Been chatting back and forth with one of my UCLA profs, and he commented on my post about Saavik that he holds out hope for an afterlife primarily so that he can imagine his pets are there. It's so funny how true this is for me too.
I have dealt with an inordinate amount of human loss, as many of you know, and while the concept of an afterlife is something I'd probably desperately like to believe in, it just doesn't jive with my concept of what is and what is to be. Generally, I can't cling to it for humans, and maybe part of that is because human life is so complex, the notion that our awareness continues indefinitely is not altogether pleasing.
Yet, imagine for just a moment the notion of Saavik, whose huge and free personality was trapped in a crippled and somewhat immobile little bird body, finally being freed in death and finally becoming able to spread those atrophied little wings and take to the sky. I mean, how can I resist that thought? Who cares if it stands against all of my assumptions about the nature of life and death.... it is a poetic and comforting notion despite the cognitive dissonance it creates.
I'm sure it's odd to think that someone might have an easier time believing in an afterlife for animals than for humans. But I don't believe in a lot of things, like reincarnation in the conventional sense, yet it is easier for me to imagine reincarnation for animals than for humans. For us, it sounds like an overly complicated process, given the differences among human beings. Yet for animals, it kind of makes sense. What if a bird dies, and its little bird soul enters a new hatchling? Neat and tidy.
Eh. I dunno. The point is, I obviously don't believe in all that. But when it comes to the purity and innocence of an animal, it is very hard for me to imagine that just blinking out and going nowhere. I mean, I do believe in a sort of post-mortem reuptake of energy and matter into the energy and matter that make up everything, some would consider that a limited form of reincarnation or an extremely limited form of afterlife. It doesn't seem too weird to me to think that an animal's consciousness, however limited, goes on; so why does it seem so weird that my own consciousness could also continue on?
Perhaps it is because of the difference in consciousness between animals and humans. It's not as if Saavik is analyzing her situation in the afterlife, should that in fact be where she now resides. She's probably just flying back to the jungle from whence her ancestors came, happy as a clam in mud. Now, if I were to die, and still be aware of things.... brr. Don't much care for it. I'm analytical enough now as it is. I guess I could grow to like the idea that I would enter into a euphoric state immediately upon my death, or an all-encompassing state that would have no emergent characteristics at all. But it still doesn't ring true for me.
Perhaps it is because I grew up with the notions of God and heaven and hell, and now believe that I would probably go to hell should such a thing exist and the criteria actually rest upon faith! Ha ha. Although even when I believed in the notion of heaven, and that I was headed in that direction, I rejected it. It was never reason enough for me to stay in service to my God of old once I obliterated my faith with questions, and it never could be now. I mean, I grew up with a lot of other notions too, and one was that the literal heaven and hell were probably mischaracterizations or exaggerations of afterlife states revealed by God that we humans couldn't describe or understand very well. That still makes more sense to me than the literal version.
Well, as usual, I've turned a little blurb into a dissertation. But I'm learning, and what I've learned here is that my desires, what I want life and death to mean, still shape my views on life and death more than I would care to admit. I just don't know if that is a bad thing or not... for example, I have always taken comfort in my mom's faith since her death. There is a part of me that wonders how it could not mean anything at all to believe so strongly in a loving Savior and that you'd be with him, in his arms, in the instant of your death. My mom believed that with all her heart, used to joyously sing songs about it in fact, and if there is any order to the universe it is hard to imagine that her faith amounted to nothing upon her death.
To that end, maybe the afterlife is exactly what you believe in life that it will be? That's a creepy thought too, but one that others have certainly advanced. I mean, our perception completely shapes our understanding and experience of life, so if our consciousness is perpetuated, couldn't it also shape our experience of afterlife? In that case, however, it'd be hard to advocate for an afterlife for animals as it is doubtful they spend much time cogitating on the possibility. For that matter, same thing for babies and children who leave us just as they come in to the world. Doesn't seem right to think that babies just blink out simply because they haven't been around enough to worry about their own mortality yet. Or that crazy religious zealots get to enter into bliss while perfectly decent people who tend to no faith merely disappear. Toss that idea. :)
Well... this has accomplished nothing other than making me feel uncomfortable about the influence my personal desires can have on my existential beliefs. :) I guess I still feel it's improbable that my best feathered friend is now flying free, happily munching on fresh tropical fruit and finding herself a handsome bird boyfriend in the jungle, but I like the idea too much to let go of it just yet. :)