Misplaced Tolerance: The Price of Practicality

There is a sad, yet well-established history in this country of aligning ourselves with groups and governments that are the antithesis of our cherished love of freedom.

During WWII, we allied ourselves with the Soviet Union for the greater good of defeating Nazi Germany

In Vietnam we supported, some would say orchestrated, a violent coup which overthrew one tyrannical government in favor of one more to our liking. We then supported this government in its battle against the communist north under Ho Chi Minh. Of course, we supported Ho Chi Minh prior to that when he fought against the Japanese. Yet we did not support Ho Chi Minh when they fought against French colonialism, after all, Vietnam does not fall under the umbrella of the Monroe doctrine.

We did it again in Kuwait, aligning ourselves with one dynastic, Islamic royalty against the country of Iraq. Among our allies, Saudi Arabia. The house of Saud is a theocratic dynastic royalty which embraces Sharia law.

Now our latest, supporting false democratic governments in Iraq and Afghanistan.

These alliances make sense if one takes a practical approach to the world. However, practicality should have limitations.

The world needed to stop Hitler. His actions set in motion a war in which over 60 million people died. Three percent of the world’s population at the time.

Our alliance with Stalin brought about the defeat of Hitler. Under Stalin, an estimated 50 million people died “unnatural” deaths during the years 1924-1953. This number excludes wartime deaths.

In a practical world, aligning with Stalin to defeat Hitler made military and strategic sense. Moreover, one could argue Stalin killed fewer people. In a practical sense, he was the lesser of two evils.

The Soviet Union went on from WWII to support the North Vietnamese with weapons against our new allies in South Vietnam. Our Russian allies killed Americans because the practicalities of the world changed.

Practicality has a price.

Our path of practicality has come at a cost to our beliefs. I, for one, think it past the time that we put practical considerations aside and focus on doing the right thing.

Some will argue we have no right to impose our standards on others. I agree. We do not impose our standards on anyone. However, we also do not support those that would mistreat their own people under misguided 14th century concepts.

What we need is a qualifications checklist for receiving aid, military or otherwise, from this country. This country may not be perfect but our laws seek to protect everyone. The last time I checked our laws do not consider women to be property. Our laws do not permit discrimination based on race, ethnicity, skin color, or sexual orientation. Our laws are there to protect all of us.

Are there exceptions to these rules, of course there are. The sad fact is that many embrace similar archaic, mostly religious-based concepts of equality. Many consider women inferior to men and in need of male guidance. They cloak this control with claims of “protecting” women. Protecting them from what? My guess would be from the very ones controlling them.

Many consider certain races or ethnicities to be inferior. That is a symptom of their faulty upbringing or lack of education. While the reality of these idiotic, misogynistic and childish beliefs is unfortunate, it is not enshrined in our laws. Unlike many of the countries we support under the guise of practicality, we strive for the equality of all.

I think it long past the time when this country needs to be that “Shining City on the Hill” (in the secular sense.)

Time we stop ignoring civil rights abuses under the premise of “tolerance” for difference and start insisting on conditions for our support.

If the Saudi’s believe that Sharia law is more important than our strategic support that is their choice.

If Afghanistan permits the jailing of women based solely on the word of their husband or believes that some archaic social code that refuses women the right to self-determination is more important than our support that is their choice.

Practicality has limitations. Common sense tells us that all human beings are entitled to self-determination and the right to control their own destiny.

This experiment called the United States began with these words,

We hold these truths to be sacred & undeniable; that all men are created equal & independent, that from that equal creation they derive rights inherent & inalienable, among which are the preservation of life, & liberty, & the pursuit of happiness; …

These were the words of Jefferson’s first draft of the Declaration of Independence. Words later changed for the final document. I think these words capture his meaning in a much clearer sense.

Perhaps it is time we put these words at the top of every agreement, treaty, support, or assistance package we offer as a condition.

Our practicality needs a conscience.

A Conversation of Differences

It is not often that I stimulate a spark of deep thought and inspiring words in others (and truth be told I must share credit with Philosopher Bertrand Russell for the original thought.) Yet a good friend of mine, Kent Harrop, recently penned a post on his blog I believe was inspired by a Russell quote I sometimes append to my email.

Russell (1872-1970) said, “Religion is something left over from the infancy of our intelligence, it will fade away as we adopt reason and science as our guidelines.” This caught Kent’s eye and he decided to put down some thoughts.

Kent wrote (https://greenpreacher.wordpress.com/2016/01/25/is-religion-irrational ),

There’s much that Mr. Russell and I agree upon. But where we part company, is his belief that ‘religion is something left over from the infancy of intelligence’. For me reason and critical thinking need not be contrary to religious life. Even Russell for all his strong views towards religion considered himself an agnostic, ‘in that I cannot disprove the Christian concept of a divine being, just as I cannot disprove the reality of the mythical gods on Mount Olympus.’ Perhaps Mr. Russell has cracked open the door for a conversation.

In this, the fact that it opens a door for a conversation, Kent and I agree.

I consider myself an atheist. I define my atheism as finding no basis for a belief in an anthropomorphic God, or gods, that show an interest in how we behave, what we do with our lives, what we choose to wear or eat, or how we prostrate or otherwise demonstrate our devotion to such a being.

Russell’s quote illustrates the fact that, over the time of our human existence, we have attributed almost all natural phenomena to a divine being at one time or another. Until science and reason took hold.

I think Russell’s quote is more in line with progressive thinkers like Kent than even Kent might realize. The difficult questions we all have beg for answers.

How did we come to be?

What is the meaning of life? (42 is a good start for you Douglas Adams fans)

How did this whole thing get started?

I agree with Russell in that almost all religion is a simplistic attempt to answer an infinitely complex question. I think it fails in this and causes more harm than good.

I think Viktor Frankl (1905-1997), a MD and psychiatrist who survived Auschwitz, found a better answer in his book, “Man’s Search for Ultimate Meaning.” Frankl’s research and life experiences showed him there is an innate essence within man for the religious. However, Frankl did not define religiousness as being in anyway associated with the common concept of religion.

Instead. Frankly believed, from his many years of research, that there was an unconscious religiosity within man. One that compels him to seek meaning in life. The many iterations of religion, from the many gods of early man to the monotheistic dominant sects today, are just stepping-stones to finding the true religiousness within us all.

It is not that we will someday become god. It is that we will someday no longer need a symbol, or a template of acceptable practices, or a script to follow to please god and lead an exemplary life. We will find that our innate, unconscious religiosity points us to a full, responsible, and meaningful life.

Let the conversation begin.

I encourage you all to read and follow Kent’s blog, The Green Preacher, (https://greenpreacher.wordpress.com/2016/01/25/is-religion-irrational. His writing is thoughtful, articulate, and compelling. I find his intelligent and persuasive pieces to be wonderful, if inexplicable, reading considering he is a Red Sox fan. Nevertheless, I suppose no one is perfect.

Life Lessons from Yukon Cornelius

I am one of the fortunate ones. I grew up during the last Age of Innocence.

Technology did not rule our lives. We did not spend our time bent over a device named for a fruit. We picked fruit from trees. I realize I could not be reaching those of you reading this without technology, but I still lament the invasiveness of it.

