don’t think this captures the essence of what is happening when I am fully immersed in a story.

Perhaps it’s too fine a point and the distinction isn’t all that great, but it seems to me what’s really happening is I’m overlaying the experience in the story onto my own life. I’m not so much experiencing the feelings of another as I’m experiencing the feelings I would have were I to be in that situation. I don’t think they’re the same. Then again, maybe that’s the mechanism that actually facilitates empathy.

This is a minor conundrum that comes to me most every time it happens and, usually, I forget about it within a minute or two. Lately I decided to try and get a descriptive handle on it and this is my first attempt.

Empathy is a valuable and deeply human trait. It is one of the five traits listed as characteristic of emotional intelligence which, in turn, is seen by many as a valuable business and leadership skill. It’s important to understand and to cultivate in order that we may better understand the people in our lives, whether at work, play, or home.

I want to understand what is moving me when this happens. On some levels it seems patently ridiculous to get so emotionally involved in a fiction story. On the other hand, perhaps it is really what makes us human. I’m wondering if someone with a more classical education than I have knows more of the thinking humans have brought to the subject. I’m sure some in the Arts (especially the Theater Arts) have tackled it. I’ll have to do more research. In the meantime, I’m glad there’s plenty of tissue in the house.

As it turns out, thanks to a friend I discovered an interesting answer through a wonderful TED talk by VS Ramachandran, a Neuroscientist who has studied the functions of mirror neurons. It would seem there is overwhelming evidence we humans are more closely connected than I was hinting at.

In his talk he says, “There is no real independent self, aloof from other human beings, inspecting the world, inspecting other people. You are, in fact, connected not just via Facebook and Internet, you’re actually quite literally connected by your neurons.” I find this resonates in many ways with my understanding of Systems Dynamics, Quantum Theory, and Zen and goes a long way toward answering my question. Frankly I find it a meaningful addition to my understanding, but still find myself wondering why it manifests itself so powerfully in some . . . and not at all in others. After all, the world is filled with people who are anti-social in varying degrees of severity from mild conduct disorders to outright sociopathy or APSD.

Regardless, there is much value in this talk. He speaks of the wonders of the human brain and, with respect to the issues I raised yesterday, uses words like imitation and emulation, ultimately winding his way to empathy. Rather than repeat any of his talk, I urge you to listen to it. There’s at least one very cool surprise a little more than halfway through. At less than eight minutes, it’s really engaging. Here’s the video. I’d love to hear what others think of this:


How Long?

Dinosaur bones and desert mountain background
Photo by Brett Sayles on Pexels.com

There’s a “tripwire” somewhere
Out there, downstream
Where . . . I’m not sure

Some discover its presence early
For some the revelation is a surprise
Everyone’s waiting for it
Our entire lives
Some wait with dread and trepidation
Some with simple resignation
Many in anticipation
Of what lies on the other side

Are there any who give it no thought?
Like our animal brethren
Who live their lives on a daily basis,
Not as an ongoing saga

Many of us prepare
In numerous ways
Some useful
Some not
I know I’ve been waiting
For as long as I can remember
Now, however, I’m beginning to
Sense its presence more acutely
I feel its approach
Though it’s still amorphous and indistinct

And each time someone younger than me passes
I swear I can feel its hot breath on the back of my neck


Quick Covid-19 Update

Looking back on the news, it appears Governor Newsom ordered a statewide shelter-in-place on the 19th of this month (03/19/20.) However, when I look at my calendar, I see we started doing it the previous day. So, despite what I said in an earlier post, today seems to be the 10th day of our hermitage.

I’ve been spending a fair amount of time tracking the course of this pandemic, especially here in the U.S. and my home state of California. In doing so, I created a meme showing how things are changing . . . actually, accelerating with time, just as we were told would happen. Here’s that meme, which I just updated as of a few minutes ago.

