If you have ever been under general anesthesia, you experienced a kind of death – a death of time. That time under anesthesia does not exist. I had a six-hour surgery under general anesthesia that felt like I had blinked my eyes and it was over. For me, that experience was more terrifying than the surgery itself. Is this what happens when we die? I asked myself. Time vanishes into nothingness. There is nothing to be frightened of in death because nothing exists once your heart stops beating, including your complete essence. I do not find that thought comforting. I do not find the removal of time comforting. All that’s left is what other humans may remember about you. It makes me ask why I was here to begin with?
Was it to at least enjoy life’s up and downs for however long my stay may last? Was it a gift from God that allowed me to enjoy the fruits of the planet in all its glory? Was it a random event that is so insignificant that its end is also insignificant – just another spec of dust that happened to live during the third decade of the third millennium? Was I put here to make the world a better place no matter how small of a difference that might be?
I think many of us older adults think about these things more frequently, as I do. And oftentimes I tell myself to stop thinking about death so much. It gets annoying after a while. But I still think about it to some degree just about every day.
I ask how can we love and co-create and interact and grow together only for all our experiences to end in a meaningless pile of ashes, dust, and bones to be forgotten forever? And then I also think about grace and serendipity. I think of all the times that things somehow worked out, how a bit of luck and timing, and the goodness of friends and colleagues brought positive experiences that ultimately enabled me to produce some decent work and support a family.
I had a friend who used to say “I’m protected” whenever things seemed to be moving in the wrong direction. I often feel that way myself. That’s where grace – or what some call the Holy Spirit – comes into play. Growing up Roman Catholic, I was always most interested, perhaps selfishly, in the Holy Spirit of the Trinity, which includes God and Jesus. God seemed scarry. Jesus, while great, does not exactly come to an end that a Catholic elementary school kid wants to think about. The Holy Spirit, on the other hand – now we’re talking – getting all that grace that will eventually take you to heaven. Yep, I’ll take more of that please. Where do I sign?
Does grace come only to those who deserve it based on their human goodness? I think not. It comes to everyone. But if you’re not paying attention, you will not recognize it and just go along your merry way thinking all the grace that’s flowing through your life is just normal, everyday happenings that come and go with no fanfare. But it’s all really quite extraordinary when you take some time to really think about it. The mere fact that we are suspended in a universe comprised of billions of galaxies – not just planets – but galaxies – that alone is extraordinary and magical. The mere fact that we are walking on a sphere and do not fall off the planet – gravity – that alone is extraordinary and magical. And all the plants and animals that surround us … amazing!
Sadly, within this magical world, we have become our own worst enemy. Politics, authoritarianism, greed, and intolerance have historically destroyed too many of our own species. We repeatedly become irrational actors, and the history of mankind repeats itself. This is why I’m having a very hard time feeling positive about the ways things are going these days, even when it comes to saving grace.
Lastly, I know this particular essay goes in numerous directions, and I think it’s because there is so much confusion and a great big guessing game going on today. We’re still capable of making intelligent decisions based on science and our knowledge of history, but the only people listening are the honorable unselfish humans who actually know the appropriate courses of action to take - and very unfortunately, their voices are not being heeded and many are acting like they are under general anesthesia.