I was raised to believe that what happen after you die is the most important question one can ever ask. In the past few years, of course, I’ve come to realize that what happens while you’re alive is a much more meaningful question, as it’s one you can actually answer and one you can actually do something about.
But on the other hand, what DOES happen after I die? It’s not a completely inconsequential question, if only because our society is based around a religion that claims to know. Perhaps someday it won’t the sort of thing you need to have some sort of answer for, perhaps someday rude strangers on the street and the voices from my past populating my head won’t ever ask it, but for now, it’s a question that one want some kind of answer to, if only to have something to say to head off conversion attempts by overzealous strangers.
I have absolutely no way of knowing what happens after death, of course, because I’ve never died before. I saw my Nona’s body, a moment or two after death, and I know there was something gone, something different; I knew she was dead and not sleeping, without being told. She was gone from the withered body lying in that bed. The animating life that had been so strong in her had departed. I don’t know where she went, though I know at the very least she remains in my memory and the memory of all the others who love her.
What I do know, from a purely scientific perspective, is that our bodies, all the physical things that make us who we are, return into the earth when we die. The ridiculous rituals surrounding death, like embalming and expensive coffins, prevent this from literally happening; the coffins will remain for a long time after our bodies have crumbled to dust. I don’t want to be locked up in a box that prevents my body from becoming part of the earth.
Because I take comfort now, not in visions of a perfect bright world beyond this one, but in how the universe will go on and on long after I, everyone I know, and this planet we all live on, is gone. And I would like the conglomeration of matter that is me to be a part of that process as quickly as possible after I’m gone from it.
I don’t so much mind dying when I think that what is now me will become part of a tree, a flower, an animal, another person, and someday, when this planet’s story has come to an end, some particles which were once part of me will fly out into the universe, perhaps eventually becoming part of a star, or perhaps finding out what’s at the other end of a black hole. I will no longer be anything close to what I conceptualize now as myself, but as I am interconnected to this entire universe, I will remain.
Funny how the fact that matter can be neither created nor destroyed, only change form, provides a greater sense of peace about death than the anxious wondering whether I would get into Heaven and if I would even like it there, ever did. Funny how something scientific can also feel so akin to what we’re normally used to regarding as “spiritual.” It’s almost as if a nature-based worldview is an eternal dance between the line of science and spirituality, as if all things are interconnected, and there’s no need to create a religious structure that is separated from the actuality of the world we inhabit.