There's nothing like a big unhealty dose of acute bronchitis to get you contemplating lack of a future. Reality, so called, sharpens to an almost unbearable sequence of images, almost all of them surreal, such as leaving the doctor's office and stopping off at the health food grocer's, there only to be accosted by a scruffy looking customer who apologizes in order to catch your attention. What does he want, I ask. "Are you a Christian?" Hesitant, I ask myself, what is this, a come-on? A guy I know in my profession, a devout Catholic who once told me I could have as clients all the nuns in the archdiocese if only I'd convert, regularly enjoys making fools of street people, e.g. telling the pan-handlers seeking money for lunch, "I'll take you to a nearby restaurant," knowing they'll almost invariably beg off, some with honest admissions they're only seeking the cash for liquor or beer.
Feeling lousy, I couldn't think of anything to say except "No, I'm not," adding, in a cold voice, "and I am not religious, either." Had I felt better I would have said something blatantly atheist, but as it was, I only wanted to be left to my own devices. I just wanted to get rid of him, fast. Bob Dylan in a movie made the sound-over point that American capitalism uses fear to get us to buy things we don't really need, but I think he copped that notion from Burroughs, who said that our government and that nebulous thing we called, in the 60s, "the Establishment," put out conflicting messages ("believe this, don't believe this") in order to put us in a perpetual state of conflict, such that we buy things we don't need, thinking they'll distract us from our fears. Then, too, Eldridge Clever said that we would never have another revolution so long as the supermarkets stay open.
Dis-ease does something else to you, too: it heightens awareness of the truths of atheism, including the explanation that we are not conscious of life before birth, nor will we be conscious of it after death. Also, that the moment of birth is the time we begin to die. Dylan said that, too. One also finds less hostility to Christians who say that they're praying for you. Burroughs said "Pray in one hand, shit in the other; see which one fills up faster." Knowing from my awful cough, wheezing, and spitting gunk into tissue, at least three of my clients this week have said, "We're praying for you." I could set them straight, telling them, for example, that actual studies of prayer for seriously ill hospital patients showed not that prayer helped them but that it caused the prayed-for patients to die in greater numbers. But when you are seriously ill, you are not exactly in a mood to pick quarrels with people. And all of the drugs I've been taken have rendered me ineffective in debate.
Facing death is harrowing for some. I hope I can emulate the great Christopher Hitchens, dying of a brain tumor, incurable. I hope I can go out like he did, without retreat to belief, especially belief in that other country from which no one returns. But will I? Will I have that courage. To me, religion preys on people more than it prays for them. Like the Consul in John Huston's film of Malcolm Lowry's Under the Volcano, I would like to believe but I can't. The scene of the Consul going into a cathedral and staring up at one of those waxy-faced Madonnas so prevalent in Mexican churches especially, is pure John Huston (the director of the film). In interviews, the atheist filmmaker said he wanted to believe but could not, that he actually envied those who could. He had emphysema and eventually died of it. I hope my acute bronchitis goes away soon without putting my lights out just yet. But I ain't gonna pray it away. If I die after their prayers, they can always say God works in mysterious ways. There's no mystery to me. You're born, you live, and you die. Life is what you make of it, and you don't need deity to get there.
About 10 years ago I was rushed to the emergency room - I was sure I was dying particularly after the doctor said, "It looks like an aneurism”, and got ready to cut into me. Strangely I felt OK with it – if I die, I die. I felt no need to appeal to some mythic entity to intervene. As it turned out it was just a medication that dropped my blood pressure down to near dead and a corrective medication fixed it. So, accepting my eventual demise isn't a big deal when it happens – it happens.
Jim, thanks for sharing that story! I have thought a lot about this. I think the only thing I would worry about (if I had time) would be that my young-adult kids would still need me.
I have 30-something "kids" who might still need me, the way the economy is going. I finally figured out what my old man meant when he said he'd be worth far more to Mom dead than he ever was alive. A wonder our offspring don't pray for our demise. But fortunately, they're good boys. Neither believes in God and neither is a serial killer.
lol James. My kids too. :)
I've got two daughters - one (and spouse) owes me a mountain of money that I will never see and the other has moved back in - they are 42 and 44 years old.
My kids are 18 and 20, so still in college/dependent on us. I hope they don't have to when they are older, but if they ever need money, or need to move back in with us, I would consider the money to them a gift, and this will always be their home. I live for my kids.
What I call a "Good Mother." In law, as regards children, their best interest is paramount. Nothing else matters. A Good Mother may screw up and drink too much, get strung out on dope, and fail to wake up early enough to take the child to school that day, but as the Bible says, "When I was a child [read: drunk/doper/&c.] I spake as a child, &c." but "now that I am [an adult]," and so forth. Doesn't mean she cannot be a Good Mother again. Mothers are truly amazing.
The one thing I've never quit (like college, jobs, etc.) is being a good mother. It's the single most important thing to me in my world. I can't be happy if my kids aren't. Even as young adults now. I just can't. I will always, always, always put them first. It makes me happy. I have a good mother myself. :)
Oy, vay! You poor thing. My two sons learned to be somewhat independent of me and I believe I am generous with them. Their mother brought them up well.
Cessation of being.
No awareness, because there's nothing to be aware of.
Yep, sounds peaceful to me Mike.
If Little Buddha suffered from Keanu Reeves as Gautama it nevertheless introduced some of us to the Heart Sutra. This is the one where the celebrant imagines the total non-existence of all things, starting with the eyes, hearing, speech, no this, no that -- I am relatively sure some of you know it. One of the Pops referred to Buddhism as "atheistic religion" and it got my garters twisted. Of COURSE it is an atheistic religion in that the Buddha is said to have told disciples he was not god, didn't want to be God, and if he was God, they were all insane. On his deathbed this guy was telling his people to doubt everything and use reason to decide what is true. No head, no heart, no --.