Thursday, November 10, 2011

What Would You Like to Have Happen After You Die?

By Susan Esther Barnes

There is abundant speculation about what happens to you after you die. Will there be a spirit or consciousness (or something) that lives on after you die, or not? If so, what will it be like? Do Heaven or Hell exist? What about Purgatory? If you are going to be resurrected after the Moshiach (Messiah) comes, what does your spirit do in the time between death and the world-to-come?

Some people think they will be reincarnated as animals, others think they will be reincarnated as people. Some believe you get a trip straight to either Heaven or Hell, and some think there is an intermediate place, called Purgatory or something else, where at least some people will stop first before heading one way or the other.

Some, such as the ancient Egyptians, believed it was important to entomb dead people with food and other supplies they would need in the afterlife. It is commonly understood that Muslims believe martyrs will get 72 virgins, which I never understood. First, you would need a body to “enjoy” the virgins, and second, once you had sex with them, they wouldn’t be virgins any more, so what is the point?

Of course, there is no way for us to answer these questions while we’re alive. We won’t find out until we die. There are so many diverse opinions, I have often wondered, “What if what happens to you after you die is whatever you believe will happen?” If you believe death is the end of your consciousness, then it is. If you think you’re going to Hell, then you are. If you think you will be reincarnated, that is what happens to you.

So, if you were in charge of creating your own afterlife, what would you want it to be like? Given the choice, what would you want to have happen?

I have a hard time imagining a Heaven where everything is perfect all the time. It seems to me that would get boring after a while. Maybe it’s just a lack of imagination on my part, but I don’t consider it to be a goal toward which I want to strive.

I hope that after I die I will get to stick around at least long enough to attend my funeral and burial. I’m curious to know what people would say about me.

Our chevra kadisha recently spoke about experiences in which people felt the spirit of those who had died were still with them. One woman talked about how she keeps the spirits of her dead loved ones close to her. I have often wondered whether that is fair to the dead people. If we keep them with us, are we delaying them from being free to go on to whatever they are supposed to be doing next? Does it not matter because time isn’t the same after you are dead, and we will be joining them in death relatively soon, anyway?

It is my fond hope that, after I die, God will answer my questions, although I suspect that what I consider to be burning questions now may not matter to me at all once I am dead. Who shot JFK, from where, and how? What would have happened if Gore had won the Presidency instead of Bush? When was the Torah first written down, how much of the stories in it really happened as they were written, and how did that horrible passage about not lying down with a man as one would with a woman get in there? These are some of the things I would like to know.

Once my curiosity is satisfied, however, I’m not really interested in just hanging out and partying. I hope I am able to come back to earth in a new body, and that I’m given a chance to try again. I have made a lot of mistakes in this life, and I expect to make even more. I keep learning as I go, but there is so much more to learn, I know this lifetime will not provide me with all the wisdom I would like to gain.

So, I guess my wish for an afterlife would be this: I would like to stick around the earth for at least a short while, visiting my body, my family, and my friends, and have a chance to attend my funeral and burial. Afterward, I’d like to have at least my burning questions answered. Then, I’d like to have a chance to come back to earth, where I would be allowed to continue to struggle, learn, and grow.

What would you like to have happen to you?

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