I’ve also been keeping track of the growing death rate and graphing it for myself. All the data I’m using is coming from a site called worldometer and there are numerous tables and charts available there for a breakdown of all the states, as well as a list of every country’s numbers for this virus. The link I’ve provided is to the page with U.S. info on the Corona virus. If you go to their home page, you’ll find links to all kinds of statistics. Check it out.

It’s worthy to note that the percentage of deaths to total cases is 0.0154, which is considerably higher than the rate for the flu. It’s really far too early to tell if that’s what the actual death rate is, as there are just too many unresolved cases. Based on the data available now, the percentage of deaths to total resolved cases is 0.385, which is astoundingly high. What we should glean from this, IMO, is that it’s just far too early in the trajectory of this disease to gather much useful information on lethality or recovery.

I don’t know if or when I’ll update this again. It’s fascinating, but also quite depressing. Perhaps I should just watch television. 😦


Understanding Grief

I’ve written fairly frequently about death and dying. The concept of non-existence for eternity fascinates me. I suppose that might be a taste weird, but I have a feeling I’m not alone in my wondering. One of my first posts on the subject is about my attitude toward my own death. You can read it here, if you’re so inclined.

I’ve also written about one of my closest friends who was killed in Vietnam, long ago. That post is located here. Another came much later, and is about another friend I had known since before I can remember. I hadn’t spoken with him in a long time and heard about his death from one of his brothers. It can be found here.

I also touched on the subject of grief, somewhat generally, in a post where I ended by lamenting the loss of people I never knew but somehow felt I should have upon hearing from those who were close to them. That post is located here.

All this is merely an intro to a thought I encountered recently on Facebook, and I wanted to share. I think it more than adequately expresses what grief truly is, and how it affects us. What follows is that sentiment. I want to remember it well.


Grief, I’ve learned, is really just love. It’s all the love you want to give, but cannot. All of that unspent love gathers in the corners of your eyes, the lump in your throat, and in the hollow part of your chest. Grief is just love with no place to go.

~Jamie Anderson


Reflections On My Second Life

Thirty-eight years ago tonight I came within a hair’s breadth of being murdered in my own home. It’s an interesting story, I suppose, but recalling it still causes a little adrenaline to spill into my bloodstream. Some of the facts are in this decision, but the main reason I’ve bookmarked the site for myself is to help me remember when it happened. It was on my 32nd half-birthday and, although I remember more detail than I wish, I can’t seem to keep the year in my head.

At one point I was laying on the floor and the perp, Leonard Brown, was sitting on my futon. He pointed my Ruger Blackhawk at my head and said, “I’m going to blow your fucking brains out.” I asked, simply, “Why?” He responded, “Cause you’re a honky.” I said, “Is that all?” He had no response to that.

He started telling me a story about being in Vietnam but, having spent many years working with lots of veterans from that war, I could tell he hadn’t really been there. He was, I believe, trying to work himself into enough of a frenzy – as well as getting me to respond fearfully, which I declined to do, so he could shoot me.

Eventually, he went to get something to tie my hands behind my back, something I was not going to allow to happen, regardless of the consequences, as I was sure that would be the end for me. He had to leave the bedroom momentarily and I had been slowly working my foot behind the door. As he left, I was able to slam the door, practically levitate myself off the floor one-handed (lots of adrenaline at that point), and grab my shotgun from a spot where I had hidden it in my closet.

I pumped a round into the chamber and said, “Get out of my house or I’ll kill you.” I heard him flee. Since I could not see where he was, and my girlfriend at the time (later to become my first wife) was going to be home at any minute, I could not fire through the door. I ended up going through the apartment, room by room, as I wasn’t sure if he had actually made it out. It was harrowing, to say the least.

There’s a lot more to the story, including three murders, several rapes, and somewhat of a comedy of errors (not funny at the time) getting the police to come and take a report. It took me five phone calls to three different jurisdictions – I was living in Venice, next to Marina del Rey – before the LAPD, who I called first and knew had jurisdictions as I saw them patrolling all the time, showed up. The officer who arrived was alone, had his hat in hand, and the safety strap to his sidearm in place, which unnerved him when he found out he was working an armed burglary and hadn’t been told so by the dispatcher.

