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On Death and Dying … a Conversation

18 May

 

 

 

 

On Death and Dying … a Conversation

By L. Stewart Marsden

“Are you afraid?”

“Of dying, or death?”

“Of either.”

“Of dying — well I’m a little wary of that part. I have a low threshold for pain, you know.”

“What about death?”

“That’s the easy part. Everybody before me, and everybody after me has and will do it. I think we have it wrong, though.”

“How’s that?”

“Most are convinced it’s a final destination. Like the beach.”

“The beach?”

“Sure. You think about your trip for months on end. You imagine the warm sun and the calming surf and the lack of hurry or care. All of that anticipation.”

“Ok.”

“You pack your car with everything you’ll need, and map out your route, then jump in and start the engine.”

“Right.”

“Along the way you might hit traffic, or a detour — maybe even a wreck or two along the way.”

“Uh-huh.”

“At some point you begin to smell it in the air. The salt. That first indication you are very near. And you get impatient to get there. Or to be the first person in your car to see the ocean.”

“Yes.”

“You arrive, and you get together with your family, who’ve all arrived from different places, traveling different routes, and you mill about and greet one another. Then the inevitable question: how long did it take you to get here?”

“I see.”

“Yeah. So in a way dying is like your trip to the beach, and death is arriving at the beach.”

“Does everyone make it to the beach? You mentioned wrecks along the way.”

“You mean the heaven or hell thing?”

“If you like.”

“Kind of where the metaphor breaks down. So the way I see it, the beach isn’t the destination.”

“No?”

“The better metaphor –– at least the way I see it –– is labor and birth.”

“Why?”

“Labor is what we conceive as our life. In labor, we ease down the birth canal, and there are trying times along the way. We are distorted and pushed on every side. It’s cramped, dark, and –– frankly, uncomfortable most of the journey.

“Then, towards the end, we begin to see a little daylight ahead, and that daylight gets brighter and brighter. So does the pain and the difficulty. Again, maybe we get stuck. But you see we aren’t with anyone else. It’s just us. Just me. Just you. Our individual gauntlet to face and bear. Finally, we emerge –– to the applause of those waiting our arrival. We are swept up and held close and cradled in the arms of Someone who has been patiently anticipating us.”

“And who is that Someone?”

“You want me to say God, right?”

“I want to know what you think. You can say whatever you like.”

“I don’t know the answer to that, only that I’m excited to find out.”

“So you aren’t afraid you’re going to end up in one place or other?”

“Let me ask you something.”

“Okay.”

“You believe in God?”

“I do.”

“And is God male or female?”

“I don’t know.”

“Loving or strict?”

“I’d say both.”

“So there’s room in God’s lexicon for the two to exist juxtaposed?”

“Juxtaposed isn’t a word I would use, but, yes.”

“So a loving and strict God can appoint my afterlife to either a heavenly or hellish eternity?”

“Are you afraid of hell?”

“Do you mean, am I sure of my eternal destination?”

“I suppose.”

“For a complicated and unknowable God, that question seems too simplistic.”

“Well, how do you see it, then?”

“More complicated, of course. I’m not so sure our heavens and hells are after we die, but before it. And I’m not so sure we have only one life and death.”

“You believe in reincarnation?”

“Not in the sense I come here as human, live and die, and come back as a caterpillar.”

“Then how?”

“Have you lived a perfect life?”

“Of course not.”

“But a good life?”

“I try.”

“Why?”

“Why try? I suppose it’s in my nature to do the best I can.”

“Is it enough?”

“Enough for what?”

“To get into heaven.”

“To get into heaven you must be born …”

“Again! Exactly!”

“It’s a spiritual rebirth. Not a physical one.”

“Are you sure?”

“I –– we’re talking about you, not me.”

“I’m absolutely fine with the rebirth thing. It makes sense to me. I was, I am, and I will be. Even the Bible says ‘you are gods.’”

“That’s not what it means.”

“No? Are you sure? When Christ said, ‘It is finished,’ what did he mean by that?”

“He meant that the battle between good and evil was finished. That his death –– his blood and his body –– were the atonement for the sins of Man.”

“And you believe that?”

“I do.”

“So it was a done deal?”

“A done deal.”

“Then why hell?”

“Beg your pardon?”

“That’s why I’m not afraid of death. God has something far more wonderful for me than I can ever imagine. IF what you say is true.”

“So you do believe in God?”

“What I believe … will it change anything?”

“In what way?”

