Posted by guest blogger Reluctant Scribe.
I was touched, and somewhat distressed, to read about a dear friend's recent conversation with her mother about faith. Her mother is in her eighties, knows that she's near the end, and that, despite her good health, death can find her any minute. This distresses her terribly. She lives in daily fear of dying. What really grabbed me, though, was her observation (about her mother) "that she has no faith." For her, death isn't a transition or a door opening, it's the end. She went on to observe that she feels the same way herself.
This is not a topic on which I would normally engage. It's intensely personal and, as an exercise in boundaries, it can be something of a minefield. Nonetheless I felt some address of this was in order, and I did what I could to marshal my thoughts. Here is my reply to her, and to those who despair of life's end, seeing nothing beyond:
My Dearest Friend,
I should start with a disclaimer, but I can't think of one that's adequate.
(With apologies to actual history...)
Newton, in the falling apple, was able to derive a rule that was true for the apple and, on satisfying himself that it was true for the apple, knew that a truth that is true for a single apple can be true for other apples; and a truth that can be true for any apple is true for them all, there being no way for a truth to be true in a single instance in a single moment: either it is true for all the apples or not for any. And such a truth becomes a rule, and such a rule becomes a law. And being true for the apples, it is true for all fruit, and true for all objects, all things.
What is discovered to be true once is simply true, and true for all cases.
Some years ago I was privileged to find a truth, a truth for the individual case that I am. In knowing it, I knew that it was true beyond my own case and true for others, for all, even though others knew it not.
I cannot tell you what is true for you, that is something only you can know.
I can, however, tell you what I know to be true of people, of humanity, because it is true of my individual case. I am the falling apple, the smallest unit of a truth I know.
What I know is that I -- the thing that I am -- the thinking, dreaming, imagining, feeling person that sees my world, I live beyond the bounds of this lifetime, that for better or worse, I am immortal and cannot die, and do not perish with this body I call my own today.
Now, what other stuff is implied by that, and what comes next and what has gone before, all that is really not important in relation to the simple fact of knowing that what is the essential "me" will persist beyond corporeal death.
Understand that there isn't any smugness in that knowledge. The duties attendant on being the custodian of that knowledge don't leave a lot of room for smug.
I am touched with sadness when I find people who are convinced it all ends when their body stops working, but I typically don't have the courage to say to them, "it's an illusion; it's not over; you don't die; you go on." Funny, really, that fear of social rejection keeps me from offering what little I know, what little I know that's of any actual value.
Sometimes I amuse myself with the knowledge that such people are in for something of a surprise when "it ends" and yet it doesn't. Amusement is cut short by the realization that the "surprise" later isn't going to help the anxiety of now.
So allow me to offer an observation. There is no combination of chemicals randomly assembled and energized with microvolts and millivolts and stewed in swamps and cooked with radiation over eons that evolves into a being capable of thinking the delicate and nuanced abstractions that dance through your thoughts. There's no chemical formula for dreams. There's no "digital signature" for grief and sympathy, fear and anger, joy and enthusiasm.
There's somebody home, and the somebody that's home is who does the thinking, dreaming, abstracting, wanting, hurting, deciding, and striving. There is a real you.
I can only hope that one day you can know that for yourself.
Where that leads is entirely another question.
And you actually get to answer that question yourself.
I'm not worried about your mom or about you, but it is my fondest hope that you and she can know, for yourselves, that you're real, and that death is the fraud.
With greatest sincerity,
~~ Your Reluctant Scribe