A Third Round With Death

My son brought up the topic of death again, the third time in recent memory. I am trying to discern the source of this, but haven’t managed to do it yet. Quincy would have figured it out, so would have Columbo and Kojak, but they have more training in this area than I do.

Forgive me for being insouciant about this, but I am in a bit of a black mood. It is not an easy conversation and I am a little concerned that my answers are just not satisfactory, but then again they do not feel great to me.

I think that the lack of reassurance is because we are both interested in more of a tactile answer, something that you can touch and feel. In the end it is another area that is relegated to faith, none can provide substantive answers that we can all believe in. No one has gone and come back, at least no one that I have encountered and believe.

I also found it to be oddly coincidental that an essay I read this week discussed Ozymandias.

I met a traveler from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read,
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed,
And on the pedestal these words appear:
“My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings:
Look upon my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.
-Percy Bysshe Shelley
I suppose that this poem alludes to one of the ultimate fears of people, that we will die without having made any sort of impact upon the world. But he is too young to debate philosophy with. Mighty Carthage may have fallen, but it’s echoes are still heard.

Rashi, Maimonidies, Moshe Rabbeinu, Pasteur, Einstein, they all can be found around us. But like I said, he is too young to think about these things.

Although he has raised the topic of reincarnation because now he is convinced that when you die you come back. I hear myself saying the Shmoneh Esrei, “Mehayei Meytim”…………………

He really wants to know when we are going to die, he’d like a definitive answer. Not to mention that he wants to know if I am going to drive to heaven. I used the term because it was simple and didn’t feel like entering into a discussion about Olam Ha-bah because a large number of the people he encounters will not be familiar with the term and I do not want to muddy the waters.

In the midst of a very serious subject, there is a part of me that has a mental image of the “Grim Reaper” at my door. He is there, scythe in hand, long black robe when I come up and poke him in the eyes, “Three Stooges” style. As he grabs his head I take the scythe out of his hands, spin him around, kick him in the ass and close the door.

Nothing like embarrassing death to make your day. Ok, it is time for his shower. Perhaps I will write more about this later.

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  1. Jack's Shack December 20, 2004 at 6:42 am

    I don’t think that there is a right answer, but there are plenty that are wrong.

  2. Just Me December 19, 2004 at 9:47 pm

    Laughed out loud at Stacey’s comment. What a classic story! But I’m a bit worried about the American Diabetes Association ad that appears on screen with this post…Tricky subject, death. Don’t know how you tell a kid about it. I remember spoiling an amorous moment for my parents when I was about seven by coming downstairs in tears and telling them I didn’t want to be buried and I didn’t want to be cremated. They were at a loss to come up with a suitable alternative.

  3. Koftu December 19, 2004 at 5:28 am

    I have no clue what it is like to have this sort of discussion with a three year old. I remember that my fears about my parents’ deaths around that age were easily assuaged by telling me that Mommy and Daddy were going to live for a long time. The way I approach death now is either through negativity concerning the drain of resources due to a prolonged lifespan and the frail body in which I would live out my days, or thorugh Epicurean means (i.e. The soul is mortal and thus death is merely defined as the point in time at which all sensation ceases). Basically, I enjoy the traditional concept of Sheol over Gehennom and Olam haBah. In kids’ terms, “Daddy will defintiely do his best not to die any time soon, but should he die, you don’t need to worry about him. He is doing just fine and will always love you.”

  4. Mr. Middle America December 19, 2004 at 4:23 am

    Mortality sucks…

    Hey, you guys figure this out… and then write about it, because it has me stumped as well…

    It just doesn’t seem… like life to die. Millions, if not billions have died before us… before our time, and before OUR TIME (to die)…

    How can I look at the door if I am dead? I guess William Carlos Williams was right, “So much depends upon a red wheel barrow, cavered in rain water, surrounded by chickens.”

  5. Stacey December 19, 2004 at 4:01 am

    I took my 3-yr. old out for ice cream tonight, just Mommy and her. As she was finishing her pumpkin ice cream cone, she reached over to me, put her arms around me, held me tight and said, “Mommy, I’m so glad you’re not dying.”

    I about fell off my chair. Must be something in the air…

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