Mr. Brown was eventually arrested, mainly due to his continuing crime spree. I ended up testifying against him twice – once at his original trial and again, years later, at a retrial on one of his murder counts.

The Court got one of the facts wrong in this decision. He only stole one weapon from me, and that was the Blackhawk, which he used to kill three men over the course of about a week and a half. I never got that handgun back, nor did I get back the beautiful pocket watch I had been given years prior by my maternal grandfather. I still miss the watch sometimes.


Sometimes I Wonder Why I Care

Maybe it’s just me, but I find as I get closer to the finish line, many things don’t seem quite as important as they used to. After all, I’m going to be dead for eternity. I won’t even be me. I just. won’t. be. I’ve been contemplating this as long as I can remember, and I still can’t quite wrap my head around it.

So, all these things that seem to matter so much, soon enough won’t matter at all (at least not to me). Yet I continue caring.

‘Tis a bother.


Romeo & Juliet: My Very Own Personal Experience

The balcony scene

Romeo courts Juliet prior to their mutual display of stupidity.

I was going through some of my old files and came across this paper I wrote nearly sixteen and a half years ago. I was in a program at California Lutheran University called ADEP (Adult Degree Evening Program) where I was attempting to earn a Bachelor’s degree in . . . I don’t remember, but it was something like “Information Technology”. Unfortunately for me, the lower division classes were designed for eighteen to twenty year olds, and I was nearly 54 years old at the time. Much of it was boring and I was a bit miffed at having to slog my way through material, much of which I was quite familiar with.

At any rate, one of my classes was a performing arts class, which I really did enjoy, especially because it gave me the opportunity to spend some time on stage. Being somewhat of a ham, it was great fun. This review of Romeo & Juliet, which was the first (and, I believe, only) Shakespearean play I’ve attended, is the result of an assignment. Here, then, is that review in all its stupendously innocent glory.


 

Having never seen a performance of this play, and neither having previously read it, I was uncertain as to how I would pick a favorite character amongst the many. This was made even more difficult by my rusty Elizabethan English. Nevertheless, at curtain time (figuratively speaking, for there was no curtain) I sat attentively and pricked that portion of my brain devoted to my ears, straining to find meaning and direction in the activity taking place before me.

Romeo and Juliet were too easy. Besides, the actor doing Romeo played him with a type of boyishness which bordered on, shall we say, dweebiness . . . or perhaps a certain goofiness reminiscent of Jim Carrey as either dumb or dumber (I forget which role he played). Juliet was, of course, sweet and petite, but singularly uninteresting from my point of view.

Mercutio, however, was a character I liked immediately, even though most of the time I couldn’t be entirely certain I understood what he was saying. I do believe early on I caught a glimpse of at least one of his objectives. He spoke of “fine foot, straight leg and quivering thigh, and [especially, I assumed] the demesnes that there adjacent lie”[1]. Certainly, this is what I was most interested in when I was a young, impetuous man. This, then, I felt was one of Mercutio’s primary objectives; to get laid.

This isn’t to say he had no other objectives. Certainly, he wished to demonstrate his loyalty to Romeo and the Montague household, but my overwhelming feeling during the play was that, above all else, Mercutio wished to tear off a piece, if you will. All other objectives were subordinated to this overarching quest.

I can think of at least two major obstacles which stood in his way. The first was Romeo; this was, after all, his show. His obsession with Juliet dominated the play (how strange), and greatly cut into Mercutio’s stage time. The other obstacle, as I saw it, was Tybalt who (rather pointedly) ended Mercutio’s quest to achieve any of his objectives.

Mercutio’s tactic then was one of challenge and bravado. Perhaps, if Romeo hadn’t been such an insufferable dolt, Tybalt would not have gotten in the cheap shot which ended Mercutio’s presence in the play, rendering his tactic moot. Who’s to say? This has been happening for many hundreds of years now, and the result is always the same is it not?