We had toys, games, and books. None of them robbed us of the joys of scraped knees, torn pants, bee stings, catching frogs, and exploring the woods. Sharing real experiences with real friends, not virtual ones.

In other words, living life.

We did not need an app to play ball or fish, we had bats and gloves and fishing poles (even if it was just a stick.)

We did watch television. All three channels, until the snowy screen of those UHF channels arrived. Harbingers of what loomed in the future.

TV time began at 6 pm with the news, followed by two or three of our favorite sitcoms. Breaking news meant something important or tragic happened, not a reading error at a beauty pagent.

As we grew older we earned the privilege of staying up for “Late Night” TV, the late show ending at midnight. Playing of the National Anthem, a few shots of Navy Blue Angels or Air Force Thunderbirds, then nothing until morning.

Technology has robbed us of the joy of anticipation. Be it a letter in the mail, an annual showing of a movie, or TV specials. It would seem nothing is special anymore.

We looked forward to the annual broadcast of our favorite shows. Not watching it over and over on demand.

For me, I remember three the best.

The Wizard of Oz

Charlie Brown’s Christmas

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.

Each of them made an impact on our lives.

The first time I saw the Wizard of Oz on a color TV. Magic. If there is anyone under the age of fifty reading this, they are probably trying to figure out why TV’s came in different colors.

Linus’s speech about the meaning of Christmas. Memorable. Too bad most have forgotten it. Every time I hear Vince Guaraldi’s Linus and Lucy theme, I see Linus walking across the stage, the single spotlight on him, and he explains with just a few words the true spirit of Christmas.

For me, the one that made the most lasting impact, even without me realizing it, was Yukon Cornelius from Rudolph.

He lived a simple life. All he needed, he carried with him. When he went shopping it was for “cornmeal and gun powder and ham hocks and guitar strings.”

He knew what mattered. Living for today, be loyal to friends, and forgive your enemies. He chased his dream daily.

Of the many nice songs to come out of this show, my favorite was when Clarice sings to Rudolph, “There’s always tomorrow for dreams to come true.”

Life has a way of demonstrating that such sentiment, while touching, is false.

As many of us know, and some of my family are reminded of every December 22nd, tomorrow is promised to no one.

So, adopt the philosophy of Yukon Cornelius. If it does not fit on a sled, you do not really need it. If you have a dream, pursue it today.

Call a friend, see your family, get out and meet someone new. Do it today, spend your time wisely.

For while dreams may come true tomorrow, perhaps a call, or a letter, or (I hate to admit) even an email or a text could bring a smile to someone today.

Do not wait for a dream to come true while you have the gift of time right now.

Merry Christmas, HO HO HO, Happy Holidays, and all that stuff.

Thursday Morning, Waking Up Dead

The following is a short story (albeit a bit longer than theNew Author Photo
last one) written for a collection of short stories. A bit of an indulgence on my part, I admit, but I hope you will take the time to read it and comment.

So grab your favorite drink and find a comfortable place to sit. Let me see if I can entertain you with a bit of diversion, an escape from the realities of the world, if even for just a few precious moments. A story about dying. The fun stuff and the fine print!

Enjoy

*****************

Thursday morning, I woke up dead.

I did not expect this; it just happened. Later on, I wondered at what point I reached my end moment. Was it when I woke? Maybe I was dead tired that night. A part of me remained curious. All of me remained dead.

No matter, I am dead and there is no way out of it.

Here is how I found out.

I woke in my usual manner and time, reaching for my reading glasses and iPad. I could not grasp them. My hand passed right through them. Thinking I was still half-asleep, I stood up and looked for my slippers. They were in the same place I leave them every night. Yet they were at least 12 inches below my feet, which, I realized, were not touching the floor.

I must still be asleep. In a rather cool dream. I love the ones where I can fly.

Closing my eyes, I tried to draw myself out of the dream. Force myself to wake up.

I had things to do. Places to go. People to meet.

Turns out, death cancelled my plans. Indefinitely.

Reopening my eyes, I saw my human remains in the bed, not breathing. Very much dead. My exit from this mortal coil well in progress.

The words from the movie, The Wizard Oz came to mind.

…but we’ve got to verify it legally, to see, if she…

is morally, ethically, spiritually, physically, positively, absolutely, undeniably, and reliably dead.

Curiosity tempted me to lift the body, my body. See if there is truth to the notion that one does something in the bed at the point of termination.

I decided to leave it a mystery.

Walking or, to be precise, floating out of the bedroom, I glided down the hallway and into the living room. My wife and daughter were hugging, and crying. I assumed it was because of this sudden change in my status. I was sure it was. No insurance claim forms lying about, so I kept good thoughts.

“Bit of a shock, eh?” The voice had a hint of an Irish Brogue. The kind in a permanent state of amusement.

“What the heck…?” I said, startled by the unexpected words. “Who the hell are you?”

“You are not going to believe this, so give it time. I am your WTYPLE guide,” a somewhat diminutive, smiling being said. “But I prefer the old term, before political correctness infected this dimension, YADGOI.” He looked like a cross between a Leprechaun and a Hobbit. Although I do not recall Tolkien describing Hobbits as translucent. He shimmered like the Northern Lights.

“What is a WTYPLE guide?”

“Welcome to Your Post Life Existence.”

“Lovely.” I moved away, putting distance between this, ah, thing and me.

“Want to know what YADGOI stands for?”

“I don’t think so,” shaking my head.

“You Are Dead, Get Over It.” He smiled as he ignored my response. “Much clearer, don’t you think? None of the touchy-feely give them time to adjust nonsense. You are dead, move on I say. Hit’em with the reality and let them deal with it.”

“Is that what you do? Hit them with reality?”

“Oh no. We help you adjust.”

“Adjust?” Staring as I tried to get my head around all this. “To being dead?”

“Of course, it’s like a new job. There are new routines, new rules, you know, adapting to a new experience. The whole being dead thing.” He put his hands up in the quote motion, “Your post life existence as I am supposed to say. Such nonsense.” Shaking head.

“There are rules to being dead?” watching as this, whatever he was, faded before my eyes and reappeared on the couch. Sitting between my wife and daughter.

“They’ll be fine, you know. No worries,” putting his arms around the two. “Part of life, is learning to deal with death and the changes it brings. You have had a good life with them. They have more to do here. You, are the other hand…well, it is time to move on. You ready?”

“Now? Can’t I stay with them a bit longer? Say goodbye?”

“That is always one of the first things they ask, ‘Can I stay longer and say goodbye?’ Sorry, but no.” He rose from the couch. “Look, while you were alive, there were many opportunities for that. Those are no longer available to you.” He floated over, stopping next to me.

He put his hands on my shoulders. “You’ll come to understand, given time. Your life is now in the past. You cannot alter it or undo it. You can remember, for as long as you like. Hold tight to those memories.” Pausing a moment, I could see him studying me. “Now, what you have is a future. Different from the past, yet full of opportunities. Let’s go.”

I watched him gliding towards the window.

“Why are you, that is, why can I see through you?”

His appearance changed, turning from a shimmering translucence, into a solid something. A being, I suppose, for lack of a better term.

“Oh that. Special effects, helps convince people they have checked out. You are well along the way.”

