Death Is for Dummies (And That Means Mee!)

A lot of people either fear or dread death, and I don’t blame them.  After all, what could be more boring than lying in an expensive box forever?  There’ll be nothing on TV, no books to read, no one else to sleep with, nothing to feel, etc.  Sounds like a drag.  Who wants to do that?

On the other hand, it’s the one humiliating, degrading experience we all have to go through.  Not that it has to be such a slap in the face.  One good thing about Buddhism is that it asks its practitioners to contemplate the reality of death every day.  Bummer ahoy!  Sounds like fun, don’t it?  Well, it ain’t, but what are you going to do?  Is it really the right attitude for a mature human being to want to escape death permanently?  Isn’t that like giving the finger to all the people who’ve died already?

“Suckers!  You didn’t make it, but I lived during the time when scientists were able to use telomerase to give me immortalitynya, nya, nuh nya nya!” (not sure if I’m spelling that one correctly).

I have no objection to my own death, at least as a concept–not that I like the idea that everyone I know and love is also going to die.  That’s the kicker.  And all my loathed ones too (I guess I might as well forgive them and let them come aboard the love boat with everyone else).  But if I thought I were going to live forever, I would demand a refund.  Life has its charms, but let’s not overdo it.

The current attempts to promote and prolong human longevity strike me as the worst kind of arrogance, an egregious display of the idea, “if we can do something, we should.”  You know, just like creating the atomic bomb, GM foods, clones, game shows–the works.  Especially since our species in general has such an unhealthy–not to mention abusive–relationship with nature, it’s also idiotic to want to glorify ourselves by trying to make life the only game in town when we’re living on a finite planet with certain non-renewable resources (i. e., fresh air and water, not to mention good ol’ oil).

Now that so many people around the world want to live like us gluttonous, addictive Americans, the thought of extending our omnivorous lives is even more preposterous.  The effrontery of wanting to circumvent a condition that has applied universally to all living beings since the beginning of time boils down to more than just playing God–it’s being God, and who the hell wants to do that?

As far as what happens to us after death, wouldn’t it be nice if everyone on earth just ‘fessed up and said, “You know?  I haven’t the foggiest idea.  And I don’t care.  Now, may I have my sandwich please?”

A belief in heaven is wishful thinking with no evidence to back it up apart from the questionable testimonies of a few hospitalized flakes who claim to have had “near-death experiences” (I have one every week when I have to sit through an hour of church, and the only heaven I can see is the door that takes me out of the place).  Winged, neutered angels with glowing halos and glittering harps hanging out among the clouds forever and ever, amen.  Sounds fun!  

It’s understandable that people crave heaven; losing loved ones makes us insist that there must be a place where we can be reunited with them.  But throw out your belief and it might make you appreciate them more while they’re still here, instead of creating impotent fantasies of getting together again when it’s too late.

As for hell, the invention of a place where people who did too many bad things in their lives have to suffer for all eternity without any hope of redemption, escape, or mercy seems vindictive and sadistic in the extreme.  Wasn’t it St. Augustine who said that one of the joys of heaven was being able to look down from atop the clouds at the sinners in Lucifer’s domain, burning and screaming and writhing in agony forever?  What a good Christian!  Let’s hope Jesus has bitch-slapped him good by now.

My guess is that after death, nothing happens to you, and that suits me fine.  It’s a nice, understated affair–utter non-existence.  Reincarnation is another crock of shit, in my huffy view, but it’s curious that Eastern religions perceive it as a negative, a kind of curse.  Westerners who believe in reincarnation look forward to it as an adventure.  Again, no evidence to back it up, just a bunch of infantile avoidance of the facts of biology, a refusal to admit that each of us has an expiration date.

What are beliefs anyway but opinions in drag?  There’s nothing wrong with believing in certain things, as long as you don’t impose your beliefs on anyone else, but the problem is that too many people with strong beliefs do just that; I should know–I’m married to one.

Believe in nothing and you will set your mind free.  Accept each new situation as a new event, every circumstance as unique and unprecedented, and it will enable to you to live more creatively, optimistically, and originally (not that I’m able to do that, but hey–who’s perfect?).

As an old Chinese proverb says, “Life has ten thousand joys and ten thousand sorrows.”

As if to confirm this point, I noticed on the International Herald Tribune’s home page two headlines, one sad, the other happy.  The first:  Davey Jones of the Monkees is dead.  Davey Jones!  Yeah, I thought he was immortal too.  “Daydream Believer”?  “Shades of Gray”?  Puts anything the Beatles or the Stones ever wrote to shame.

The happy headline said the North Koreans have agreed to scale down their nuclear program.  See?  Life isn’t so bad after all.  

Canceling that bit of bliss is a story I glimpsed on the TV lurking from the wall of the restaurant where my wife and I had dinner last night; it turns out the Korean Navy (with the “help” of the United States, no doubt) is going to go ahead and destroy a piece of paradise on Jeju Island, one of the crown jewels of Korea and of the earth, all in the name of “defense” and sustained imperial chest-thumping.  It will also help promote more drunken hit-and-run driving accidents and the rape of local girls and women by sailors and soldiers–just what the doctor ordered as a prescription for world peace, international harmony, and cross-cultural understanding.  If you don’t believe me, you can find plenty on the record of what’s happened over the years on U. S. military bases in Korea to back up the prediction, and in Okinawa (read Chalmers Johnson’s Blowback for other examples of callous martial hijinks).

I’m sure China won’t mind; and students of realpolitik will say that this development is one of the reasons the North Koreans are apparently open to negotiate (that most of them are starving to death might also have something to do with it).  

Who knows?  Maybe they’re right.  Some even say the Cold War prevented World War III.  Perhaps the hope is to start a new one with China, South Korea’s biggest trading partner and the U. S.’s main creditor nation, so that we can all be “safe.”

And don’t worry–we’re all going to live forever; we’re never going to die; time to say beddy-bye.  Night, night.


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