We don’t know the dead. We can’t know the dead. Even if there is anything experiential that happens after we die, we can’t see it when we live.
So from one perspective, the privilege of the dead may be to know what the dead know. If there’s knowing, they’ll know it. We’ll all know it, one day.
Its fascinating that something so inevitable can be so unknowable. It seems the things that make us most curious about are always unknowable. What’s that line? ‘Tiger’s got to sleep, Bird’s got to land, Man’s got to tell himself he understand.’ We reach out into the unknowable. Guesswork and mythology (mythology = old guesses that got written down?), these are all we have to help us grasp the ineffable. Beyond death into anything that might be after. Or just into the absence of being.
We can’t know, and that terrifies us. We’ll do whatever mental somersaults we need to convince ourselves that there’s something comforting out there, after the thing that makes us us stops having an impact in the world we currently see. There’s no evidence. There’s just a particular form of hope.
I’m not saying there is nothing beyond death. I’m just saying we don’t know what it is. And all the evidence points toward all the things that currently generate our sense of self, stopping. Sense stops. Movement stops. Breath stops. We stop. The meat that did all that for us slowly rots away.
The part of us that we know survives, is our memory in others. That’s something special. Carrying on after us. Still connecting us to the people we love. (More accurately, it connects the people we love to us, but if we have stopped, then we won’t feel that connection, which would be sad, except that we wouldn’t feel sadness either).
But we don’t know. And the dead might.
There is no understanding of the unknowable. We can’t reach beyond death. We can’t know the why of all of this. We can’t see before creation. We can’t know the future until it’s here. Anyone who offers you an answer to these questions as a fact, is exploiting the human need to know.
Not necessarily out of cruelty or selfishness, although that can happen. Mostly they just need to know themselves. Telling others (like I am now), and particularly convincing others (like I am probably not), can help convince your self of what you want to know but can’t.
We build truths by agreeing on them. So we hope to gain control of the unknowable by sharing it.
I don’t think this is wrong, but I think it can be dangerous.
I believe (dangerous) that the dead aren’t like us. When I die, I expect almost all of me to slowly rot into the ground, and continue to cycle through the matter and energy that is universe.
Anything leftover? I don’t know. But I doubt it’ll feel like me any more.
Illustration by Karen.