I stood looking between him and the two most important people in my life, or former life anyway. Slowly, reluctantly, I moved away from them towards the window.

“So there is an afterlife?”

“Well, not like any of that psychobabble, contact from the beyond nonsense. There is no crossover between the living and the dead. It is a one-way journey. There is this brief transition phase. You meet your guide, that’s me, and learn to accept the new reality.” He reached over, putting his hand on my shoulder again. “Once you transition, there is no further contact with this level of existence, or the past.”

“But what about near-death experiences, or people who believe they speak to the dead?”

My guide smiled and shook his head. “It is all in the mind of the person that believes it. The human mind is capable of amazing acts of self-deception. You have a politically correct term for it.”

“And that is?”

“Delusional,” he smiled. “If you want something bad enough, the mind does its best to provide it. If you want to believe in heaven. It imagines it for you. If you want to believe Grandma comes to you in the night and helps you write poetry, ta da, the mind provides.

“You want to believe that a person has some special ability to contact another dimension. That they can speak to the dead. Your mind finds a way. You will soon understand. Depending on how well your transition goes, I may let you observe the next time one of those self-proclaimed psychics crosses over.

“The last one I had wet himself, twice, and wouldn’t stop whimpering for hours. The dead terrified him. Never believed any of the nonsense he told people. It was quite amusing.”

“So none of it is real?”

“Oh no, it is real. Real to the person that experiences it. Even so, it is all in their mind.”

I am sure he saw the disappointment in my eyes. “What about this? Is this just in my mind?”

My newfound friend smiled. “That’s for you to figure out, I suppose.” He clasped his hands together. “Okay, time to go. We have much to do.” Standing on the windowsill, looking back at me, his hand reached out to me.

“What do I call you, I mean, do you have a name?”

He voice took on a different tone. A deeper sound with an echo effect. “I am known by many names.” The voice returned to his normal lilting timbre. “There is a book called The Nine Billion Names of God. How about you use one of them?” The echo chamber effect returned. “Or just God will do.”

“God?” My eyes grew wide. “You mean you’re… there is a….”

The smile on his face grew wider. “Just kidding, I love the reaction when I do that. Sorry, a little guide humor. Just added this new app to my phone. Look.” He held up his iPhone, pointing at an app. An icon image of Charlton Heston from the Ten Commandments displayed on the screen. Underneath it said, The Voice of God (for entertainment purposes only.).

He put the phone away. “Call me Wyatt.”

“Why do you have an iPhone?”

“Ever since a certain person crossed over, we’ve gone full Apple. Although I do miss my Android sometimes. Ah well, no matter. Equipment choices are out of my control.” He turned to the window.

“Oops,” he snapped his fingers. “I almost forgot. You can take one thing. Something small, be nice if it fit in a pocket, but your choice. You have to carry it.”

I thought for a moment. “I don’t know what to take; there isn’t anything I’d want to have, except more time with them.” I looked back as my wife answered the phone, telling someone else I had checked out. “I can’t have that, can I?”

“There you go, Joe. You already figured out the first part. You, my friend, are ahead of the curve. There is nothing important you can take. It is what you leave behind that matters.” He patted me on the back. “I’m glad I got this assignment, you show some promise. I had one who wanted to take his 60-inch TV. Said his wife never watched it and it would be a waste to leave it.” Wyatt chuckled at the memory. “That project took years.”

I floated towards the window, looking back one last time. “Do we have to fly out the window?”

“Only if you want to. I always find a little dramatic experience in the beginning eases the transition. We can walk out the door if you like. My car is right outside.”

I looked at my new companion for a moment. “I think I’d prefer to walk out the door, Wyatt. There is no need for the dramatic gesture. I’m dead, I get it.” I walked toward the door. “Wait, a car? Why would we need a car?”

“We don’t. I just like to use one in this first phase. More a personal preference than anything else. What can I say? I like to drive. One of the things I miss from my life,” his eyes grew misty. He looked lost in thought.

“I see.” As we walked out, I glanced back one more time.

“Preserve your memories; they’re all that’s left you.”

“That’s quite profound.” Wiping a tear from my eye.

“I’d like to take credit, but Paul Simon wrote it. From the song, Old Friends/Bookends.” He sang the song as we went out to the parking lot. “Time it was and what a time it was….”

“So, when did you die?”

“Me, oh some time ago. Back in the 60’s, 1969 to be precise. I don’t remember much about that time. That was part of the problem. My single-minded devotion to the consumption of alcohol and drugs. A major contribution to my exiting in a spectacular way. Plenty of time to talk in the car. Long ride ahead of us.”

“Long ride, to where?”

“Review tour. I take you around to various places that played a part in your life. We find that it makes the transition better. You adapt to the new experience faster and it helps us measure your progress and suitability.”

“Suitability, for what?”

“Once your transition is complete, everyone gets assigned a task. For some it is a one-time thing, for others it is more complex. This will all come with time. For now, just think about what you’d like to do with your future.”

As we walked through the lot, my mind roiled with emotion. I felt great, if that was possible considering I was dead. The emotions of leaving a mix of sorrow, regret, and curiosity. I never expected this, but I suppose no one ever does. I continued walking until I realized I was alone.

“Over here,” Wyatt’s voice came from behind me.

He stood next to the last two cars in the lot. Before I croaked, I always parked my car in these spots. I did not recognize either one.

“So, what will it be? Which ride would you like?” he said.

“We’re going to steal someone’s car?”

“No, of course not,” Wyatt laughed. “I had them brought here for this purpose. Pick one.”

The cars were both the same color, deep forest green. One was a brand new Camaro, glistening in the early morning light. The other, a 1964 Chevy Bel Air. The first car I ever owned. Fond memories tempted me.

“Does it matter?” As the words came out of my mouth, both cars vanished.

“See, I knew you had potential. The choices people make, and why they make them, would surprise you. The new car represents all the things that do not matter, yet many spend their lives chasing them. The old car represents the past; many spend their lives clinging to what was.

“None of it matters. The only thing that matters is now, here, at this moment. The car you drive, clothes you wear, houses you occupy are fleeting and meaningless. Good for you.”

I thought about what he said. We are all guilty of both. Chasing happiness through material things, or craving the nostalgia filtered memories of the past. We have just one true thing of value, time. How we choose to spend it determines the course of our lives.”

Wyatt let the words sink in for a moment, his hand linked behind his back as he watched me.

“Let’s take the Camaro.”

His voice interrupted my thoughts of summer days long past, spent with my friends at the beach. Delivered there in my old Chevy.

“Put on some Led Zeppelin and see what this baby can do.” The car appeared again, the opening riff of Stairway to Heaven coming from the inside.

“I thought the point was it didn’t matter?”

“It doesn’t matter to you; I’ve already made the transition. I am entitled to a little fun.” Dancing to the driver’s side, Wyatt played an enthusiastic air guitar. “Like the irony of the music?”

“Nice.” I smiled. “Wait is there a–.”

“Nope. Another mass hysteria figment of a collective imagination. I find it amusing. If you prefer, I can play Highway to Hell.”

Just as we got into the car, another voice came from the back seat. I jumped as I looked around.