Except for the fact that the seating was not designed for the comfort of a man temporarily crippled with a palsied foot, I enjoyed the play immensely. As I said, I had never seen this nor, in fact, any Shakespeare and it was quite enjoyable.

My two favorite characters where Mercutio and the Nurse. I thought the Nurse was played brilliantly, and I watched her closely. Her facial expressions and body language were superb. I also thought Mercutio played well. I wish that I had been a little closer so I could have seen both their faces more clearly.

As I, er, intimated above, I thought the actor who played Romeo made him out to be rather foolish. Since I have never seen this play performed by others, I don’t know how he has been interpreted previously. The impetuousness with which both Romeo and Juliet pursue their relationship and, ultimately, end it is reminiscent of today’s teenagers and reminded me of teen love affairs and the high rate of teen suicide. Perhaps, then, Romeo was played as he should have been. A bumbling numbskull marginally responsible for the death of one of his best friends, not to mention himself and his putative love. Call me callous, but I found him singularly unsympathetic. I might have killed him myself, if Will hadn’t saved me the trouble.

Thanks for the tickets. I could go on. I find flowery language grows on me and, given time, could no doubt tell you of my experience in rhyme, perhaps even in heroic couplet. However, this is ADEP and I’m injured, a mere shadow of my former self. I end, anon.


[1] I looked this up on the Internet. Hey! Like I said, my Elizabethan English is rather rusty, so I thought I’d check and see if the lines jibed with what his actions said to me. Indeed.


Please Forgive My Selfish Indulgence

I was just going through some of my PowerPoint files, looking for one very specific file in which I’ve gathered many of the great, useful graphics (like this) Dion Hinchcliffe has created over the years. As I was searching I came across a program I put together for my mother’s funeral, which will have been eleven years ago this coming March 5.

Annette Ladd

My mother at about 18 years old. This is one of the pics I used for her funeral program

Maybe I’m just an emotional pushover, but the realization she’s been gone over a decade, that my father has been gone for over thirty years, and lots of people my age are dropping had me feeling pretty melancholy right now. I wept, but I’m not sure why. I don’t generally feel sorry for myself, but I think I was lamenting something we all go through; the loss of our childhood, our innocence, our loved ones.

Actually, the feeling is both bothersome and cathartic. I’ve always felt being in touch with one’s emotions — and giving vent to them on occasion — is both healthy and empowering, but I must confess to feeling a bit guilty expressing them in public like this. Nevertheless, it’s one of the reasons I have this blog. I’ll get over it.


Goodbye Old Friend. It Was Great.

Today was an inordinately sad day for me. It wasn’t for all day, not even most of the day, but the feeling was different than many other sadnesses I’ve felt. I learned today that a man who I’ve been friends with since before I have actual memories passed away. A friend with whom I grew up and spent most of my childhood. My best friend for the better part of my first twenty years on this planet. The guy I enlisted in the U.S. Navy with in 1966 on the buddy system. He apparently had a heart attack and he also, apparently, was living alone as his body was not found for (I’ve been told) “some time.”

We were no longer really friends in the sense that we did things together or even talked; I hadn’t seen him in probably twenty years, but I had remained close to his younger brother, Bob, whose wedding I had performed and whose son was named after me and is my Godson. I heard about it first from his youngest brother, Chuck, in a Facebook message. Chuck lives in Kansas and I haven’t actually seen him in more than twenty years, but we’ve been FB friends for a while and I do believe I’m thought of as extended family. Jim wasn’t a Facebook kind of a guy. Unfortunately, a lot of people my age have never become comfortable with computers, let alone social media of any kind.

