Friday, February 23, 2018

The earth, sadly, lives on

John Quincy Adams, sixth President of the U. S., died on this day in 1848. His last words:

"This is the last of earth. I am content!"

This is also the date of death (in 1821) of poet John Keats. He wrote:

"The poetry of the earth is never dead."

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Where am I?

Put 'em up, Beezlebub

Billy Graham, the 99-year-old preacher who was just about as famous as God, died yesterday. Graham wrote his last of many books when he was a spry 95. At the time I wrote this review of Where I Am: Heaven, Eternity and Our Life Beyond.

With this latest tome (his 38th  or so, and counting) Reverend Graham aims to fill us in on our futures, which is laudable, seeing as how the future, as The Amazing Criswell used to say, is where most of us will spend the rest of our lives. But what Dr. Graham has in mind is even more helpful than an outline of our earthly destiny: he wants to tell us about life beyond the grave, and how to prepare for it.

“Join me in these brief chapters as we explore together what the Bible says about the two roads to eternity,” he says breezily in the introduction to his book (which is, I confess, all that I read of it). The roads are Heaven and Hell, and they lead to eternity, but Heaven and Hell are eternities in themselves, so how can they also be—but never mind. We get the idea: It’s not over when it’s over, not by a long shot.

The bad news, as Graham assures us, is that Hell is as real a place as Heaven. Most people, he says, are okay with the former while remaining dubious about the latter—from a personal standpoint, that is. As he puts it, “Many…believe they will go there (Heaven) because God is a God of love. Many of these same people, however, reject that Hell is real.”

That willful blindness occurs because people forget that God is also a God of righteousness, and the blindness is the Dark One’s doing, Graham explains. “Hell was created for the devil and his demons,” he says, “and Satan wants to take the world with him into this diabolical place.” (To show off the d├ęcor, maybe.)

How do we escape this kidnapper’s clutches? “We must confess our sin, turn from it, and receive Christ on His terms…Continuing in rebellion against God, whether the sin be pride or murder, will send souls to Hell.”    

Well, if murder is no greater an offense than pride, why not do the murder or murders we want, confess, and then get right with Christ, thus punching our ticket to Heaven?

But what’s the use of sarcasm, or indeed any kind of a dissenting response, to the Grahamian worldview? He’s impervious to it, because he knows he’s right, because, as he crows again and again, “the Bible says so.”  

To Graham’s credit, he’s still churning out these pronunciamentos at an age when most of us wouldn’t be able to lift a pencil. But wasn’t there an editor available, at least? Maybe one could have tidied up such purple passages as this one:

“(The unrepentant) will face the inferno of God’s wrath that will last not an hour but for all the never-ending hours of forever.”

As Graham nears his centennial (he’s almost as old as God, too), he assures his followers and readers that “Where I Am” is in a good place—“with my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”

But not too close to God, perhaps. He seems like an unstable character.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Who does 75?

A friend sent me a link to an article published in The Atlantic in 2014, written by a man named Ezekiel Emanuel (too bad he’s not a religious scholar), explaining why he only wants to live to be 75.

His motives for setting this upper limit are all ostensibly generous: he’ll be emancipating his kids to concentrate on their own lives, he’ll have done all he wants to do and contributed all he has to contribute, he won’t be taking up space and resources better allotted to someone younger.  Nowhere in his lengthy essay is there any trace of a notion that his desires are anything but modest. I’ll take the 75 years as my due.

Emanuel’s piece is off-puttingly self-serving, particularly for someone who claims to know when to shuffle that self off. He’ll stick to his guns, he says, despite his daughters’ most earnest pleas. If he gets cancer at or near 75, he won’t get treated. (Unsettling, considering that he’s an oncologist.) And he wants to have a memorial service for himself before he dies.

The article is full of statistics, all of which point toward the fact—which Emanuel seems to regard as a revelation—that one’s later years are generally “not of high quality.” He brings up the concept of the “compression of morbidity,” a term I’ve never heard before but which he cites as a source of many Americans’ dogged determination to live as long as they can. The gist of the idea is that the longer we live, the healthier we’ll be. I’ve never met anyone who believes this.

