I stepped from Plank to Plank
A slow and cautious way
The Stars about my Head I felt
About my feet the Sea.

I knew not but the next
Would be my final inch -
This gave me that precarious Gait
Some call Experience.

Emily Dickinson, c. 1864

Sunday, June 13, 2010

What is life?

This is a picture of my first husband, Derald Heath. This is what he looked like when I met him and ended up marrying him, although we had only known each other a few months. You can see why I was enchanted with his smile, his good looks. He was an airman working in the hospital when my mother was admitted for some reason I can't remember now. Mama spent a lot of time in hospitals, even back then before she had finished her childbearing years.

We had a TV and I was a fan of Ben Casey, a doctor show that started in 1961, right at the time I met Derald. He wore a white coat just like Vince Edwards did in Ben Casey, and he wore it open exactly like in this picture. I thought I was in heaven. When I brought my mother's things to the hospital, Derald asked me out. I was eighteen and smitten.

On our second date, we had sex. It was my first time, and we were in my parents' little Austin Healey Sprite. If you know what the car looks like, you know how challenging it must have been to actually do the deed in that little car. Derald didn't own a car, so I borrowed my parents' car, and we drove to an abandoned gravel pit. Romantic, I know. The moon was full, and I remember very well seeing the mound of white gravel reflecting in the moonlight. It was over before I thought it had begun, since Derald was really only interested in one thing, and I was confused and totally inexperienced.

After driving him back to the base, I remember clearly going home and taking a bath. A hot one. I had a bad feeling about the possibility of becoming pregnant, since we didn't use anything; heck, I didn't even know what that meant in February 1961. I know you can probably guess what happened: my son Chris was conceived that night.

I know it was that night, because it was the only time I allowed that to happen, and it was too late. I knew within a few weeks that something amazing was happening in my body. We were married on March 1, 1961, and Chris was born in November. I wrote a post about that time here.

But this post is really about life. What is it exactly? Derald died in the 1980s, many years ago, and Chris died in 2002. Our other son Stephen is also dead. They are all gone, and I am here, in 2010, writing about these things, these people. I am beginning to look ahead to the inevitable loss of more family, friends, and the end of my own life on earth. It must be something we all begin to ponder eventually, unless we turn away from it and pretend that death is not a fact of life. A precondition of life, if you will. I remember hearing a phrase once that life is a terminal illness, because it always ends in death.

The other day I read a very interesting article about the nature of life, which I will expand upon in my other blog, probably today. I reserve this blog for personal reflections and don't try to keep it short, and don't necessarily follow editorial conventions to grab the reader, tell a story, don't get too verbose. This one is for me, and for any readers to give feedback if they are so moved. I am covetous of the followers on my other blog, sifting the number through my mental hands as if they are jewels that tell me I am worthwhile. Here, when I see another follower has joined, I am a little amazed and try very hard to keep in mind that I am writing for ME, for understanding my own journey, not to amass an audience. I do enjoy the comments, because I learn something about myself, and something about the commonality of our journey through life.

I have always wondered how other people deal with grief. It seems I've had so much of it in my life, but I don't feel it now, or even most of the time. I am naturally optimistic and don't dwell on my losses. At my age, most of my friends have lost their parents, although now and then I'll overhear somebody my age at the gym talking about visiting a parent in a nursing home, and I notice that it seems like a foreign language, since no member of my family has ever lived long enough to end up in one. Years ago I volunteered in one for a short period and found it to be a horrible, horrible place: the vacant stares, the smell, the hopelessness.

But you know, all of those people were at one time vibrant, healthy, productive people. What happened to them? What is real? If we were to actually survive death, in another life, what person emerges into the spiritual realm? If the beautiful infant that was my son Stephen was transported into heaven, did he continue to grow into a man? Surely other people must wonder about these things. Do you? What is life to you?

The article I stumbled upon deals with biocentrism, which says that life creates the universe rather than the other way around. That when we die, space and time reboot, so to speak. It posits that time does not have a real existence outside of our own experience of it, and that space, like time, is not an object or a thing and doesn't exist outside of our own reality. Does that boggle your mind like it does mine?

What it really does, though, that makes me interested in it, is the feeling of peacefulness that comes over me when I think that maybe time and space are rebooted upon our death, and that event has already happened to so many of my loved ones. They aren't dead at all, and when one of them visits me in my dreams, they are just reminding me that we exist outside the space-time continuum.


Blissed-Out Grandma said...

You raise really interesting questions. It seems as though beings capable of such complex thoughts and feelings - capable of reflection on the concept of life - must be more than a collection of materials that simply go back into the earth once we die. Lately I've been kind of stuck there... Earthbound, so to say. However, at other times I've had a strong sense of spirits moving among us. Higher spiritual plane? Wishful thinking? Belief in a different sort of metaphysics? It is definitely uplifting to feel the presence of loved ones after their death. And we enlarge ourselves by being open to possibilities. It's funny, because it circles back to the old Catholic-school teaching about our "immortal souls." But the language was about heaven and hell, etc., rather than the space-time continuum.

Thanks for another heartfelt post!

gigihawaii said...