“Hi there Wyatt,” the Asian accented voice said. “I see we went with the Camaro again.”

“Hey there, Vong. Say hi to Joe, my newest project.”

“Hello Joe what do you know?” Vong said, laughing at his own humor. “I never get tired of saying that. My sister said it all the time.”

“Why would–”

Wyatt interrupted

“Long story, I’ll tell, you later.”

“So is Vong your assistant?”

“He’s an apprentice guide just assigned to me. One who needs to learn to speak only when spoken to,” Wyatt glared back at Vong. “We’ve known each other for years.”

“How’d you meet?”

Vong chuckled. “Yeah, Wyatt, tell him that story.” Laughing as he played his own air guitar to the Jimmy Page solo.

Wyatt gave him a nasty look. “I killed him in Vietnam. He was a Viet Cong agent sent to sabotage the aircraft on the base.”

“I prefer patriot and hero to my country.” Vong leaned over the seat to look at me. “It is all about who’s telling the story isn’t it?” He laughed.

I stared at Wyatt, glancing back at Vong, as I tried to absorb this. “You killed him? And now you work together?”

“Death has a sense of humor. The fates love irony,” Wyatt said. “You ready?”

I nodded, although I was not sure why. I mean, here I was, dead for all of twenty minutes. A strange creature named Wyatt asks me if I am ready. Not sure how anyone could be. Still, I nodded and waited for what came next.

Next consisted of me thrust backwards into the seat as Wyatt lit up the tires and squealed from the lot. The car just made the corner.  Sliding off the metal bridge over the Blackstone River,  he accelerated up the road.

As we approached the traffic light, it turned to yellow of course. Wyatt pushed the car harder.  Beating the red light by a full hundredth of a second, fish tailing onto the Mendon Road.

“Are you freaking insane?” I yelled.

“Nope.” Wyatt laughed. “Just dead.”

“How the hell did you die?” I yelled, as Wyatt cranked the volume on Jethro Tull’s Locomotive Breath. The car careened onto Route 295 north.

Wyatt flashed a sinister smile, “Car accident.” Glancing back as Vong continued his guitar performance. “Don’t worry, I was drunk then. I’m not now.”

“Would you slow down; you don’t want to kill anyone do you?” I hollered over the music.

“You mean again?” Vong added, breaking into the more intricate of the solo sections of the song.

* * * *

I stared out the window, watching my once familiar neighborhood fade into the mist. The emotions and adrenaline of the last few hours faded and I drifted off to sleep. Do you sleep when you’re dead? Warren Zevon thought so.

I did not dream, it was not a deep sleep. I could hear Vong and Wyatt engaged in an animated conversation about what we would do next. Still half asleep, I heard fragments of the discussion.

“A little harsh, don’t you think?” Vong said.

“Best get it over with. It is part of the checklist and he seems to have handled the initial phase well. Most are still thrashing around on the floor or hanging onto the furniture as we drag them away at this point.”

“Okay, Chongjin it is.”

The sensation of speed drove the sleep away. I opened my eyes and the adrenaline started pumping once again.

We were flying.

“Since when does a Chevy Camaro fly?” I asked.

“Since the day they were first made.” The song Magic Carpet Ride by Steppenwolf blared over the speakers.

“Not at 30,000 feet.” Guessing the altitude by the number of commercial airliners we passed. “And not at… How fast are we going anyway?” Being dead has a benefit of eliminating the fear of, well, anything.

Wyatt smiled, “8500 miles per hour, cool isn’t it?

“Very.”

I turned to look at Vong. He had his head buried in a paper bag, making guttural noises and moaning.

“What’s his problem?”

“He hates flying. Says it’s unnatural to be this high.” Wyatt chuckled.

“Unnatural? He can fly without the car. What is natural about any of this?”

“Try telling him that. We spend half the time preparing for our new arrivals trying to arrange the schedule to avoid flying. Just so he won’t–”

A huge retching sound came from the back, interrupting our conversation.

“Dammit Vong.” Wyatt cringed. “So he won’t do that.”

I turned to check on Vong. He lifted his head from the bag. He glanced inside it once again before closing it. “Funny, I don’t remember eating that.” A weak smile crossing his face.

Wyatt laughed, “Must have been the Somali Pirate we handled last week. The one the Navy Seal aerated. We took him to the village where he was born and we ate, ah, whatever the hell that was.”

“Well,” Vong said. “Whatever it is, it’s in the bag now.” He rolled the bag up, placing it in a larger plastic bag. He smiled. “We recycle.”

“Hang on boys, this is my favorite part.” He looked over at me, grinned, and pushed forward on the wheel.

Dying may end fear. I learned it does not end the sensations of deceleration and descent. Some parts of dead are like a ride on a rollercoaster.

I thought for a moment that I might need to borrow a bag from Vong.

“Hey Vong,” Wyatt said, looking in the rear view mirror. “I did it again. I turned you white.”

“I hate you.” Vong took deep breaths as his normal complexion returned. “I can’t wait until you sit back here and I drive.”

* * * *

Wyatt landed the car, such an odd thing to say, in the middle of frozen lake. As we got out of the car, the bitter cold and cutting wind assaulted me.

“Where the hell are we?” I asked, my body shivering in a feeble attempt to keep warm.

“Chongjin,” Wyatt said.

“Where?”

“Chongjin,” Vong repeated. “The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.”

I looked at Vong, then back at Wyatt.

“Why?”

Wyatt handed me coat, gloves, and wool cap, then did the same for Vong. “You’ll understand soon. Just pay attention.”

“Can I ask something? If I am dead, why am I feeling the cold?”

Wyatt put on his coat. “Good question. For most of these little adventures, the ambient environment is unimportant. Some are better if you experience the elements. In this case, cold is an important element.”

“Okay, so why are you guys experiencing it?”

“Yeah,” Vong concurred, “Why do we have to be cold? I am from Vietnam remember. I like warm.”

“In order for us to help you through the process, it’s better if we all share the full experience.”

Vong shook his head. “I’ve been here, done this. I can wait in the car.

A moment later, I heard and felt a loud ‘whomph’ sound. Wyatt pointed towards the car, “Watch this,” he said.

“Oh shit,” Vong yelled as he dove to the ground.

A bright flash, followed by an explosion that shook the earth, engulfed the car. Parts of the vehicle flew everywhere. I joined Vong on the ground.

“What the hell was that?” I asked, raising my head from the snow.

“Mortar round,” Vong explained. “I love mortar rounds.”

“I know you sneaky bastards do,” Wyatt laughed. “Too bad you couldn’t hit the ground with one.”

Vong chuckled, “That is so true. If I had I would be in charge right now, instead of you.”

I sat up, knocking snow off my head and coat, surrounded by pieces of a once nice Chevy Camaro. Death was not much fun to this point.

“Can I ask why we’re here?”

Wyatt motioned for me to follow him. I looked at Vong, he pointed for me to go first.

* * * *

Climbing a hill, we came upon a group of men clad in padded white coats. They were firing a variety of weapons. Some of them alternating between shooting and blowing trumpets.

I started to ask, “Who are these–?”

“Chinese, People’s Volunteer Army, from the People’s Republic of China.” Vong explained before I finished the question.

“What year is this?”

