Fading to Black

Fading to Black

Every man owes God a death, but the details of what actually happens next are fuzzy. Speculation runs rampant, with the standard idea of a long tunnel with a bright light at the far end appealing to many. Grandmama and Jesus greet you, along with all your already dead friends. After standing around in a nice green park with trees and birds, you move into a splashy condominium with satellite TV and direct cable modem access. A funky Thai restaurant sits just around the corner, and five strokes come off your golf game. Now for this to truly become heaven, we must assume your butthead boss and loser brother-in-law went to a still better place. If they did come down that exact same tunnel, they will at least keep a respectable distance for the next 10-to-the-308th-power years.

Alternative theories abound. One possibility occurred to me in an alcoholic haze during a large cocktail reception. Upon death, you appear in a big crowded room, a sort of a hotel ballroom with nice carpet and a chandelier. Light jazz plays over the PA system, but no one can really hear it over the buzz of the crowd. You find yourself dressed nicely, coat and tie for the guys, sparkly dresses with a bit of décolletage for the girls. You recognize some friends now and again, but most everyone is a friendly-seeming stranger. Short conversations begin about nothing in particular, certainly nothing as tacky as the details of demise. They don’t get far, as the crush of people keeps you moving. There is a cash bar with a seemingly infinite line. You hope for a gin and tonic, but you’d settle for a Bud Light. The line zips along, and a friendly young lady makes you a good, strong G&T, and tells you a secret of bar ginger ale (Coke and 7-Up), and back you go into the crowd. I admit there is no theological basis for the grand cocktail party in the stars, but it sounds pleasant enough compared to the next alternative.

Certain Eastern beliefs require that you come back again and again, sometimes on different levels of the food chain. Some of the classier systems allow you to remain on the human level. If you’re a real coffee achiever in the afterlife, like Nefretiti or Cleopatra, you can start a franchise and let your soul out at a decent profit. That’s the only way to explain all the new age babes with patchouli oil in their aura claiming astral pedigrees. In any event, you’ve entered the biggest recycling game in the universe, parallel or not. One point not clear is whether the transfer is instantaneous, or if training classes are required, or if you just spend a few weeks hanging about drinking Café Latte and playing Mah-Jongg with Krishna and Buddha. The down side is you never get to meet grandmama again, at least not so you can actually recognize her.

Enveloping darkness remains popular with the dark and literary sector of society. Certainly, there are scientific reasons to expect that total blankness might really be your final position, but it’s by far the least interesting option. No one to talk to, nowhere to go… well, you don’t have the energy you used to any more, so it’s not completely inappropriate. The upside comes early in the game, basically in your later high school and early college days. Espresso is part of it, along with a goatee and cool jazz. Girls with stringy hair and guys with no clear prospects for gainful employment tend to end up here.

A more user-friendly vision occurred to me several years ago. I moved into an old Orlando neighborhood. The average age was some where north of Metamucil. Late at night, in the midst of summer, I would go out for a walk in the muggy air. Not a soul stirred, houses were dark, sometimes the blue light of a B&W TV lit the curtain. No dogs. No cats. In the distance, you could hear the freeway, sometimes a jet 10 miles away. It seemed I could walk forever, completely alone but surrounded by the city. A distant and alien, yet friendly and enveloping atmosphere seemed to surround me. I was alone. Miles away, another soul may walk, equally alone, never getting tired, never getting lost, looking at neat yards and interesting 1920’s stucco homes. Was this eternity? It wasn’t bad. It gave you time to think and some mild, non-impact exercise.

The most elaborate eternity comes from the late medieval writer, Dante. He proposed a separate, specific punishment for every type of sin. Not only did blasphemy and gluttony and the more popular nasty pastimes get special treatment, but there were some very specialized punishments for some now-obscure offenses, such as Simony. Simony is the sale of church office for profit, which has fallen out of favor with today’s free-agent system for Televangelists. Direct negotiation with Satan sets your rate per soul delivered, and you don’t have to pony up the big franchise fee anymore. Dante’s system is basically sound, but in need of a few updates for today’s offenders. Telemarketers could have a place where they never can sit down to dinner without having to answer the phone. Infomercial sponsors will spend the afterlife on an Abdominzer. You get the idea.

In finis, there is a worse fate. The worst eternity is that posited by 19th century spiritualists. When you die, you don’t actually go anywhere. You just sort of hang around in a dark, musty plane, waiting for a summons from a bejeweled, over-perfumed medium. Your new job requires answering silly questions from overweight, bored housewives and sappy new-agers. This is the eternal equivalent of giving your pager number to a telemarketer. “Oh, what’s it like on the other side? ” “Boring, dammit. Leave me alone.” “Is Fluffy over there?” “No. He got run over again, but this time by a spiritual garbage truck. Serves him right for pooping on my aura.” “What’s ectoplasm like?” “Tastes like chicken. Bugger off.” Sort of makes the Baptist Full Fire and Brimstone option seem attractive.

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