I think about death quite a lot. No, not suicide–but about the idea of not being and what that would be like (as if it could be “like” anything I have already experienced). Within the past month, three people I’ve known have died. Mark, my ex-brother-in-law, at 62 of a heart attack; Brianna, my nephew’s wife, at 38 of cancer; and Rick, a long-time friend and occasional co-worker, at 54 of cancer. Of course, I felt sad at the news of each passing. But another reaction has crept into my meditation about these deaths: they were all too young! Fifteen years ago, I would have thought that only about Brianna. Now that I’m 58, 62 doesn’t seem so old.

A fellow interpreter, Michael Albert, and I were working together for one day of a two-week conference a few weeks ago. The conference focused on an in-depth exegesis of The Bible–ten straight hours a day of parsing the meaning of the Good Book. At lunch, Michael (who is Jewish) and I started talking about what we believed and didn’t believe about religion and he made a statement which rang true to me: the origin of religion is based on the fear of death. And I can understand why.

I imagine back to the caveman days–did they try to explain the phenomenon to each other? Did they have some kind of ritual to comfort themselves, or did they just dump the body in the trash area where they threw the wooly mammoth bones after a good meal? The Egyptian idea of sending the dead person to the afterlife with gold, food and animals always seemed so attractive to me as a kid; almost as if the deceased were in the burial chamber living it up. Growing up in the Episcopal Church (my dad’s a priest there), I was horrified by the notion that Jesus came back to life, scared that all those people in the cemeteries would follow suit. I don’t believe religion is the opiate of the masses, exactly, but I do think it serves the purpose of trying to explain the inexplicable. And in that, I haven’t found any of it especially persuasive. I do believe in God, I do pray (a LOT) and I am afraid of death.

While taking a shower, I was ruminating on this recent nudge from the Other Side. A gob of hair blocked the drain and I flicked it away with my toe to the back of the tub. It landed in the iconic shape of infinity.

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