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I OFTEN WONDER


At least once a week I try to spend time in each room of the house. Each room offers its own perspective, and what a host of memories! The room I go into least is my mother's, where I venture only on Mondays in order to vacuum. I'd probably spend more time in there but the dog likes to join me and use it as a walk-in toilet, so I keep the door closed. I've seen him defile garden Buddha statues, the heretic.

Yesterday I found myself in the living room. I haven't spent much time in there for a while. Sitting in the recliner enjoying a fine Montecristo, I reflected on my personal history in that room. How I had sat in the very place, different chair, when as a newly-minted 10-year-old I opened my birthday presents with all my loved ones gathered around me. On receiving each gift I got up to hug and kiss and personally thank the giver. Even then I felt such courtesy and pageantry to be exhausting. These days a verbal thank-you will do, not that many remember my day of all days. (It's around Valentine's Day, in case you're wondering.) When I was 13 I had a sleep-over with my first love, Christina. We slept on the living room floor, along with my brothers and sister and the family dog, Bailey, a Doberman with atrocious flatulence. The following summer Christina spent the night a second time, and I sneaked into the living room to join her on the couch for cuddling and then some. By "then some" I mean I almost lost my virginity. If it weren't for lack of sexual stamina and possibly the grace of God I'd be the proud parent of a 30-year-old. That really makes me feel old.

It wasn't until college that I began using the chair as my meditation spot, spending a half hour each morning before school to contemplate the day ahead whilst enjoying some coffee. And during semester breaks from medical school I liked to read science fiction novels by the fire, with or without a cigar to keep me company. As you might guess I am never lonely. Lovers of solitude rarely are. To quote the philosopher Hannah Arendt, "to be in solitude means to be with one's self, and thinking, therefore, though it may be the most solitary of all activities, is never altogether without a partner and without company." 

When I don't have my thoughts there is always a book within arm's reach, and maybe a glass of Scotch. Ha! My best friends are inanimate objects. But think of it. Most conversations you have with real people descend to the banal and are riddled with platitudes. Can you say derivative? But a book requires its author to dwell extensively on the topic, and to work and rework the phrases until the finished product is, if not a masterpiece, at least a carefully crafted work of prose. And I only read masterpieces, which I define as either standing the test of time or being highly rated on Amazon. 

I too can be a philosopher at times. Philosophy is the love of wisdom, and solitude is where wisdom lies. Goodness is wisdom to the saint, who exchanges solitude for loneliness. Because goodness can't be witnessed, and yet loneliness is unbearable for any extended length of time (for humans are social creatures) and therefore needs the company of God. That's me philosophizing, and paraphrasing a philosopher. 

Whilst still in the living room, my gaze turned to a picture I had placed above the fireplace in honor of my late mother. I locked eyes with her photographed face and remembered the year the picture was taken. In 1989 my mom was 44. "Oh my," cried I. For I too am twice 22. At this age my mother had a husband and a home and three adolescent boys, with me as her eldest at 16. She also had dope pearl earrings, eighties hair and wore mom shorts. Instead of all this, I...the word that came to mind as I gazed at the picture of me holding my mom's picture (for your viewing pleasure) was "haggard." Which my mom never was, not even on her death bed. The fruit can fall far from the tree, I guess. We have different paths. And she was done up for the shoot, while I have bed-head.

When my mother was still alive she lamented having to die. She told me what kept her alive was the desire to see how my life would turn out. So sweet! There really is nothing like a mother's love. I replied that as long as she was living with cancer, I was living with cancer, and my life would not change at least until she was gone, so if she wanted to view my trajectory she better stick around in the spirit realm. I can be frank - to a fault you might say. But need I remind you that in German frank means free man? We all should be more frank. Those conversations would be less banal, and I'd probably have more of them.Eight months after my mom's passing, my life has hardly changed but for her absence. A few months ago she visited me in a dream and said it would be her last time coming here. I wasn't sure if by "here" she meant her last time visiting the house or her last incarnation as a human. I asked her to stay with me until my time had come to die. In lieu of an answer she disappeared in my arms. Or maybe the answer was "No, you're on your own." I often think of the nature of the afterlife. There are no hard and fast rules to be had, only speculation. There are as many theories as there are religions, and even within the same faith notions on the soul's journey vary. Take Christianity. There are two prevalent views, based upon biblical interpretations. Either God created all souls simultaneously at the beginning of time, or a soul is formed when parents unite at the moment of conception. With so much confusion surrounding the soul's origin it is no wonder that we have no clue as to its destination after death!But most religions posit some sort of afterlife in the spirit realm. Questions arise as to the nature of such realms and the length of stay. That is if time can even be said to pass in Paradise. The Tibetans designate a period of 45 days between a person's death and his rebirth, if in fact he is destined to be reborn at all. My mother last visited me over 90 days after her passing. So either her days on Earth are indeed over, or the Tibetans' timing is off. If reincarnation is real, and a soul has numerous lives, then it is clear that throughout history we accumulate many different spouses and siblings and children. And so at death, rather than confine one's attention to the family just departed, the soul can be said to gain a multitude of long-lost relatives from prior existences and possibly even existences to come. It's a huge family reunion, and the recently bereaved are, if not forgotten, at least not so terribly missed. And yet there are numerous accounts of near-death experiences involving visions of the spirits of the deceased. This could be just a hallucination of the dying mind, wishful thinking on the part of the soon-to-be disembodied. But if it is true that when we die we reunite with our departed relatives, they clearly haven't reincarnated themselves, since if they had they wouldn't be awaiting us in the spirit realm; nor are they lost among some cosmic family, since we wouldn't expect them to be present at our death if they were out frolicking with former flames. It seems then that the spirits of the departed retain close ties with the living. It may be that the roles recently played on Earth, as parent, and sibling and friend, etc., continue for a time in the afterlife, possibly even as long as the living are still alive. Maybe while we are alive, the dead serve as our spirit guides. And though my mom may never take on another human form, she may still be watching me and wondering, whether near or far - and the spirit realm can seem both light years away and as close as your next thought - she may still be wondering how my life will turn out. I often wonder too.

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