“1950, November 26 to be precise.” Wyatt, handing me a pair of binoculars, pointed towards a road at the bottom of the ridgeline. “You’ll figure it out.”

Lifting the binoculars to my eyes, I focused on the snow-covered road. Wyatt leaned over. “Watch the bend in the roadway. Two men will be the last to come around the corner. Focus on the man closest to us.”

The sound of the battle increased. I watched a steady stream of vehicles, loaded with dead and wounded men, making their way along the road. They struggled through the unrelenting weapons fire poured on them by the Chinese. It seemed to go on for hours. I put the glasses down for a moment, looking to Wyatt. He sat on the stump of a tree. Next to him was a foxhole. Three Chinese soldiers, taking cover in the hole, tossed grenades down the hill. He made a motion for me to resume looking through the binoculars, pointing back to the road.

At last, two men came around the corner. One was carrying a large automatic weapon, the other a Thompson submachine gun. They alternated between firing at the Chinese and running to keep up with the convoy.

I watched as one of the Chinese soldiers fired at the man with the Thompson. The Marine went to the ground. The other Marine put the sling of the Thompson around the wounded man’s shoulder. He lifted the wounded Marine onto his back in the classic carry. He was of slight build. Yet he managed to carry the wounded man, and both weapons, to the nearest truck.

The Marine returned to his position in the rear, firing his weapon. Sometime reaching down and tossing one of the Chinese grenades back up the hill.

Wyatt tapped me on the shoulder. I put the glasses down. “Follow me.”

We walked another 100 yards or so down the ridge, stopping at a large boulder. The rock concealed a Chinese soldier from the passing column below. The soldier lifted a rifle to the edge of the boulder, taking aim at the Marines.

“What do I do?” I asked.

“There’s nothing you can do. This is something you just need to understand.”

The Chinese soldier fired the weapon and time slowed down. I watched the bullet leave the barrel, traveling down towards the man on the roadway. At the same time, I saw the man on the roadway spot the Chinese soldier and fire at him.

The rounds passed within inches of each other.

The bullet from the Chinese rifle passed through the outer layer of the Marine’s uniform.  Spinning him around and knocking him to the ground.

A moment later, I watched the round fired at the Chinese soldier strike him in the forehead, killing him.

Time resumed its normal rhythm. The Marine rose to his feet. He resumed firing with the same intensity and continued to follow the column of vehicles.

The blood from the Chinese soldier poured from the wound. I watched the steam rising, the blood soaking the snow and freezing in the intense cold.

* * * *

I found myself back at the car. “Didn’t this get blown up?”

Wyatt laughed. “Nah, it was just special effects. A little drama to add some realism to the battle.”

“It seemed real enough to me. I could smell that distinctive coppery aroma of the blood. You want to tell me the purpose of me seeing that?”

“Wanna take a guess what it was you saw?” Wyatt asked.

I thought for a moment. “Vong, you called the place Chongjin. Does it have another name?”

“Chosin.”

It struck me at once. The nightmares of my father’s experiences with the Marine Corps during the Korean War. He was in the worst of the battle at the Chosin Reservoir, when the Chinese entered the war.

I thought for a long moment, remembering the few times my father spoke of the war. “The Marine on the road was my father?”

Wyatt nodded.

“And I watched as he came so close to dying. Why show me that?”

“So you understand the path of life is determined by small, almost imperceptible, things. A slight change in action or time or place creates a different history. If that man was not wounded, or if your father did not carry him to the truck, things might turn out differently.

“Maybe the bullet your father fired would have missed the Chinese soldier. Maybe the one fired by the Chinese soldier would have killed your father. Maybe there’d be no you. Maybe the Chinese soldier, or his child, would live to find a cure for cancer. You must understand, there is no such thing as insignificant.”

“So I am here because of chance?”

“You are here because one outcome prevailed above all the other possible outcomes. Call it chance, fate, or luck. It is what happened,” Wyatt answered.

“And the Chinese soldier? What about him?”

“His time in that moment was different. Not better, not worse, just different.”

“So there is a reason for everything? Things happen for a reason?”

“There is a time for everything, there’s no need for a reason. Everything has time. For some it is short, for others longer. The outcome is determined when it occurs.” The sounds of the Byrd’s singing Turn, Turn, Turn came over the radio,

 

To everything – turn, turn, turn

There is a season – turn, turn, turn

And a time to every purpose under heaven

 

A time to be born, a time to die

A time to plant, a time to reap

A time to kill, a time to heal

A time to laugh, a time to weep

“I thought you said there is no heaven?”

“There isn’t. The lyrics came from an imaginative poem. Written by an insightful, but innocent and misguided, believer.”

****

Vong and Wyatt leaned on the hood of the car, talking quietly. Vong appeared to argue a bit, and then nodded in reluctant agreement.

“Ready for your next step?” Wyatt asked.

“What will that be?” I said, looking at my two companions.

“You don’t have to do this now, if you’re not ready,” Vong said.

“Ready for what? I don’t even know what the heck you’re talking about.”

“See?” Vong turned to argue with Wyatt. “He’s not ready. We need to show him a few more before he gets it.”

Wyatt smiled. “Look, I’ve been doing this longer than you and–”

“That doesn’t matter, we have a process.” Vong was getting agitated

“It isn’t written in stone, remember? I can tell with this one.”

“Hello,” I said, waving my arms. “I am right here, the new dead guy. You’re talking about me like I am invisible.”

“Well, you are.” Vong laughed, pointing at me.

I looked down and there I was, gone. Nothing, no light reflected off me. I could see where I thought my feet would be. Nothing but the ground.

“What the…?”

“Don’t worry. The ability to reflect light, to make yourself visible, takes time. It will happen. Don’t try so hard.”

As Wyatt spoke the words, I seemed to reappear.

“See, it’s like quantum physics. Something does not exist until we observe it. Learn to observe yourself and you exist, ignore it and poof, you’re not.”

“Is this place always so metaphysical?” watching myself fading in and out of visibility.

“Nah, just some of it. The rest is like a self-fulfilled prophecy. You make it whatever you believe it to be,” Vong explained, as he faded in and out of visibility as well. “I’ve had more practice.”

“So if I forget about myself, I no longer exist?”

“You can never forget it all. That would be non-existence.” Wyatt disappeared, and then reappeared once again. “It’s like being asleep. You are there, but unaware.”

All this talk was making my head, or the space where my head should appear, spin. “So what is this next thing?”

Wyatt and Vong exchanged glances. “It is sort of a graduate level experience in deadness. A PhDead in the post life experience.”

“PhDead?”

“Okay, bad pun. It is an expedited explanation of how life works, or worked, and where you go from here. I have used it with a few of my projects, but I think it would work for you. It is a fast track approach to transitioning. I think you are ready.”

I looked as Vong made faces behind Wyatt’s back. “You disagree?”

“I just like to move a little slower. That’s all.”

Wyatt laughed. “That’s how I picked you off in the ‘Nam,” turning to look at me. “He was creepy-crawling all VC-like and I spotted him. Lit him up like the 4th of July.”

Vong shook his head, “Picked me off? You damn Americans; I try to take him on đàn ông với đàn ông, man to man. He calls in two jets with napalm. He has no sense of a warrior’s honor.”

