Wissot: Why I am not planning for the afterlife (column)
I don’t know what happens to us when we die and haven’t devoted much time to the subject. I probably should because I’m in my 70s and will be finding out soon enough. It could be that I’m in denial about the looming end to my existence. But it’s more likely that I’m counting on the fact that nobody really knows in an empirical sense what our origins were before birth or what our destination is after death. Maybe I prefer mystery to certainty. I don’t mind being in the dark about the nature of our departure.
I’m really happy with the life I’ve enjoyed up until now. I’m not looking forward to it being over. I’ve had what I consider to be a full life: marriage, kids, family, friends, career, travel. Everyone knows from an early age that we aren’t immortal, but that doesn’t stop us from wishing we were.
Here I am in total agreement with Woody Allen when he said, “I don’t want to achieve immortality through my work; I want to achieve immortality through not dying. I don’t want to live on in the hearts of my countrymen. I want to live on in my apartment” (“The Illustrated Woody Allen Reader,” Woody Allen).
I’m not sure if people who believe in an afterlife do so because they hate the thought of not being here anymore or really yearn for the paradise that awaits them. Neither is true for me. I have deluded myself into thinking that when I cease to exist I won’t know it because I will be dead. Consciousness ends when death begins.
Why fear what you are not going to be aware of when it happens? Am I just kidding myself, duping myself, fooling myself because the thought of being dead scares me? Sure. Probably. Of course. But it’s a really comforting lie. Self-deception is so therapeutic.
Since I’m not religious, I could take a page out of the millennial playbook on how to eschew religion but still believe in an afterlife. According to a recent study, “The large decline in religious practice among young adults is further evidence that millennials are the least religious generation in memory and possibly in American history.”
The study went on to criticize millennials for lacking religious faith but still believing in an afterlife. “It was interesting that fewer people participated or prayed but more believed in an afterlife. It might be part of a growing entitlement mentality — thinking you can get something for nothing (“Fewer Americans believe in God, yet they still believe in afterlife,” Maggie Fox, NBC News, March 22, 2016.)
I certainly don’t want to get something for nothing, whether it is the afterlife or a brand new Rolls Royce. On second thought, let’s not be too hasty in dismissing the Rolls. I haven’t felt the urge to utter Peggy Lee’s plaintive refrain, “Is that all there is?” Life hasn’t disappointed me. But I don’t think an endless existence is the answer to our prayers. I don’t wish to live to age 969. I’ve never suffered from a Methuselah life wish.
Surely, 70-plus, 80-plus, 90-plus years is enough time to make whoopee, wear out the dance floor, gather your rosebuds and exit stage left. Don’t you agree? But that just may be me. I accept uncertainty. I don’t mind ambiguity. And I enjoy the new, the novel, the unanticipated.
In that regard, I believe I am following in the footsteps of that great American philosopher, Yogi Berra. When asked by his wife, Carmen, whether he would like to be buried in Montclair, New Jersey, where they both spent much of their married life together, or in his hometown of St. Louis, Yogi replied, “I don’t know. Why don’t you surprise me” (“The Yogi Book,” Yogi Berra, 1998.)
Jay Wissot is a resident of Denver and Vail. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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