Still, Jim was so much a part of my life growing up, there’s no way I could forget his role in it. I used to go with him every Sunday to Saint Genevieve’s in Panorama City. Most of the time he would just grab a pamphlet in the vestibule to prove to his parents he had actually been in the building, then we would go off and play somewhere. There were also times when I had no choice but to attend Mass and I learned all the proper moves to make; holy water, genuflection, grace at meals when I had dinner at his house. I could even recite Hail Marys and Our Fathers if called upon to do so. I almost still can, just like I can almost still read Hebrew after four years of Hebrew school that culminated in my Bar Mitzvah. In all the years we lived with our parents, he always tried to find his way to our house for Friday dinner. He didn’t much care for fish and my father was a butcher at the Grand Central Market.

Back in the mid to late fifties, there was a yearly Carnival that took place in Panorama City, near the intersection where Parthenia peels off to the west from Van Nuys Boulevard. They always had a shooting gallery where real .22 caliber rounds were used and Jim and I would root through the sawdust on the ground in front of the counter where the rifles lay to find unspent bullets people had dropped. We always managed to find a couple or more. After all, we were kids and that was our job.

We would take those bullets to the tennis courts at what was then called Hazeltine Park and “aim” them at the houses on the other side of Costello Avenue, to the northwest. Then we would smack them with a hammer. Great fun was had by all until another friend and I were doing the same thing in his backyard and a piece of shrapnel barely missed taking out his eye, leaving a nice gash in his eyebrow. That was kind of the end of that.

We did lots of crazy-ass things, which I can only assume lots of kids do. We once put our hands on top of the entrance to a red ant colony just to see what would happen. That was a shocker, as I recall. We used to put lady finger firecrackers in oranges — remember, this was in the middle of the San Fernando Valley in the fifties; there were orange trees everywhere — and throw them like grenades. My first lesson, though I hardly realized it at the time, in physics came from the realization that wrapping the firecrackers in duct tape increased the explosive power of those little things. We were just trying to keep them from being so diluted by the orange juice they wouldn’t explode.

Years later, when we were around 14 or 15, my family had moved a few miles away and Jim used to come and visit for a day or two at a time. Two doors to the west they were still constructing the new location of the temple where I had become Bar Mitzvah and one of the walls was unfinished, with horizontal rebar sticking out of the ends. We bent the rebar and made it into a ladder so we could climb up on the roof of the building and run around on it. We played a game for a while where one guy would get a BB pistol and the other guy would get a head start. The idea was to aim for clothing but I’m certain Jim caught one in the ear once. Another damper to our childhood fun.

I could go on. The more I write, the more I remember things we did, and the more stories I could retell, but I’ll save that for another day. I’d rather take one last moment and relate why I feel so melancholy and how important this loss is to me. It’s true we hadn’t talked in something like twenty years. As we grew our lives went in very different directions. The last time I saw him was in his home in Glendale, AZ. He was married, working as a contractor, I believe, and they had at least a dozen cats in their house. I was able to spend a few hours with him during an evening I was in Phoenix on business. We talked a bit about old times. We were in our late forties and not yet disposed to reminisce too much. I would hear about him occasionally from Bob or his wife, Bonnie, but it wasn’t much and life kept moving along.

His death, though, leaves a special hole in my past, the kind of hole most of us end up having more of than we’d like. My grief is only marginally for him, more so for his family, but in large part for myself. It’s the same kind of hole others who played a larger-than-life role in my past have left as well, even if they were nowhere near as close to me as Jim had been. One that comes to mind is Richard M. Nixon. I despised that man and spent many years fighting to end the war in Vietnam when he was President. He played, although indirectly, a huge role in the years I came of age that I nearly wept when I learned of his death. Not because of him — I wouldn’t dream of weeping over his death — but I grieved for the passing, the irrevocable disappearance of my young adulthood and all that was attached to it. Before he died, I had something to hang on to; an artifact of that part of my life. With his passing, it was gone.

The hole I feel with Jim’s death is far more devastating and just a little difficult to deal with. Much like Nixon, as long as he was alive, we had our past and our years of friendship. There was always the possibility we’d see each other again and have some laughs, maybe a beer or two. Now that possibility is forever gone. I have often written about death. It fascinates me. In the meantime, however, life goes on and I will too. I’m surely not the only person to experience these feelings. I just wanted to get them out and say a few words about, and in honor of, someone who was very special to me.

