(Or thank heaven there is no God.)
Aside from the loss of a pet fly I had on Christmas Day when I was nine, I’ve had little experience with death or direct exposure to the absolute exit of the flesh from the festival of consciousness. That’s probably why I’m so glib on the topic, compulsively joking about what’s best treated with an air of solemnity or else cringing, diffident respect. But I find it hard to respect something that makes fools of us all, even though I simultaneously celebrate the fact that no one lives forever, since it means we’re all on board the same long sweaty stuffy subway train to hell (allowing that a fortunate few have first class seats and fireproof smiles).
(Not that I believe there’s a hell after life. For what remains of my money and my barely animated remains, my guess is that death is an erasure of all consciousness as well as all physical pleasure and pain–in other words, a mixed bag, kind of like some of the Hollywood blockbusters summer has in store for those who would go out of their way to view such extravagant fantasies, not that they’re available in stores.)
Now that my own mortality is starting to assert itself more aggressively as I deteriorate apace, I can neither ignore nor deny a certain fear of death (boo! in both senses of the word), if only because I still haven’t accomplished an inkling of what I hope to achieve before the power shuts down, or else come close to filling the bottomless pit of insatiable greed, that which has been established by biology (bye-bye, happiness), along with civilization’s own special recipe for suffering–now with new ingredients! (I realize now that line is not exactly a zinger, especially considering that the people who write ad copy for TV commercials don’t normally include four-syllable words when they want to give the announcer something exciting-sounding to say.)
Anyway–and anywhere but here, wherever and whoever you are–every Sunday I’m committed to reading a dictation for a group of old Korean men at my wife Jina’s church, which I think is called the Church of Latter-Day Lunatics Who’d Just as Soon Incinerate the Infidels with Flame-Throwers. In case you couldn’t guess by that irreverent aside, I’m not in belief mode, being constitutionally incapable of such a devout disposition. Sorry, but I just like asking questions too much. They keep things off-balance and keep me on my toes.
So the other day–and don’t ask me how I got roped into this gig, but I’ve gotten used to it now, keeping in mind that a long marriage between two people who are preposterously inappropriate for each other grows on you like a third-degree burn. All the infernal bickering and carping sears you to the bone, helpfully killing all the nerves so you don’t feel any pain eventually. Ah, refreshing numbness.
As I was saying before that annoying digression, the theme of last Sunday’s gathering was the existence of heaven. I don’t bring my script home with me out of a policy of non-attachment to things religious, so I don’t have it to refer to, but the gist of it was that heaven is a place, “just like New York, Chicago, or London.” Or Pittsburgh. Or Vladivostok. Or Tokyo Disneyland. Or, as David Byrne of Talking Heads would say, “a place where nothing, nothing ever happens.”
The gentlemen in the group politely repeated each phrase I read aloud, the oldest of the batch always trailing behind the rest as he mumbled his way across the finish line. I was glad we didn’t have to read about the Holy Trinity anymore, but had trouble suppressing an eye-roll at the pseudo-scientific claims of the existence of heaven. The men repeated my enthusiastic recitations, unable to detect the sarcastic undercurrent that occasionally took hold of my voice as I was possessed by the demon of incredulity (whom I favor over the devil of feverish naivete).
“Heaven is much closer than you may think.” (That’s right–it’s here and now.)
But when I came to the part about how heaven is a place where all of the pain and suffering in life come to an end, I recalled that these men were not far from the end of life’s messy plate of spaghetti themselves, that the long and winding noodle would soon be slurped clean by omnivorous Mr. Cronus, the life-gobbling god of time. So I had to take my invisible hat off to them for lasting as long as they have, and refrain from dispelling their cherished illusions with a Bronx cheer.
Besides, who knows? If I last that long myself (which I almost certainly won’t, unless my imaginary enemy God is even crueler than my wife makes him out to be), I might even end up swallowing the same plate of shit they have, and savoring it with the joyful gratitude that comes from having one’s taste buds hijacked by glad-handing fanatics.
But between you and me I damned well hope not. I can’t afford to invest in a coffin big enough to accommodate a crucifix, and although I love reading fiction, the Holy Bible’s not exactly a page-turner (great work of literature though it is–or so I’ve heard).
And life, for all its idiocy and delicately tormenting situations that plague every day, is much too precious to waste on wishful thinking. It’s much better to waste it surfing the Internet instead.
Finally, does Jesus really need any more devotees? The poor guy must already feel like the biggest social butterfly in the history of show biz. I shall do him the understated honor of ignoring him, or at least keeping him in his proper perspective as someone who tried to make the world a better place, and in some ways succeeded, despite the unintended consequences of creating so many generations of wackos and self-righteous goofballs who cover the planet like a wet blanket on a cold dog who’s just trying to shake them off and attend to the more urgent matter of having a good time before it’s too late.