“Warrior’s honor?” Wyatt chuckled. “You call firing a rocket into an outhouse being a warrior?” Turning once again to face me. “You know what he did, this brave warrior? He watched our commanding officer, Colonel Morrison, go in for his morning shit. Then the great warrior fired a rocket right into the outhouse. There was shit and dead colonel parts everywhere. It was hard to tell which was which.”

The two laughed at the humor.

“I HEARD THAT, SERGEANT!” a voice thundered from out of nowhere.

“What the hell was that?” I asked, looking around, terrified of the sound.

“Oops, I forgot the Colonel is on monitoring duty today. Sorry Colonel, just kidding.” Wyatt spoke to the sky. “It was easy to separate you from the shit,” leaning in and whispering in my ear, “The shit smelled better.”

Wyatt smiled and motioned for me to follow. Vong kept glancing over his shoulder, making me nervous.

****

“This isn’t what I imagined it would be. Being dead I mean.”

“But you’re wrong there, my friend,” Wyatt said. “It is exactly as you imagined. It is exactly as everyone imagines. Different for each, but just as they imagined.”

I tilted my head, “No it’s not.”

“Sure it is,” Vong chimed in. “Have you ever read Plato’s Allegory of the Cave?”

“Sure, I read it. I’m surprised you have.”

“Why, because I’m Vietnamese?” Vong put his hands on his hips. “I was a guerrilla fighter and well-read, they are not mutually exclusive you know.”

Wyatt broke in with a fake Asian accent. “I go your Harvard University. How many homerun Baby Roof hit 1927? You tell me now, Joe.”

Vong glared.

Wyatt threw up his hands and backed away, bowing.

I apologized.

Vong turned to face me. “Apology accepted. As I was saying. Like the man seeing the shadows on the wall, that is reality to him. To you, this is being dead. To someone else, this would all be different. Each has their own perception of what being dead means. Just as we all have our own perception of reality.”

I shook my head and leaned against the wall. “I still don’t get it.”

“Would you like Plato to explain it himself?” Wyatt asked.

“He’s dead.”

“Exactly,” Wyatt answered. “He is also here. Imagine he is standing in front of you. Close your eyes and give it a try.”

I closed my eyes. A moment or so passed by and I felt a warm breeze against my face. I opened my eyes. There was a small, bearded man wearing a white robe holding a scroll standing in front of me.

“Plato,” Wyatt said, “this is Joe. Joe, Plato. Ask away,” waving his hand at me and turning to sit on the bar stool. Somehow, besides the visit from Plato, we had transitioned to a bar. Vong made Martinis.

“This is the real Plato?” I asked.

The man smiled and said, “Έτσι, θέλετε να καταλάβετε το σπήλαιο”

Which, of course, was Greek to me.

Wyatt laughed. “Your imagination is too precise. Imagine Plato, but he speaks English.”

I looked at the Greek Philosopher. He shrugged his shoulders and said, “Hey, it is your imagination. So, as I was saying, you want to understand the cave?”

“Sure, I guess,” I answered.

“You guess? You conjure me up, make me speak English and you guess you want to learn something?” Plato said, turning to Wyatt. “You think he has potential?” Pointing his finger at me.

“Okay, okay,” I said. “Explain the cave, please.”

“Okay then,” Plato said. “It is simple. Perception is reality. As you perceive, so you believe. How else can you explain Scientology? Or Xenu? Yet people believe it.” Plato laughed.

“That doesn’t explain anything,” I argued.

Plato smiled. “Yes it does. I am sure Wyatt told you, the mind is capable of wondrous things. It can conceive ideas, create masterpieces, and compose awe-inspiring music. It can do all these things just by being. Some believe it is divine inspiration. It is not. It is the power of the mind, if you use it. The sad part is most do not. They believe things fed to them when they are young without ever questioning any of it. Because they believe, because they want to believe, their mind makes it real to them. It is how all the religions, philosophies, and concepts of what it is to be human proliferated. Each one sincerely embraced by some, derided by others. As they perceive, so they believe. That is why this transition takes so long for most. It takes time to dissuade them of the nonsense which infects them like a virus.”

“This is all in my mind, isn’t it?”

Plato smiled. “Some of it is. I am real. You are real. All the things you experience are your mind’s creation. We are here to help you understand. Now that you have, it’s your turn to help someone else.”

Plato vanished. Wyatt and Vong carried on another of their secret conversations.

“So what’s next?”

“We’ve considered a radical departure from the norm,” Wyatt said, glancing at Vong.

“The best guides are those with an open mind and a desire to learn. It is clear to us you have that.”

“What does that mean?”

Vong handed me a stack of papers. “Call it a baptism under fire. We’re taking a chance here that you may be one of the rare ones. Capable of learning on your own. It’s all in there.” Vong smiled. “You’ll find the way.”

I flipped through the pages, when I looked up Vong and Wyatt were fading.

“Ah, focus there guys. Your invisibility is showing.” I smiled.

“Enjoy the transition, my friend. See you again soon….” The two were gone. I was alone.

*****

I re-read the documents as I traveled along the road. I enjoyed walking, or at least this close simulation of it, as I went to my assigned task. Walking through the front door of the hospital, I went to a particular room. I encountered a large group gathered around the bed. Some were crying, others laughing and telling stories.

In the bed was a man of about 65 years old, looking confused.

“Bit of shock, eh?” I said.

The man turned to look at me, surprise on his face.“Who the heck are you?”

I smiled. “You are not going to believe this, so give it time….”

 

When Did the American Eagle become the Cowardly Lion?

When did we become so afraid? A country born in revolution, tested by a civil war, and bloodied on the battlefields of the Ardennes, Bastogne, Guadalcanal, Iwo Jima, Chosin Reservoir, Hue, Kuwait, Iraq, and Afghanistan.

When did this country, blended of people from all over the world, the sum of the parts being greater than the whole, lose its heart?

When did this country, once willing to risk everything in its pursuit of democracy, once challenging itself to put a man on the moon, once serving as a beacon to the world, willing to bear the brunt of supporting the rights of all to be free, become afraid?

Are we so fearful of our inability to sustain and protect ourselves that we would turn our back on the downtrodden and oppressed?

Those who have been born here often forget the words that greet those who came here through the gateway of Ellis Island…

“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”

Are these words that have inspired millions to risk it all for the opportunities of freedom meaningless?

Are they just words?

The opportunities of freedom so cherished by this country bear an obligation. Those that embrace freedom for themselves must be willing to bear the burden of supporting those that seek freedom.

I was raised to believe in an America that stood for something. An America that was willing to put actions to words and fight for all those that seek freedom and against those that would oppress us.

The Syrian refugees are the latest in a long line of oppressed seeking help. The idea that the United States of America is incapable of extending our protections to them as well as protecting ourselves from those forces of oppression is disheartening.

Xenophobia is a fever which has plagued mankind since the dawn of time. We are better than that. We are smarter than a bunch of illiterate zealots masking their craving of power with a distorted view of Islam. The very idea that we need to deny freedom from oppression to thousands of refugees because it involves risk is pathetic.

Where is our American pride? Where is our courage to do what is right, not because it is easy, but because it is hard?

