Most of us run blindly through life, taking kids to football games or buying groceries or celebrating birthdays or oohing and ahhing about flower beds and great lasagna dinners, never stopping to think that one day all this wonderful madness will end. There are those who believe in the ever after: angels and Elysian Fields and all the chocolate you can eat. Others believe in reincarnation: behaving yourself in this life is a sure bet you won’t come back as a newt or a grasshopper in the next. Some believe you never wake up; others believe eternity is one big, made-for-TV movie. But what happens if you don’t want to think about the afterlife, period? What happens if all you want to do is get lost in Star War movies or the Food Network or dreams of vacationing in the Bahamas? Does avoidance equal ignorance?
I sometimes wonder if humans were meant to dwell on the afterlife as much as we do. After all, whatever is going to happen is going to happen. When all is said and done, if we are all going have a glorious resurrection, why should we worry about it? If we believe our destiny is to reappear on another planet in another galaxy, why sweat the small stuff?
None of us like to think about death. Most of us unconsciously think we will live to be 90 or better. We pop a few vitamins or walk around the block or stop smoking and think we have it made. And, for the most part, we do. We look around us, feel terrible about those our age who have passed on to greener pastures, and hope we can stay out of
those same pastures a bit longer. Yet there is always that heebie geebie feeling we get from that foul reaper that makes us feel we should do a bit more to insure a place in the afterlife. Whether its prayer, abstinence, volunteering or tithing, we always make an effort to hedge our bets, putting an extra chip on the gambling table just in case. We give a little extra to the United Way or volunteer to work the concession stand at the high school football game, even if our kid doesn’t play football. We help old women cross the street, and try not to get uppity if someone offers to help us cross the street.
How does that lessen our apprehension of our final moment? How does contributing to the bake sale or adopting a pet from the shelter make us breathe easy about our last moments on Earth? The older I get, the more I realize that all the anxiety, all the trauma I go through worrying about what happens at that final moment doesn’t mean a thing except heartburn. One of the prices we pay for being born into this world is having to leave it at the end. I’m not sure there is some cosmic string that is destined to be cut at some particular moment; I do believe that the joy we find in this life, and possibly the next, is based on the pleasure we give and receive from others.
Whether you read the Bible or Harry Potter, you cannot escape the fact that good deeds do not go unheeded. That even if there is no cosmic God or Goddess who pats you on the head for being a good person, you are rewarded anyway. There is something about doing something nice for others — and for yourself — that brings its own brand of satisfaction. Putting a plus in the “good” column just plain feels good. Accepting that we don’t always get accolades for our diligence is a learned experience; I find myself still waiting for acknowledgement that I saved the life of a cat who was beaten by an irrational neighbor 20 years ago or that I was the DD more times than I can count. I know
my heart always feel better when I label myself “nice” instead of “mean.” I feel good when I put a smile on another’s face; I feel bad when I make someone cry.
Whether or not those points add up to admission through the pearly gates I don’t know. I myself don’t have a clue whether I will meet my mother and father on the other ide, or if I will be reincarnated into a wealthy family (something I would thoroughly enjoy). What I do know is that it makes me feel good to do good in this world. I have no control of what happens when I close my eyes for the last time — no one does. All I can hope for is that my good behavior and loving heart will have counted for omething. That loving my kids over and above normalcy and giving my dogs extra bonies push me up a notch on the ladder of happily-ever-after.
It will be my luck that the day I decide to visit Scotland, the Loch Ness Monster will instantly devour me in one gulp, and all this angst will be for nothing. My fear is that my repayment for being such a jolly good soul is that I come back to this world as a Welcome Wagon Lady or a greeter at Walmart. Which, on second thought, isn’t such a bad idea. After all, that’s what I want to do when I retire in this life.
Although I know I have to fight my husband for the job.