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.
Comports to what I have read, Dr. Clark. Buddhists differ from Hindus mainly in refuting the notion of an individual soul. What reincarnates, if anything (and, yes, they do believe in a form of reincarnation) is "skandas," aspects of personality carried over from former lives. Gautama is said to have died telling his followers to doubt everything and everyone; examine things for yourself, make your own mind up about everything. As we know, most members of the monotheistic religions doubt nothing and are thus stuck in the quagmire of belief.
Some of this is expressed in the Buddha's Sermon to the Kalamas:
Do not believe in anything simply because you have heard it.
Do not believe in anything simply because it is spoken and rumored by many.
Do not believe in anything simply because it is found written in your religious books.
Do not believe in anything merely on the authority of your teachers and elders.
Do not believe in traditions because they have been handed down for many generations.
But after observation and analysis, when you find that anything agrees with reason and is conducive to the good and benefit of one and all, then accept it and live up to it.
That's it, Dr. Clark. Thanks for giving me the entire quotation. Words to live by!
I am not worried about a death bed conversion because I have no desire to go to heaven. The biblical description of heaven sounds really boring to me and I have no desire to see many of my relatives or acquaintances again. I just want to go to eternal sleep since sleeping is one of my favorite pastimes. I like the thought of returning to mother earth and maybe being part of a wildflower meadow. I have no intention of hastening death but I do not fear it either. I have had a wonderful life and I am getting a bit tired now.
Getting tired and growing more and more willing to slip into a permanent rest is something hard for young people to understand and accept. For many people illness takes them away before they can experience the later years, but others whose work is done, who have had a good life, may find less and less to look forward to as they go on and find it easy to accept the end. Henry Adams called it the Indian Summer of life and said:
“The Indian Summer of life should be a little sunny and a little sad, like the season, and infinite in wealth and depth of tone, but never hustled.”
In Washington State, same sex weddings may be held in the same way that I married my late wife. That is, the happy couple smokes a big joint and invites over a guy from the mail order church to come over and say a few words, my former resistance movement mentor. Then friends came over and learned gradually of the earlier wedding. But stoner weddings are going to be the wave of the future. I just hope everyone can get up the next day and realize it really happened.
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.
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.
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.
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.