Where has the America I grew to love, respect, and believe in gone?

I am not a religious person. I often poke fun at religion, but it is only because of the certainty which some of the faithful promote the particular faith. No one has a lock on the truth, but everyone is entitled to choose their belief, without compelling others to adopt this.

The Islamic terrorists misuse religion in their quest for power. We are smarter, stronger, tougher, and better than that.

There’s a line from J.D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye- “If Christ could see Christmas, he’d puke….”

I dare say if Mohammed could see what’s being done in his name, and our fear to do something about that, he’d have the same reaction.

A thousand years from now, if mankind can survive, those studying our history will remember more what we failed to do, than what we chose to do.

The America I love is better than that.

 

Roots of Evil

The recent attacks in Paris have triggered the usual expressions of sympathy which inevitably give way to calls for visiting great harm upon those who perpetrate these acts.

The sympathetic responses are, for the most part, sincere yet tempered by the calls for vengeance. In any case, they miss the point.

In the west, with its predominantly Judeo-Christian population, the inevitable attributing of the blame on Islam ensues. There are voices within these faiths that call for peace, but a significant number of the Christian faithful would gladly pull the trigger on a Muslim target, given the opportunity, simply because it is a Muslim target. Yet are shocked and quick to condemn similar behavior on the part of some Muslims.

These attacks, if they are promulgated on an interpretation of the Quran which mandates the elimination of the “Kafir”, or unbelievers, underscore the inherent dangers of religion.

Christianity is not wholly innocent in these matters. They had their Crusades. The difference being at some point the enlightenment took place. Relegating religion to a personal matter; slowly eliminating any dominant religious influence so as to have no place in government.

It took centuries for that to happen, yet I fear we still are plagued with the last vestiges of such influences.

I do not understand the rationale of those that insist on a Judeo-Christian based government here, yet fear a similar religious, albeit Islamic, based government somewhere else. The idea of government, with its inherent ability to impose restrictions on behavior, being based on any religious tenets is frightening.

What would our reaction be to a nuclear armed Islamic state? Abject terror, I have no doubt. Why? Because we fear they would use such power to further their cause.

Isn’t that what some “Christians” among us have urged our government to do?

Either way, it is not good for the world.

Those who call for visiting violence on others by virtue of their beliefs miss the contradiction in such an attitude.

Religion is not the problem or the cause of the problem. It is a tool. Used by some to maintain control. If all religion was taken out of the picture, these things would still happen; with some other motivation to spark them. The conditions are the same, the terms would be different.

Those that deny free and open discourse for all people do so to promote the power of one religion to control their people.  A religion they choose.

The west, through the availability of education (although less and less valued it would seem), has learned to mitigate the influence of religion to control the masses through the power of government.

It is an indisputable fact that the higher the educational level, the less religiosity.

I am not advocating the abolition of religion. I know many sincere believers who temper their faith with reason when it comes to interpretation of writings such as the Bible, the Talmud, and the Quran. I am advocating the application of reason to our response to violence in the name of religion.

Imposing the superiority of one religion over another does not solve the problem, it prolongs it.

If we are unwilling to address the underlying causes of the problem, i.e. poverty, unemployment, lack of education, treatment of women as property, we will forever be combatting the symptoms.

Our acquiescence to the conduct of our allies, such as Saudi Arabia and Israel (heresy I know, however because they are more aligned with the Judeo part does not make them blameless in their denial of civil rights), is a big part of the problem.

The issues here are not as simple as some politicians would have you believe. We do not own the morally superior ground here. These are complex issues, requiring complex solutions which will never happen if we ignore the reality.

It is not the correctness of any one religion that offers a solution, it is the willingness to accept all faiths as entitled to equal treatment.

Faith is not fact. Hold your faith as you see fit, do not deny others the same. If there is such a thing as one true faith, but you were led down the wrong path by parents or guardians or accident of birth, I think an all-powerful god can figure out the quality of your character without resorting to totaling up how many non-believers you tried to kill.

Those who committed these attacks, those who committed the attacks on 9/11, those who insist on imposing their way of life on others are the problem.

I am not naive. These attacks need to be met with sufficient force to stop them. However, the threat or application of force is not the solution to preventing them.

Open access to freedom of expression, freedom of religion, and freedom from religion is the only solution.

Changing someone’s faith, or eradicating such beliefs, cannot be accomplished  with bombs and missiles.

It can only be solved by tolerance, understanding, a willingness to listen

A Kim Davisian America

Let us take the position of Kim Davis, the Rowan County Clerk of Courts, to its logical conclusion. (I wonder if this is a revival of Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-in?)

What would this mean for America, should she be permitted to refuse to perform her civil job function based on personal beliefs?

Imagine the future…

The Police

Dispatch: Unit 21 respond to a reported robbery at 1 Gay Lane.

Unit 21: No can do, gay couple living there in sinful violation of the Holy Book. I cannot in good conscience assist in this abomination

Dispatch: Any available unit of a non-judgmental nature available to assist?

RADIO SILENCE

Unit 21: I think the one gay officer we were forced to hire, against the Chief’s long held beliefs and the Bible, is working tomorrow. I will not assist him in any way and refuse to work alongside him. Have them call back then.

Fire

Dispatch: Engine 1 Ladder 2 respond to a reported fire 1 Rabinowitz lane.

Engine 1: No can do, all Christian crew and that location is a synagogue. They killed Jesus. I think Engine 5 has some Jews aboard, call them

Engine 5: Yes, but we are Orthodox and it is the Sabbath, cannot work today. Tell them to call back.

Restaurant

Hello, my name is Joe and I’ll be your server today. Before I can release our menu to you, please answer the following questions;

  1. Do you support abortion?
  2. Do you believe in same-sex marriage?
  3. Do you support the separation of Church and State?

 If you answer yes to any of these questions, please leave. My beliefs do not allow me to serve you. We don’t cater to heathens.

 I cannot understand why this is such a difficult concept. If a person feels so strongly about their personal beliefs, do not accept a position which requires adherence to civil law.

One cannot refuse to perform a job function because they disagree with the law; to do otherwise would be chaos.

How Davis chooses to hold her beliefs and profess them is of no concern to anyone. We can disagree, mock, or support them. However, no one can demand or impose his or her personal religious beliefs on anyone else through a position held under civil authority. (No matter how much she credits Jesus for blessing her election.)

If she wants to deny marriage licenses to same-sex couples, go work for a religious organization. Plenty support her nonsensical beliefs and hypocrisy.

She is just another nut-case cherry-picking Bible quotes to suit her current beliefs and expecting the Government to support them.

We have already devoted too much time to her. She is in jail; the law has prevailed. Time to move on.

Unless we are smoted (if that is a word) and the world does end at the hands of the offended divine (but loving) god of the book she fervently holds dear.

Meanwhile, let us hope she is enjoying her martyrdom. Perhaps she will be out in time to celebrate the anniversary of some of the Same-sex marriages happening over the next few days in Kentucky.

I suggest she be released for the Golden Jubilee Celebration.

Where Do We Go, From Here?

There are as many ideas and concepts about post-mortal existence as there are people on this planet. In the vast universe, the conceptualization of what happens after death is likely, well, universal.