In fact, a slew of studies, some of which Emanuel mentions, confirms the opposite—that increasing age brings increasing disability. But do we really need a study to show us this? Experience is the best teacher—but then Emanuel was a mere whipper-snapper of 57 when he wrote his piece.

After spending several thousand words in adamantly defending his stance, Emanuel—spoiler alert!--demurs in his last paragraph, saying that he reserves the right to change his mind when he reaches the magic 75. If he’s “still being creative,” he says, then he’ll give it some more thought.

In other words, Emanuel is like most of us: we have every intention of bowing out gracefully when the time comes, but time is not an absolute.
Read the article here

Ezekiel Emanuel is an author with his own Wikipedia page. Visit it here

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

He'll know what to do with him

Hunter S. Thompson, the founder of gonzo journalism, the author of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, and a world-class debauchee, committed suicide on this day in 2005. He wrote:

"You better take care of me, Lord, if you don't you're gonna have me on your hands."

Monday, February 19, 2018

You mean there are lawns in Hell?

French author Andre Gide died on this day in 1951. He wrote:

"In Hell there is no other punishment than to begin over and over again the tasks left unfinished in your lifetime." 

Today's Deathless Verse:

My Hell would have a feline
Making a beeline
For its litter box,
While Oprah squawks
In one ear, and a rap song
That's hours long,
Plays in the other,
While I start to smother
Under cat fur and litter
That the loathsome critter
Sends flying my way
All night and all day.
I don't know how 
Else to describe it, except: Not the cat's meow.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Up in arms

After every mass shooting severe enough to attract the attention of the press and the populace, the NRA makes its case for more guns in our country.

Many people, some of them reasonable enough, assert that, since there are already so many guns in the hands of the American public, it would be impossible to disarm it, so we might as well encourage everyone to go armed--in a responsible manner, that is.

Maybe all writers ought to champion gun possession, it being hallowed by our Bill of Rights (although it does specify a well-armed militia), in a paragraph right next to the one protecting our freedom of the press. Freedom is precious and comes from God, we’re told, and perhaps our Founding Fathers were preternaturally wise, even while foreseeing an age of drive-by shootings and mass murders in enclosed spaces, in decreeing that guns are eternally good.

They did see clearly that government was bad, incorrigibly so, and that it would be necessary from time to time to take arms against a sea of troubles, and by opposing have them repealed. “All political power comes from the barrel of a gun,” Chairman Mao reminded us, which may explain why, as citizens feel themselves more and more powerless to affect the elements that control their lives, they clutch their guns ever closer. With prosperity, security—even a modicum of contentment—forever slipping through your fingers, a gun is something you can grasp.

“You’re a liberal; you’re probably scared of guns,” I’ve been told by more than one person through the years. They were right, at least on the second count. Guns scare me. In an altercation involving a gun, I would be as a lamb led to slaughter.  

On the other hand, I am positively leonine in my opposition to guns. Well, not positively. How about somewhat? I would not, for example, argue too vociferously with those who love them—after all, they have all the guns.

Everyone is insane in his own way, Mark Twain once wrote, and at least several times a day we are all temporarily, murderously insane. These moments generally lead to nothing, he said, because the opportunity is seldom at hand at the same moment as the murderous impulse. “This saves a million lives a day in the world—for sure,” he concluded.

Today, there are more than 300 million guns in this country. Guns are responsible for roughly 33,000 deaths a year in America. Every month, it seems, brings another murderous event on a large scale. We are horrified, but then we move on. Our politicians steadfastly refuse to address the issue of gun violence. 

The pen is mightier than the sword, it’s been said, but a pen can’t stand up to a gun. A senator ought to be willing to, though. He ought to be able to imagine all those leading lives of quiet desperation, who may sooner or later experience the “immense upheaval of feeling” that Twain described, that can send them over the sanity-line and cause them to want to make a noise in the world. And when they do, “it is the noise the occurrence makes in the world that breeds subsequent occurrences, by unsettling the rickety minds of men.”

