There is a podcast I’ve found called Personality Bingo. It’s out of Ireland and the concept is pretty cool. 60 minutes, 60 bingo balls & 60 questions. The interviewer, Tom Moran, has his guest choose 6 numbers before the interview starts. If they roll all six numbers before the hour is up, the guest gets to ask Tom a question which he will answer as honestly as he can. It’s a great idea for a podcast and I’ve really enjoyed listening because the questions are all over the board in content. If you’re so inclined, give Personality Bingo a listen.
Some of the questions in Personality Bingo have come up more than once which is nice because it gives an opportunity to hear different perspectives. The question which made me think today was when Tom asked his guest her thoughts on an afterlife.
I grew up in a very religious family. My grandpa was a minister and a professor at a Christian college. Both my mom and dad’s family were church goers and they all had a very specific way of thinking and doing things. Their ideas about religion, God and church were taught to me at an early age. I remember being quite young, maybe around 5 or 6 years old, when I first asked about heaven. I was told that when people die, they got to go to heaven and hang out with God. Getting into heaven was the end goal of everything we were taught as a child. It was the primary motivator and governor of life’s choices. If we’re good and we obeyed, we were a shoe-in to heaven. If we deviated from what we were taught, there was a chance you’d end up in hell. These notions became problematic when I got into my teenage years and started to really question things. However, as a child, that fear of going to hell was a tool which was wielded skillfully to keep us in line.
As a 5-6 year old kid, my brain started to churn with all sorts of questions about heaven. I was not completely sold on the idea of heaven I was fed. I remember thinking that all the dancing and singing people were said to do in heaven must get a bit boring. When did people sleep? Where there bathrooms? Did people get married? Is praising God all there was to do? It sounded like there were no jobs or worries and I couldn’t help but think, “Is that it?!”. Surely there had to be more to it. Heaven sounded too good to be true and I also questioned the size of the place. Heaven must be massive but ridiculously crowed if all the people who ever live were up there, hanging out. Were there houses or did everyone just float around on clouds in their white robes? Is there food in heaven? Did they have hamburgers? Seriously, the place lost some credibility when I was told people didn’t need to eat in heaven. When I tried to find out more, I was met with this: “Heaven is too wonderful and our human minds cannot fully understand it. When we put our human logic into the equation makes us have questions. We need to just trust and believe it is as we’ve been told.” The old “because I said so” response did not satisfy my curiosity. I stopped asking my questions but I secretly doubted if what I was told about heaven was true.
I remember in church, the validity of Buddhist reincarnation was also quickly dismissed. There was a Christian music artist who wrote a song which poked fun at Buddhism’s version of reincarnation. Since reincarnation didn’t agree with anything we’d been taught in church, this idea were thrown out. I remember thinking about the Buddhist idea of reincarnation and wondering how it worked. I loved animals and I often play acted like I was a host of different animals. I had a vivid imagination as a kid and the idea of becoming a tiger or a puma or some other large cat seemed pretty cool. It wasn’t until I was a little older that I decided coming back as an animal wouldn’t be all that great. I couldn’t talk to people and I’d just hang out in a jungle or maybe a zoo. It sounded like a lonely life. If I couldn’t talk to the other animals, what was the point? As I reached adulthood, I entertained a different perspective on reincarnation. I remember watching a documentary called “Ghost Inside My Child”. It was about children who could remember details of a past life. The stories were so compelling and it made me more curious about what the afterlife looks like. The idea of the soul coming back as a new life in a different body started to make more sense that anything I was taught as a child.
I imagine when someone dies, the soul has to get used to the idea that their body has just died. I would expect there’s a period where acceptance of the current situation and grieving their old body must take place. What if the person died suddenly? How shocking would it be if all of a sudden, your body is gone?! There could be unfinished business for the soul in such a scenario. What if the person was ill but was not ready to leave their body when they died? What if they were angry about their life being cut short? In my mind, a time of adjustment for the newly body-less soul seems reasonable. I liken it to a gap year. I feel the soul must have to take time off and finish whatever needs resolving before it jumps back into the game of life as a new person. My thoughts might simply be my way of grasping to understand one of man’s most perplexing questions. Whether or not anyone agrees with me is irreverent. In times of uncertainly, our mind works overtime in comforting us and easing our pain.
As I’ve mentioned in past blog posts, my mom died in 2016. She was diagnosed with a brain tumor and when first diagnosed, was only given a year. She was in a state of disbelief for the first six months after her diagnosis and she tried everything she could to avoid traditional chemo and radiation. When she could still express herself, she talked about regrets she had and things she wished she’d done. I don’t know if she ever made peace with the idea that she was going to die. She was very used to being in control of things and this illness stripped her of that power. After her death, the idea of her sitting in that heaven of my childhood mind felt comforting. Imagining her up there laughing with my grandpa and possibly even Gene Wilder (one of her favorite actors who died later in 2016) was a nice picture. June 5th 2017 will be the one year mark of her passing. I’d like to think of her getting another chance at life and maybe doing those things she wished she’d done when she was young. To me, the idea of having another go at life, in a new body with new experiences to learn from feels more comforting that believing we’re all done with our time on earth once the lights have gone out.