We hold onto our life. We sometimes go to extreme means to prolong it. And sometimes, we choose to end it by our own hand.

Regardless of how it happens, we all will die. Cease to exist in this particular form and manner.

So, naturally we wonder, where do we go?

Is it me, or my idea of myself, that exists outside the corporeal me?

Is it some ethereal existence, sans a physical form?

Or is it merely the atoms that once took my form follow the rules of physics and bind into another?

Where do we go? Where have those that have gone before us got themselves to?

No hard evidence exists of anyone ever coming back (despite the Bible or Shirley Maclaine’s claim to the contrary).

So, where did they go?

Is our composition of stardust our only path, reverting to that molecular essence?

I hope we do return to the stars. Taking on forms in locations we can only dream of. Becoming, once again, a living part of the universe.

Those that would have us ascend (which way is up by the way? It changes as we rotate in our current world) to heaven or descend (same direction issue) to hell show signs of self-limiting human thought.

I imagine a different ascension.

While my human self-awareness may end, each of the atoms and molecules of my brain that power my consciousness will continue.

Matter can neither be destroyed or created.

The law of conservation of mass, or principle of mass conservation, states that for any system closed to all transfers of matter and energy (both of which have mass), the mass of the system must remain constant over time, as system mass cannot change quantity if it is not added or removed. Hence, the quantity of mass is “conserved” over time. (Wikipedia definition)

Hence, while I will die, the matter that is me will not cease to exist. And since no one has ever come back, there must be something to it.

Now, understand something, this is no death wish. I intend to continue on this level of existence for as long as I can. There is much to do, much to experience, many things to live for.

As things come into my mind, compelling me to write, one of the things I contemplate is the end of life. As you age, it becomes more apparent that each day brings you closer.

By thinking about the realities of our physical world, by trying to understand the concepts of physics and all it’s weird possibilities, multiple universes, string theory, quantum theory, by the simple act of looking into the night sky and seeing the immense universe, one cannot help but imagine the possibilities of existence after this human experience.

So, where do we go from here? No one has the answer. Religions have tried to corner the market by selling a guarantee on the post-human experience. While many are well-intentioned, I think they lack true imagination.

Our minds, our ability to dream, our ability to think is our most precious asset. If we can imagine it, we can do it.

By using that same ingenuity in contemplating our post-human experience, I believe we can see the infinite possibilities of our continued existence.

While I enjoy this level of existence, I believe there is something to look forward to when the time comes.

Dying by Choice

While the Ebola panic dominates the news, an equally important story goes almost unnoticed.

Brittany Maynard, 29, suffers from a rare, untreatable, and 100% fatal brain cancer; diagnosed with grade II Astrocytoma, the most aggressive form.

The prognosis for the progression of the disease is one of rapidly decreasing quality of life and a painful decline to death.

Ms. Maynard chooses to end her own life, on her own terms, after living long enough to celebrate her husband’s birthday.

The real tragedy here is that we may have already had a cure if we had prevented religion from interfering in the funding and course of scientific research.  I am referring to stem cells and other promising medical research.

Whether or not it would make a difference in this matter, no one knows. 

We do know that prohibiting the research did make a difference.  It condemned her to die.

Another argument, once again fueled by religious zealotry, would prohibit her access to choose the time and manner of her death.  There are only four states in the country where this choice is available.

They argue it should be left in God’s hands.

That would be the same God who, if he did not inflict the disease on her, at least let it happen. You can’t argue this point.  Omnipotence is pretty specific. God either chose to allow it or inflicted her intentionally.

Sad state of the world when this country would turn its back on suffering and slow, painful deaths based on Bronze age writings manipulated by a powerful, self-sustaining organization propagating a myth.

The other side of this story is one of courage and hope.

Courage. This young woman shows remarkable courage in choosing to die with dignity, in her own time, without subjecting her family to the agony of watching her prolonged and painful death. 

Hope.  There is hope that her decision to end her life in this manner will spur people to demand medical research guided by thoughtful, knowledge based, and scientific methodology.

Not restricted by religious nonsense.

Let’s hope that Brittany Maynard’s courage will inspire others. We must all take action to insure her willingness to share the choice forced upon her, and her dealing with the reality of death, is not in vain.

I wonder how many of us would have the courage to do the same.

For (which?) God and (whose?) Country

I just read the New Yorker report on the raid that killed bin Laden.

(http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2011/08/08/110808fa_fact_schmidle)

I took a few things away from it.

1st. There is no military organization in the world that can even come close to matching the courage, determination, ability, and competence of the armed forces of the United States.

This is compounded by the willingness of the American people to pursue Justice.

You can hate President Barrack Obama’s policies and politics, but you cannot doubt his courage, his willingness to make difficult decisions, his admiration of, concern for, and confidence in the military.

He risked his Presidency on doing the right thing.

2nd (and this is more troubling)

The article reports the following transmission was sent to confirm contact with bin Laden (known as “Crankshaft” by JSOC group and referred to as “Geronimo” in the broadcast”).

Inside the compound the Seal team radioed;

“For God and Country, Geronimo, Geronimo, Geronimo”

This was immediately followed by the words “Geronimo, E.K.I.A.” (Enemy Killed in Action) to confirm he was dead.

The article goes on to describe the tension in the White House situation room.

At one point the article points out “as they awaited word, VP Biden nervously fingered his Rosary”

I was struck by the incongruity of these statements.

It was blind, nonsensical, religious belief that triggered the situation in the first place.

What was the difference? Our praying to a different invisible “God”?

One God sent planes into buildings.

One God guided forces to a house in Pakistan.

Taken in the best light, I guess the “Christian” God is more “surgical” in his vengence.

To borrow a line from a t-shirt I once saw;

“Science flies you to the moon, Religion flies you into buildings”

I do not begrudge people their religious beliefs. I do not doubt their sincerity. As long as it is personal and private.

I am troubled by any of our governmental actions, our elected officials, our powerful military being guided by any religious tenets.

Morality, honesty, and integrity do not exist because of religion, they exist in spite of it.

Studies show humans are evolutionarily “designed” (now that’s Intelligent!) to be moral, empathetic, and ethical.

Religion compels a certain behavior out of fear of eternal damnation or reward of a blissful, eternal life (especially with Seventy-two Virgins).

Humans have an innate sense of right and wrong and most follow that path. Religiosity, a by-product of our evolutionary development, is unnecessary.

If those Seals want to pray to thank God, if the Vice President wants to recite the ‘Holy Rosary’ and go to Mass, if the President wants to acknowledge God’s help in making the decision, I fully support their right to do it, privately.

But not as Officials of the US Government and not using any resources of that government.

I believe the decision to send bin Laden’s remains into the ocean, with appropriate Islamic burial protocols, was a brilliant tactical decision. Equally so, the offer of the remains to the Saudi Government (who wisely declined). But I don’t think they are an endorsement of the efficacy or effectiveness of the religious procedures. Nor should they be.

In the interest of full disclosure and if, in the unlikely event I am wrong and God does exist, Osama bin Laden’s passage into the eternal was dependent our exact adherence to Islamic protocols, I pray we fucked it up!

This will be a better world when the world adopts the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” approach to Religion.