So much has changed since then, but not this. This sense that something in me was meant to live forever, that a handful of years is just not enough to realize all that I am.
Epitaph for a Tombstone
I am compressed within my skin
Like a time-bomb
There is more to me than time
Allows to be
When the end comes I’ll explode
Like an atom
It is my end to explore
I was obsessed with the idea that I would never be able to see, do, be all that I wanted within the time allotted me. That this little life “rounded by a dream” as Shakespeare wrote, was but an interlude, and that I had existed before and will exist well after it ends.
Perhaps that’s why Wordsworth’s lines in “Intimations of Immortality” mean so much to me, that we come into this world “trailing clouds of glory”. The verses found throughout the Bible about being there “when the morning stars first sang together” have a similar deja vu effect on me.
The suggestion was that there is no science to support such speculation, and these musings by learned men were merely a comforting concession to ease the pain of lost loved ones or the anxiety about one’s own impending death. I took a different viewpoint, and wrote this:
I’m very skeptical of what “Science” knows about anything at this point, but especially of what it knows about the mind and consciousness and the thing that sages through the ages have referred to as “soul” or “spirit.” That individual consciousness would just disappear when life leaves the body seems almost more fantastical than if it should continue in some form.
Look at what happens when we turn out the lights at night–consciousness continues to spin out a type of “reality” at least to the one “awake” in the dream, seemingly conscious and aware of himself and others and a world around him. This waking dream we all seem to be part of seems no more real at times than the one I left when the alarm when off.
And when we look at the “new science” and quantum physics, it appears we know less about how this world is fabricated than we had thought, but what it does seem to indicate is that consciousness plays a much larger role in reality than mere physical particles (if the two can be separated!).
I guess all this rambling goes to say I think when it comes to facing our eventual deaths, scientists can tell us nothing of importance, but the great shock of contemplating a blank slate in place of continuing consciousness may be such an affront to reason that it kick-starts a higher sense of perception or intuition, where the continuation of a person’s spirit or soul, or even that of a dog, does not seem so unreasonable after all. Hence Jefferson’s and Bellow’s musings on death.
Just yesterday I read about a new study debunking the claims of those who have had near-death experiences of an after-life (you know, images of a long tunnel with a bright light at the end surrounded by departed loved ones.)
Apparently researchers have discovered that as the brain dies there is a flurry of abnormal activity—lots of bells and whistle going off , neurons going crazy, atoms exploding, that sort of thing (a bit like my poem depicts, don’t you think?).
These frantic falterings cause those near-death experiences, so they speculate. But a cause and effect relationship can go both ways (as we all well know when considering which came first, the chicken or the egg). It could easily be that in those final moments before the brain goes dead it records the experience of our consciousness of crossing over to a new mental landscape beyond this world. That crazy brain activity could be the last gasp, or mental grasping, of the mortal as it perceives a glimpse of immortality.
There’s no way to know for sure, of course. But when the best minds of this world and many cultures across time all seem to have a similar sense of something of ourselves continuing after this life ends, I think we’d be wise not to dismiss this altogether, despite the lack of science to support it.
And, if true to itself, Science is open-ended as well as open-minded, poised to grasp things that may never have occurred to it yet. Science too, in the end, may be but one way by which we “explore infinity.”
[My apology to readers who received this twice. Some readers had trouble viewing the first post so I reposted it. Please respond to or "re-like" this one.]