“In terms of me living or dying. This body of mine is going to wear out. Built-in obsolescence.”

“It won’t change whether you will die or not. It might change how you live, however.”

“But, everything I’ve done up to this point in my life –– none of that will be undone? I can’t take the bad things back, right?”

“Right.”

“What if I could? What if this life of mine is like a slinky toy, and it spirals slowly, each circumnavigation a lifetime?”

“A slinky is analogous to reincarnation?”

“Crude, I know –– but it serves my purpose. Let’s add another element. Do you believe in the laws of physics?”

“What I understand of them.”

“Well, gravity is the easiest, I suppose. The apple from the tree thing. Are you familiar with the Law of Conservation of Energy?”

“That energy always exists in some form or fashion, never diminishing?”

“Close enough.”

“It’s a theory, I believe.”

“Ah, like heaven and hell? But you understand heaven and hell to be spiritual absolutes, and Conservation of Energy is an absolute scientific law.”

“What’s your point?”

“My point is that I –– me –– the energy of who I am –– will not dissipate nor diminish. Not ever. Not one iota. It may transfer to a different form, but it won’t be lost.”

“So you think you are eternal?”

“Have been for a very long time now.”

“And by that you are equal to the god who created you?”

“Didn’t say that. I am the product of whatever caused me to be created. I am energy. Like everything around us. By virtue of that, I –– or my energy –– will be forever.”

“Namaste.”

“Don’t be sarcastic. If you think about it, it’s hard to argue against.”

“So it’s black and white with you, then?”

“Explain, please.”

“Science and what you call incontrovertible fact or theory, versus the existence of an all-knowing, supreme being.”

“I didn’t say that. I’m certainly open to an omniscient being. But I’m also open to the thought we could be in the bedroom of a four-year-old who is controlling all of this! Which is less absurd?”

“You compare God to a four-year-old?”

“It’s the Old Testament/New Testament contrast. To me, after all of the stuff in the Old Testament, God grew up a bit. Like that bit with Abraham and Isaac. He didn’t know Abraham was going to be obedient and would actually kill his own son? How’s that possible? Was that for Abraham’s sake? Or did he figure The paparazzi was going to start showing up at these events? So he learned from his own creation, and looked over and chose his son to come down and make things right.”

“Hush your mouth!”

“Sorry. I didn’t mean to offend. I mean, how could God ever learn something from his own creation? Is that outside the scope of possibility? I thought all things are possible with God.

“Seems to me there’s enough evidence –– especially over the millennia –– that humankind has been going through this very slow slinky toy evolution process. We are learning that our impulses for power and dominance over each other and the world we live in are not the ones to guide us –– especially if one rejects the concept of survival of the fittest –– which has usually meant the most physically powerful and aggressive.

“What if survival of the fittest meant mentally and emotionally and spiritually fit? What then?More and more of us are rejecting how things have been, learning from the results of those base and instinctive primitive impulses. Fear and hate of those different from us. Clear-cutting and ravaging the land and its resources.

“So you asked am I afraid of death? Just the dying part. Mostly because I’m a wimp. But to me, being dead is either going to be mental oblivion, or rebirth, and a chance to continue that progressive evolution trend towards something bigger and better and kinder and more satisfying. I can die with that.

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The Fourth Wall

15 Sep

The Fourth Wall*

 

By L. Stewart Marsden

 

Charlie Dipple walks into the modest living room from his bedroom and stands in the middle of the space, just behind the large couch that forms the anchor for a seating area. Two comfy chairs are on either side of the couch and are perpendicular to it, framing three sides of the area. End tables with Tiffany lamps help define the seating area. An oval oriental rug with an ornately carved round coffee table forms the focus of the furniture.

Doors leading to his bedroom, a bathroom, the kitchen and a second bedroom are located on three of the four walls. The apartment door is on the far right wall, and has a peep-hole as well as several locks fastened to it. The fourth wall is comprised of two glass panels separated by a two-panel sliding glass door. The sitting area is oriented so that it faces that wall.

Dipple looks out the glassed wall at the skyline of Manhattan. He walks around the couch and one of the chairs and sits in that chair. He plucks a newspaper from the coffee table, switches on the lamp next to him, pulls out his black-frame half-lensed reading glasses and opens the newspaper with both hands, spreading it before him above his lap.

Then he hears it.

A cough.

Putting the newspaper down on his lap, his head cocked to one side, he says, “Miriam? Are you home from work?”

No answer. He shrugs and resumes reading the newspaper.

Again, a cough.

