"The life of the dead is placed in the memory of the living."--Marcus Tullius Cicero
The mother of some of our dearest friends passed away this morning, and it's kicked me down the lane. Of course, I'm only experiencing a fraction of a fraction of the grief her family is undergoing, and it'd be wrong of me to interject myself into their catastrophe. I don't want to do that. What I can tell you is it's reminded me of people I've lost, and that I've reached the age at which, as a character in the Indiana Jones fourquel says, "life stops giving us things and starts taking them away." I feel a breath of the loss Amanda and I will feel when our own parents are gone. I'm reminded of how close we came to losing my brother to that odious murderer, cancer, the same monster that stole another cherished life this morning. I feel heavy with mortality. It's the heaviness of winter and sorrow.
When my stepfather died, everyone wanted to tell us they were praying for us. I knew what they meant. They meant they were thinking about us and feeling the same helpless peripheral emotions I feel for my own friends today. But my stepdad was not a churchgoer. I'm not sure he ever had been. He believed in God, I think, but in much the same way he believed in Elvis or Steve McQueen. Like Han Solo, he felt the safest religion was a good blaster at your side. And if it strikes you as obnoxious that I've already quoted two popcorn movies in this meditation, well, get ready to hate me even more, because my own religion dwells mostly in theaters--in the hush of an opening curtain, the incense of butter on popcorn, the held breath between an emotional gut punch and applause. I must be true to it now. I must explain where it leaves me on the subject of mortality, and for that, I must also implore your forgiveness.
I've written before  on the subject of the human soul. I don't believe some invisible ghost drives my body from the great beyond, nor do I believe I'll look down on you from heaven after my inevitable fourteen-car pile-up. But I do think we are more than our substance. We're told by the Internet, incorrectly, that our cells are replaced every seven years. In fact, some of our cells (sperm and colon cells, for example) last mere days. The neurons in our brains, however, last for decades, and if one of them dies, it is not replaced. But I still think it's true that everything about us changes, minute to minute, all the time, and one can never step in the same river twice. So as I go through my years, feeling much the same as I did at age twenty, even as the mirror reminds me over and over again that I'm someone older and dumpier, I have to wonder what it is about us that makes us US. I feel comfortable calling that configuration of neurons and data my soul. I don't know how that works. I don't think anyone does. But I know what I am has expanded to include all my writing, stories about me, my reputation, my friendships, the impact I had on people's lives, and so many other things I may not even consciously know about. And I am sure those things will outlast me. Not forever, I know, but dear God, I can't say I'm that greedy.
George Lucas says, and I have no reason to doubt him, that when he first wrote about the Force he was trying to find some common denominator between all the world's major religions. I think that Venn-diagram nexus is a wonderful place to seek divinity. And when Ben Kenobi faces death, he says, "If you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you can possibly imagine." In Star Wars parlance, we say he "becomes one with the Force." Then, of course, he turns into a kind of internal Oprah for a while, whispering life advice into Luke's ear and retconning the story of Anakin Skywalker's demise. Well, whatever. The point is this: we are already more powerful than we can possibly imagine. We have expanded beyond our physical volume. We are in other people, right now, and they are also in us. The Force is created by our lives. It surrounds us and binds us. Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter. And I understand that now, in a less woo-woo way than I absorbed it when I was twelve. Now, some people hang onto a literal doctrine of souls their whole lives, and honestly, who the hell am I to judge them for that? But I don't need the New Jerusalem anymore. I don't need to believe my absent loved ones are waiting for me in some gated retirement community in the sky. What I need is to take a quiet moment, and I do, more often than most people know, to feel their echoes in the person I've become.
What I'm trying to say is I know I'll be meeting you again, Mister...I'm sorry, what was your name again? "Is it about the hedge?...It's a 'Mister Death' or something; he's come about the reaping? I don't think we need any at the moment." I know there are massive blows waiting in my future, blows that will gouge me in ways I can't possibly predict. I guess it's possible that Ray Kurzweil & Co. are right about the singularity and uploading me into the cloud, but if that's pie-eyed bunk, which it probably is, I'm over halfway to my own fateful moment. And I know some of you think that must make me a deeply unhappy, unsatisfied, un-spiritually-fulfilled person, but I must beg to differ. The truth is I feel the wonder and majesty and beauty of life more often, more profoundly, more insistently than I can possibly tell you. We are animal flesh, but we are not merely animals. We are solo acts, but also part of a choir. We are loved and WE ARE LOVE. We are the people we love. They are us. And cells are born, and cells die, and neurons wither, and where the hell are my keys? And when all is said and done, we are not said and done. Our echoes call to others through time. We are one with the force of human life, and we don't close the show just 'cause some stupid interloper turns out the lights.