I must believe in an afterlife, because at the ripe old age of 25, I’m terrified of burial. Of death also, but it doesn’t not generate the same rigid spined terror that burial does.
Here are a few paragraphs I wrote a few years ago, an excerpt from a book titled “The Gray Man Comes,” which I shall likely never finish.
There was in the ground a deep rectangle with concrete sides and bottom. It was much deeper than 6 feet, 15 perhaps. Before it were chairs, and next to it the heavy wooden coffin and flowers lay. I did not understand what it was. At first when I saw the pit I thought it must be the grave, but the graves I’d seen in movies were dug in dirt, not sided with concrete, and when the coffin was laid in, the pile of dirt left from digging the hole was shoveled atop it, the grass one day to overgrow it. Still, I could not think what else it might be, so I asked my father where the dirt to bury grandmother was, and he told me, distracted by other things as he did, that there was no dirt, that the vault would be sealed by a steel top, lowered by a small crane, one of the large yellow ones I associated with construction, after the coffin had been lowered in the same manner. Later, when we were gone, a machine would push in dirt over it, and Mexicans would lay sod.
I understood, and stared in horror at the grave. I tugged on my father’s sleeve and whispered, “Do not put me in one of those things, someday. Do not lock me away in concrete and burnished wood, so that I will never be a part of the world again. Do not make my molecules forever dead.”
It was, I admit, a poor thing to say at another’s funeral, and I whispered it loudly enough for several to hear and turn and look, but I cannot describe the magnitude of my terror then, a terror that has grown, at the imprisoning vault of man-made white stone, a rectangular marble tomb of strange crafting, within a sarcophagus of copper lined wood, preserved from bugs and microbes, to be found by some latter day archaeologist, ancient corpse #0997 of 10,000, as they investigate the burial practices of the ancient superstitious, embalmed flesh still clinging to my bones like odoriferous dried meat, to be taken and studied for clues about ancient American culture, that dead empire with its glass obelisks, corpse #997, forever dead, still as dead as a thousand years ago at the moment of my death, sealed in a hermetic chamber in the bowels of a new epoch’s museum, always, always dead for another thousand years more of curious grad students looking over corpse #997, though it is not very interesting. Perhaps one day I might be burned or left to be decomposed so that at long last my molecules might rejoin with the world, the grass to grow from me, animals to eat me and me to become a part of them, my moisture to enter others and pass through their bowels and tear ducts and sweat glands and lips, bits and pieces making bits and pieces of ovum and sperm and embryo, the atoms of my neurons to form parts of the neurons of others, at last myself alive again and sentient again, finally freed from the concrete prison after two thousand years of unjustified confinement.
Or perhaps it would never end. Perhaps there would be no latter day archaeologist interested in Sunny Glades cemetery, and I would remain dead and unmoving in my concrete prison till the day the sun at last burned the earth to a cinder, till the day the universe ended in ice or fire, never to be living again, waiting for the end of all things to at last free my remains from the bondage of gray and bones.
That is how I felt as I typed those words at the community college library, (I remember which table I was sitting at) and I still feel that way. I don’t imagine that I am something other than my body, but suppose I’m not anything less than it either. I imagine when I die, that corpse will still be me, but just dead, and I do not think that death should take my away from the hustle and bustle of life.
And there’s an odd thing, because I do not hustle and bustle. It is good that there is school and work, as if there weren’t I’d only ever leave the house to walk the dog and go shopping. I like shopping, but otherwise I am perfectly content to hole up all day in a room that smells ever more like a coffin.
In life I am homebody (hermit! my mother says) but in death I hope to become a drifter. Here are a few lines from a Neil Gaiman short story called Pages from a Journal, which is about a drifter.
“When you die,” says a dark haired woman at the next table, “they can make you into diamonds now. It’s scientific. That’s how I want to be remembered. I want to shine.”
This is true. There are several companies. It has become a small industry, bedeviled by occasional charges of fraud. Sometimes the CZ diamond you get is not compressed by carbon from the corpse of your grandmother, but compressed from coal, or somesuch. But I imagine it is done properly, and I am put, shiny and sparkling, a many faceted prism, into a relative’s hand, and the relative has it set into a ring. The ring passes eventually down to a great-granddaughter, who has no idea why Jonathan Lovelace, 04/30/1990-06/16/2087 is engraved on the inside of the band.
Because I am myself, I imagine that the ring bears my spirit, and begins to advise her, at first in a helpful, avuncular way, but progressing into possession, living vicariously through her and making evil demands such as, “No, we shall not go the party. We shall sit quietly at home reading a good book, wishing that the cat would snuggle us more.” Eventually, with the help of a lapsed Catholic Priest who has since become a jeweler, she removes and destroys the demonic ring.
Perhaps I’ll write that story one day. Writing it would likely make me like even less the idea of being bound into a diamond. I want to be free. I want my atoms to get about town. I’ve been hermitage enough.