“Miriam? Sounds like you’re coming down with something, Dear,” he says, assuming Miriam has not heard him call to her, and that she is busy in the kitchen.

“Shall we have the leftover veal, or do you want to try the new French restaurant on West 64th, or would you rather go to Buvette? I don’t really have a preference. The veal would be fine, but I am in a bit of a French mood.”

No answer.

“Can you not hear me talking, Miriam?”

No answer. He puts the paper back on the table and gets up to walk into the kitchen, disappearing behind the mahogany swing door.

“Miriam?” His voice is muffled behind the door.

Dipple re enters the living room, a look of consternation on his face.

“That’s odd! I could have sworn Miriam coughed from one of the rooms!”

Cough.

“The bathroom!” He hurries to the bathroom door and knocks gently. “Miriam, are you in there? Is everything okay?”

No answer.

“Maybe the guest room,” he says, and crosses up to the guest bedroom door and exits, closing the door behind him.

He re enters and stands perplexed, scratching his head.

“You are losing it, Charlie Dipple!” He crosses to a wet bar buffet against the wall and pours himself a drink from a crystal decanter. “Bottoms up!” he toasts himself, and swigs the drink.

“Ahhh! Nothing like a smooth bourbon to calm my nerves. Really, everyone hears things that aren’t. And everyone talks to themselves, which is also normal and you don’t have to worry,” he said, crossing back to his chair. “Unless – unless you begin to talk to yourself in the process – which is EXACTLY WHAT I”M DOING!”

A wave of laughter.

He stands abruptly, and walks to the glass wall, looking out.

“Okay! THAT was NOT my imagination! THAT was someone laughing! Not just someone, but a whole shitload of someones laughing!”

More laughter. And a cough.

Dipple puts his nose against the glass wall, staring intently, his hands cupped on either side of his face in attempt to ward off the fading sunlight. His liquored breath steams the glass in a roundish pattern. Then he stands back, and moves upstage to his chair. He grabs the newspaper angrily, shaking it open, and begins to read.

Another cough. And a laugh.

He continues to read, gripping the newspaper tightly.

Silence.

A titter.

“I’m ignoring you,” he says through clenched teeth, still obscured behind the newspaper. Then, very slowly, he drops the newspaper on the fourth wall side, peering around the paper.

A low wave of laughter.

He jumps to his feet and storms back downstage to the window, crumpled newspaper in one hand.

“WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON?”

More laughter.

“Are you SPYING on me? Are you the government, for God’s sake – ‘cause I pay my goddam taxes. Reluctantly, I will admit.”

More laughter.

“Who and where ARE you? You can’t be out in the air! We’re thirty-eight stories up!”

Titter.

He begins to feel the glass surface with his hands, rubbing as though cleaning it.

“No microphones. I don’t see any drones outside. What the effing-hell is going on here?”

Laughter.

“I’m warning you! Shut the eff up or I’m gonna do something really drastic – I mean it!”

More laughter.

He exits upstage to his bedroom and comes back in a moment with a handgun, which he frantically loads with a bullets.

“I am NOT kidding! I don’t know what the eff is going on, but it is NOT funny!”

More laughter.

He takes the gun with both hands, walks down to the glass wall, and draws the gun up level to his eyes, pointed at the window.

Laughter

“PLEASE! PLEASE STOP LAUGHING! DON’T MAKE ME DO THIS!”

Hysterical laughter.

He shoots six times until the revolver is spent, and only the click of the hammer is heard.

Silence.

Dipple drops his arms to his side, gun in one hand, and begins to sob.

Slow, crescendoing clapping.

Dipple looks up, and realizes the clapping is for him. He stands straight and tall, arms to the side, and bows deeply from the waist, tears streaming down his cheeks.

Bravo! Bravo! BRAVO!

He exits into the bedroom and shuts the door.

All the lights in the apartment dim to black.

A few moments later a loud bang is heard from the bedroom.

Silence.

A key rattles in the lock of the door to the apartment, and the door cracks open. A woman’s hand slips in through the crack and flicks the light switch on the wall next to the door.

The lights come up.

A dapper woman, attractive, enters, laden with several shopping bags.

She crosses toward the kitchen door.

“Charlie, I’m home! I’ve got some things to go with the leftover veal, but if you’d rather, we can go out. I’m kinda in the mood for Italian.” And exits into the kitchen, the swinging door flapping to a close behind her.

Laughter.

†††††

 

*All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players
;

– William Shakespeare, As You Like It, Act II, Scene vii