“Nothing will check the occurrences but absolute silence,” Twain wrote. “By abolishing all newspapers; by exterminating all newspaper men; and by extinguishing God’s most elegant invention, the Human Race.”

Maybe God does want us to have guns.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Miracles happen every day

Heinrich Heine, German poet and writer, died on this day in 1856. He wrote:

Sleep is lovely, death is better still, not to have been born is of course the miracle.”  

A philosopher who believes that people should stop having children is called an “anti-natalist.” David Benatar is one such thinker; he argues that everyone should refrain from bringing more souls into this world, out of compassion. So, you want to make the world a better place? Help us all disappear.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Kicking the bucket (on down the road)

I'll get to it later

In a New York Times op-ed piece last week, Clyde Haberman wrote about our fondness for compiling lists of things we’d like to do or see before we die.

That old bugbear, “a new study,” showed that 91 percent of us have made a “bucket list.” Haberman marvels at the nine percent who have not. “Are we to believe that nothing in their basket of wishes is unfulfilled?” he wonders snarkily. 

Why is this hard to believe? Is it so remarkable that some of us, in fact, may have never had a basket, and don’t have a bucket? While Haberman may think we need to live a little, could it be, possibly, that some or all of the toothless tenth of those surveyed have no particular desire to go down kicking, having decided, for one reason or another, that they’ve lived enough already?   

Haberman does mention the reverse bucket list, comprised of things the compiler has no intention of ever doing—why not call it the _uckit list?—such as climbing Mount Everest, visiting Las Vegas, reading Proust, or meeting the Dalai Lama. (I suppose it would be helpful to carry such a list around with you as you grow steadily older and more forgetful, just in case someone invites you to climb Mount Everest and you’re tempted to accept.)

Haberman makes an odd statement: “Perhaps not surprisingly, those who put stock in religion and spirituality were more likely to compile such a (bucket) list than those of little faith.” Why is this not surprising? Shouldn’t the non- or irreligious, being more likely not to believe in another life, be more prone to want to live it up while they can?

Scuba diving and appearing on Dr. Phil head up my reverse bucket list. What’s on yours?  Your comments are welcome. 

For help with your bucket list, of whatever variety, go here

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Nothing like living, though

One is enough
Phycicist Richard P. Feynman died on this day in 1988. His last words:

"I'd hate to die twice. It's so boring."

Feynman won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1965 and has been named one of the ten greatest physicists of all time. He was portrayed by Matthew Broderick in the movie Infinity.

What do other celebs think about death? If you care, click here.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Welcome to the crematorium

Farewell, my lovely

I read Caitlin Doughty’s Smoke Gets in Your Eyes (And Other Lessons From the Crematory) in the large-print edition (I don’t know what’s gotten into my eyes) and found the front cover quite beautiful but the insides…well, deathly dull, frankly, considering the potential.

Doughty takes a job at a place she calls Westwind Cremation & Burial, a family-owned mortuary, or funeral home, in order to confront death head-on. She’s thrown into the trenches right off, assigned to operate (and clean out afterwards) the cremation machines, and to prepare the corpses for incineration. Scraping the remains of one party from the furnace, she finds that the skull is still warm. Everybody (or every body), she unboxes in order to consign to the flames is “a new adventure,” like opening presents on Christmas. “(Each) encounter,” she writes, “was an engagement with reality that was precious, and quickly becoming addictive.”

She sticks with it, despite constant misgivings, while frequently revising her attitudes toward death. In the beginning she had thought she’d like to have a place of her own, one that would put the “fun” into funerals; in the end, she still wants to run her own mortuary, but this one will be “both intimate and open, with floor-to-ceiling windows to let the sunshine in and keep the weirdo death stigma out.”

She does, in fact, start a website, The Order of the Good Death, designed to help people make death a part of their lives and overcome “death anxiety.”

The mission is admirable, even if the book is rather bland, given to clunky segues and off-key prose, with a rather pallid cast of characters. It’s worth reading, though, if only to learn what will happen to your mortal coil if you opt, as more than fifty percent of us do, to be cremated.