So, via con dios, Jimmy. You will forever live in my heart. We had too many good times and meant far too much to each other for me to just let your passing pass. I will someday join you, as will we all. For now, I’ll content myself with remembering our friendship and take the most from it until it’s my time.


Why Am I Bothering To Learn Anything?

“No one here gets out alive.”
Jim Morrison

We are all the result of a long chain of possibilities that stretch back billions of years. We each are the progeny of a single sperm cell which, out of billions making the effort, fertilized a single egg out of thousands and brought us here; carriers of DNA that has been evolving for eons and eons. Such is life on this planet.

At the other end of the spectrum is death. Do you think about it much? I have thought about it my entire life. Not obsessively, and not morbidly, but I think it would be honest to say I do think about it often. Perhaps it was because a First Cousin of mine committed suicide when I was very young and I saw how devastated my father was at hearing the news. Perhaps it’s because we really are surrounded by it and we learn fairly early that it’s our final destination. Maybe everybody thinks about it frequently. I really don’t know because we don’t talk about it that much, except in literature, song, and the occasional self-help or personal awareness book.

In a previous post I wrote about the concept of an afterlife and my belief there’s no such thing. I’ve tried to imagine what such nothingness might be like and, for the life of me, I can’t. At least not in a way that leaves me satisfied I really understand what the total absence of experience might be like. Actually, that’s not entirely true. Mark Twain’s quote about death hints at what it might be like. He said, “I do not fear death. I had been dead for billions and billions of years before I was born, and had not suffered the slightest inconvenience from it.”

After my father’s death in September of 1984, one the many thoughts his absence triggered was the realization virtually all the education, understanding, and wisdom we accumulate over the years almost completely disappears after death. To be sure, there are exceptions; memories, works of art, books and papers, social and philanthropic efforts, etc., but none of these will likely last more than a few millenia. Now, with the benefit of another thirty years of contemplation, I realize there’s a loss that’s at least as profound, and far more personal.

This is the thing that befuddles me the most. As I noted in the previous post I mentioned, above, if I am correct and there’s nothing after death, I have such a hard time contemplating what that means. I agree with Mark Twain’s quote and have used that very same reasoning. Nevertheless, that was before I experienced consciousness and, now that I have, I find it exceedingly difficult to imagine no longer having it. It’s not that I don’t accept it, even gain comfort from the knowledge it really won’t matter to me, as there will be no me to care. It’s just that I find myself trying to imagine that kind of nothingness (or everythingness?) and I fail in the attempt.

Here’s a somewhat silly thought experiment. Let’s assume, for argument’s sake, there is such a thing as life after death. Let’s also say it’s possible to come up with a reasonably useful timeframe for the ultimate heat death (thermodynamic equilibrium) of the universe. Some suggest it will be in 10^100 years. That’s an awfully long time. Now, the following may seem a bit trivial, but please bear with me. In my mind, it points out the absurdity of the concept of an afterlife; at least anything that resembles the life we’re living here, on this planet Earth. Assume that, during this time period, I exist corporeally and continue shaving because I don’t care for beards, and once every trillion (that’s 1,000,000,000,000 or 10^12) years — because, although I’m bound to improve with time and practice, we all still lose focus now and again — I cut myself and, as a result, develop a tiny bit of scar tissue with each cut. By the demise of the universe I would have cut myself 10^88 times. I would think the resulting scar tissue would eventually make me unrecognizable.

Alan Watts suggested that belief is stagnant and unyielding to change, whereas faith is open and accepting of what is. I often say I have faith the universe is unfolding just fine no matter what any of us believe. We are such insignificant little tubes of matter, constantly ingesting, inhaling, and absorbing stuff that isn’t us, then exhaling, excreting, and sloughing off that which once was us but is now something else. We exist for a moment so brief as to be virtually non-existent to anything but our pitiful little selves. Calm down and enjoy the ride.


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