Coming back?

The other day the boys and I were talking about the afterlife, and that if such a thing exists, would any of the four of us want to “come back.” I was the only one to answer “yes.”

It’s important to keep in mind that the average age of us four boys is seventy-five, and we all have, in one way or another, faced a life-threatening medical crisis. “All the ills that flesh is heir to,” as Willie Shakespeare wrote, tends to color one’s perspective on life and time. While I can imagine a life devoid of suffering, I don’t happen to know anyone who’s actually lived that way. This matter of suffering is foundational to the teachings of the Buddha, who in explicating the Four Noble Truths, provided his view of how to get off the continuous wheel of repeatedly suffering life and death, a way to avoid coming back.

My friends feel that coming back is not something they want to do; they’ve had enough of the anxiety, challenges, loneliness and discomfort they variously feel. These are not, I should mention, morose gentlemen; to the contrary, they laugh readily, banter with gusto and have each, in his own particular way, lived and interesting life. They’ve just, as they say, had enough. Despite their preference, however, if the Buddha was correct, they’ll be back.

I’ve gone on to ask others I know how they feel about the idea of coming back. Some equivocate, saying that it depends upon how the world is faring, but when I insist that they have no say in such conditions, they’ve all said, “no thanks.” I must say I’m surprised.

This matter of what happens after death preoccupies most of humanity; world religions involving billions of people are focused upon it. Although we in America are loathe to bring up the certainty of death in casual conversation, as a culture we are fixated on it, as evidenced by the flood of popular books and movies featuring “the undead.”

Personally, the possibility of an afterlife does not interest me very much. If there is one, I’ll have to deal with it, and if there is not, well, there will be nothing to deal with at all. The whole idea of an afterlife presumes the possibility of an eternal “self” which will experience it, and while I accept the notion that energy and matter are eternal, when it comes to an everlasting “me,” I part ways with eternalism.

Eternal life aside, I answered “yes” because I enjoy living. Despite unpleasant bouts of medical this and medical that, many of which have been painful and uncertain, being alive constantly fills me with wonder. Simple things like entering a tub full of hot water or feeling a cool breeze on a warm day are enough to make me feel gratitude and appreciation. And ice cubes, of course, and cute babies, the smell of coffee, and a good night’s sleep. Add to that the love of others and some freshly picked wild blackberries and I’m totally hooked. Maybe I’m just lucky and should I “come back” my good luck won’t hold, but I’d take that chance in a split second.

How about you? Want to “come back”?

4 thoughts on “Coming back?

    1. I have, and more than a few say they’re “done.” I even know one who is already making plans. Ah well.

  1. Yeats, in a poem with a Buddhist theme speaks of “the crime of life and death” and claims “…as, if by soldiers right, a license to commit the crime once more.”
    Personally, I just wish I could learn to be as indifferent about death as death is indifferent about me.

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