Evanston RoundTable, May 24, 2022
Others have their heaven. This is mine.
There is a phrase I recently heard that describes a plant about to die: going over.
While I couldn’t confirm the accuracy of the term, nevertheless I have adopted it into my euphemistic lexicon. Is it dying? No, just going over.
Aside from the plant world, the phrase has application to the human world, to our demise, going over to a new abode, the next stage of development. Of course, the physical body after death is merely decomposing or cremated, meat for worms, worms for birds, birds pooping our molecular remains onto the green earth to generate new life.
Some might find that vision revolting or depressing; I find it nicely pastoral. But I have a better vision: After we go over we are greeted in some nether realm of the hereafter by our family and friends who have predeceased us. Not their physical presence, of course, but some spiritual representation.
Can you imagine the joy such a reunion would spark?
Perhaps, as they brought us into the corporeal world, our mothers would bring us into the incorporeal world and introduce us to our dearly departed soulmates.
Me (right after “going over,” not seeing her but sensing her presence, as in a dream, only more vivid): Mom, is that… you?
Mom: Yes dear.
Me: I thought I was dead. Is this the afterlife?
Mom: You could call it that.
Me: It’s so…so good to be alive!
Mom: You’re not alive, dear – not anymore. But you’re here.
Me: I didn’t really think something like this was possible. It’s so wonderful to be with you again!
Mom: And with you, sweetheart. And as the youngest to go over, you are the last in our family to arrive. Our reunion is complete.
Me: Is everyone here?
Me: Dad and Mark and Aunt Rosalie and Aunt Mabel and Aunt Harriet and Uncle Lolly and the two Uncle Harolds? Your parents and Dad’s parents? All the great-grandparents all the way down the line?
Mom: Yes, yes, all the way back (smiling: can’t see it, of course, there is no sight nor sound, all is intuited, but I can sense it, the way you can make out a person smiling behind a mask). They’re all here, waiting to be with you.
Me: And Uncle Max (my father’s older brother, who died in 1920 from the flu pandemic)? What about Jay (my best friend)?
Mom: Yes, Uncle Max and Jay are here too. Everyone.
Me (so excited): I want to see them! I want to see everybody! When can I see them?
A question occurs to me that has always been somewhat troubling:
Me: Uhm, Mom, tell me, after you die, do you… spirits… live on inside our heads?
Mom: Oh yes, we see and hear everything you do – even your thoughts. We maintain an earthly presence through you.
Me (gulping): You do? Everything?
Mom: Yes, but don’t worry, sweetie, your head was quite empty of sin, if that’s what you’re worried about. Well, mostly empty.
I feel movement, a kind of rustling, as if we’re heading off to another realm.
Me: Are we going somewhere?
Mom: Yes, don’t you want to be with the others?
Me: Of course, but I’m glad you were the first.
I feel something on my cheek – lips? Is kissing permitted here? You bet. After all, it’s my fantasy.
In this hoped-for scenario I might even ask about my heroes. Can I visit Beethoven? Lincoln? Churchill? Mickey Mantle? I might ask my dad, finally, whether it was true he taught George Gershwin to play golf and my mom about being born in South Africa. Never asked them when they were alive, alas, but now is my second chance.
There’s nothing unique about this vision. Some religious traditions view death as a kind of “home-going,” a disembarkation point when the deceased will soon be with God and their ancestors. And many people on their deathbeds express joy they will be reunited with their loved ones.
With respect to pop culture, something vaguely similar was imagined by the great scientist, educator and author Carl Sagan in his 1985 novel Contact, made into a 1997 movie starring Jodie Foster. I didn’t read the novel and recall only one scene from the movie, when Foster’s character enters a structure that looks like a cheesy carnival thrill ride and meets an alien disguised as her father.
Like I said: vaguely.
I can’t tell you with any certainty this will happen. It’s not likely. Except in our hearts and memories, the dead are gone. But who knows? No one has yet returned from “the undiscovered country” to dispute its validity.
Meanwhile, for all its unlikelihood and lack of originality, this vision still brings me some comfort. To see my family and friends after I die? Why not! Others have their heaven. This is mine.
I like the way you think Lester.
A beautiful fantasy Lester. If “perception
is reality,” then there it is. Go for it. It sure
beats what one of my fourth grade students
(Erving Gordon) said after I did a lesson on
death. “When you dead, you just dead.
There ain’t no more.”