We will never know for sure until we, ourselves, die...

That said, there have been times when I sensed the spiritual presence of a loved one -- my deceased father, for example. Recently, I even felt my husband's presence while I watched an NBA game alone. He was at work, but I could sense his enjoyment of the game. I told myself that even if David were to die, he would always be with me no matter what.

The Retired One said...

I think of the movie "what dreams may come" with Robin Williams..it was really haunting. In my comment to you on your other blog, I mentioned that I believe that each one of us is a form of energy and that when our human shell dies, our energy merely transforms but does not get extinguished...
In the movie, those that passed from earth remained alive--Robin William's character merely thought of the last form that he knew and their energies on the other side manifested their image as he wanted it to be (as they were on earth) but their images could change (from a dog into a human for instance) if that is what he imagined..the spirit of the person was the same no matter how they appeared.
I like that idea...you can imagine your son as a baby and you will see him as a baby..if you want to imagine what he would be like at 65 you can imagine that and he will be there at that age to talk to you too...why not?

Linda Reeder said...

Yes, it does boggle my mind. And truthfully, I don't give it much thought. Maybe it's because I haven't lost people close to me like you have. But I don't ponder the meaning of life. Life is just being alive, and death is the end of life. I am an agnostic in the true sense of the word. I don't "believe" in things, I only know what there is to know. The purpose of life is to live it the best way you can, and anything after death is an unknown.

Dianne said...

a very favorite quote of mine is - "time is only linear for engineers and referees"

I adored Ben Casey - I was so into the brooding rescue type :)

Whitney Lee said...

You raise some serious questions here...my best answer is that I just don't know. All of these theories are mind boggling, and I often feel that I'm not intelligent enough to comprehend them. I believe that what we believe about the afterlife is what we experience, but what I believe is everchanging.

I have not lost many people close to me. I'm not sure how I will grieve when that time comes. I know that the last couple of deaths I've encountered made me feel as though I wasn't sad enough. I felt as though my detachment was unhealthy. Of course, neither death was a surprise and I was able to accept them as a part of life.

I have read that the purpose of life is to remember all that our souls already know. I don't know if that is true but I like it.

Far Side of Fifty said...

A thought provoking post, I am looking forward to the rest..and you can take it both ways as in I am tired I must rest, and /or the rest of the story. I know there is a heaven, what we will look like..except perfect..(I am looking forward to that part, not too thin not to fat, hair that never needs coloring and a dewy complexion)I am not sure. God will take care of the details..I am just going to have a good time.
Life is what we make of it, good, bad, funny, sad..sometimes I think that we are too hard on ourselves and we should be required to forgive ourselves for past mistakes. Just a thought.

Oh to be young again, and to have hormones that needed to be taken care of in a car..LOL..those were the days..:)

gayle said...

I have a very hard time with death. My mom died when I was 15 and my dad died about 10 years ago. I still miss them and have times that I get depressed. I admire how you have dealt with grief. I don't understand heaven and I do wonder what it will be like. My dad visits me in my dreams but not as much anymore and I never dream about my mom.
I like what Far Side said "oh to be young again and to have hormones"

Gigi said...

This was an absolutely beautiful and moving post (just found this other blog of yours - how have I missed it?) I wish I knew the answers. I don't. At this point in my life, all I can say is live life to the fullest, love and laugh as much as you can - because you don't know what's next.

The Lucy and Dick Show said...

There's a very interesting and comforting thing that happens to a person who has been ill for a very long time. My mother would "dream" about my dad during the last... Oh... Four days of her life. She was very vapid and not very cognitive during those days, (the cancer had gone to her brain and there really wasn't a whole lot of mom left up there,) but we talked about dad's visits and when I told her to say Hi, she said she would!
I too dream about my dead people and I believe that they speak to us in our dreams and so they must exist on a mutual plane of some sort.
They say that sometimes when the phone rings and it's at an interesting moment: When there's someone coming to the door and you're in a compromising situation? That the caller is your guardian angel warning you? It's happened to me many times and I always thank them!
Sometimes we just have to sit still and pay attention, which I know you can do and you can feel and experience what our loved ones have become when they die.
Also, pennies from heaven are just that! The next time you see a penny, stop and pick it up. The year of the penny will tell you who has said hello!
....And Derald was a very cute hunk! I would have driven him to the gravel pit too!

Donna B said...

In your last paragraph, you wrote," They aren't dead at all, and when one of them visits me in my dreams, they are just reminding me that we exist outside the space-time continuum." I believe that. I believe that is how the dead continue to communicate or comfort. I loved my Father's Mother. I am named after my Father and his Mother. I still have periodic dreams of her where she visits me. When my fiance was killed, he came to me. We who are left behind, must deal with our human-ness and our physical bodies. Once we become Spirit, those two anchors fall away and I believe we experience the freedom of being "set free" in a way we cannot know except to compare it to what we feel and experience in our dreams...

Your courage to bear your soul touches me at such a deep level. I cannot adequately express how much I respect your writing and find you so very worthwhile.

You are a connector. You help others find their way. You shine the lights of self discovery into others lives so they can see their own path. Your writing really blows me away.