Posted by: jhvn | 04/29/2013

So Is Death the End of the Line? A Threshold? Or What??

 These two characters inhabit most of us. Do you recognize them? There’s no denying it: death stalks us geezers more closely than it did when we were adults. This geezer identifies with the guy being interrogated more than with the junk collector.

 Not the Target DemographicUsername and PasswordSo why do I maintain myself in this big house filled with stuff I’ve collected over too many years — laziness? attachment? as my Dad would say, “I might need this some day”? procrastination? fear of isolation? Hmmm.  Yes — and more.

How in the world (or beyond the world) could we know what awaits us after we close our eyes for the last time? Speculation abounds. How can we know anything? Pat, my wife (may she rest in peace), loved to ridicule her college chemistry professor who instructed her class with intense  certainty in 1944 that the atom could never be split. Of course by then it already had been split. So what did she know? How can you know when you find the mate who will love you for the rest of your life? (I got lucky on that one.) When I was in college studying engineering, I positively knew I would be an electrical engineer for the rest of my life. Hah! I never did work as an engineer. So what do I know?

As adolescents most of us had to study geometry — so we think we can prove things –QED. Gary Marcus, an NYU research psychologist, has written in a New Yorker blog, “… outside of geometry, it is rare for scientists to literally prove anything. Rather, the more typical trajectory is to rule out competing theories, and accumulate more and more evidence in favor of particular hypotheses.” So much for adult attempts at knowing things scientifically.

We geezers have it better. By the time we reach geezerhood, numerous weird events have amazed us and defied any rational explanation. In California, my camera tripod disappeared from the shelf and then reappeared there a week later, followed by an uncanny conversation within myself with “George” who had once owned the house we were renting. (Yes, chills ran up and down my spine.) In New Hampshire, pipe smoke wafted in the window one evening just as Pat and I were going to bed, startling us with fear of a prowler outside. We had just  moved into the octagonal house we had built on land Pat had inherited from her grandfather, who had died in 1935. Suddenly Pat recognized that distinctive smell: “That’s my grandfather’s pipe!”  We both felt the spine-tingling chills. The aroma disappeared and has never returned in 25 years. We concluded he was blessing our living on his land. Most of you who read this could tell similar stories that you have experienced or heard from trusted friends or family. So what do we really know of this world and the next?

We do know what we experience – the delight of sumptuous ice cream;  teeth chattering after jumping into an ice-cold pond too early in the spring.  After allowing enough people talk us into stuff that turns out to be  false, we begin to recognize the hollow sense in our gut as a liar pumps out the b.s. As we hear or experience enough real truth, we learn to pay more attention to that leap of our heart, or its warmth, when we encounter reality. When the psychologist, Carl Jung, was asked whether he still believed in God, he replied,  I don’t need to believe. I know.” That sense of knowing is a mark of true geezerhood.

Whatever we know about the next world will have to come from experience, not from science, philosophy, theology, psychology or any other -ology. Dr. John Lerma, medical director of the Houston, TX residential hospice program, presents other-worldly encounters some of his patients desctribe just before they die. In his book, Into the Light, these patients describe a variety of “pre-death experiences” — angels who visit them and facilitate healing and reconciliation of abuse, fear, rejection, and other issues that have plagued them over the course of their entire lives. This process seems to prepare these patients to pass in peace to the realm of these angels and to join others — friends and family members — who have passed before them.

If I really could know at that level of reality, I wouldn’t need to collect and save all that stuff, like the guy at the top of the page. I would also make sure I knew my userename and password. But that knowing comes from inside myself, not from memory thank goodness. Username and password protect and proclaim my identity —  who I am. The angels know who I am better than I do myself (see I Corinthians 13:12). So the refrain to my poem (or song) about looking in the mirror and wondering who I really am, included in my previous post, goes like this: (with thanks to St. Oren (0r Odran) of Iona)

Oh the only hell’s within yourself

And death can heal the fall

In fact the way you think it is

It’s not that way at all.

© John Van Ness, May 2013


  1. Interesting that I submitted attached as article of the month just before reading yours! Best/0


  2. Thank-you, John. Very thought provoking. Yet, my experience of hell is somewhat more complicated, and I would dare not to define it, as St. Oren did, in such inocuous terms. Evil is a formidable force loosed upon the natural realm, and oft it has come at me from outside myself much as “hordes of hell marching” against me to steal, destroy and kill in every way imaginable-above and beyond the very ordinary venue of internal cognitive distortions which plague every human mind at times. Praise God that greater is His Grace within to conquer those foes of divine Love lurking both within and without to undermine sound mind and serenity, both individually and collectively! The mysteries of the spiritual realm are very difficult to articulate! Subjective impressions shape and color the remembrance of experience into personal testimony that only the Spirit of Omniscience can fully co-share, understand and appreciate with us through the eyes of His Love. Yet, how grateful I am that God has set it up for Himself to love humanity, along with all His other incredible, unfathomable ways, through very specially set- apart and sanctified “first fruits” relationships with our spouses, children and/or faithful friends! Thank-you for having the courage to address such deep topics impacting humanity and how we view ourselves, others and society- in a non-offensive way that respects the dignity of mortal man. But, I guess that is one way God brings His love and peace into the world- through His Geezer’s wisdom and grace!

    • Robyn, thanks for this valuable comment. You have had a more profound experience of the evil forces than most people have. Thankfully you have also experienced as profoundly God’s “Grace within to conquer those foes of divine Love lurking both within and without to undermine sound mind and serenity, both individually and collectively! The mysteries of the spiritual realm are very difficult to articulate!” That is a magnificent statement, and I deeply appreciate it. I would welcome further comments from others relating the reality of the powers of evil.

    • What’s it take to become a sublime exnodpuer of prose like yourself?

      • Adele, you will have to define “exnodpuer” before I can respond.

  3. I still haven’t found my mother’s two spoons. Do you suppose there is grapefruit where she is?

  4. Your fashion is very unique in comparison to other people I’ve read things from. Thank you for posting when you’ve got the opportunity, Guess I’ll just bookmark this website.

  5. Dear John,
    And to your essay I say, “Amen, and so it is.” I too have taken Jung’s line as my own. My varied experiences include dealing with a clairvoyant grandchild who, at age 3, knew her mother was expecting before she told her and said, all along, that the doctor’s estimate of a September birth was wrong and gave the exact October day. A year later she knew her grandfather had passed before I called. The experiences come to those of us whose hearts are open.

    I think TS Eliot got it right.

    “And the end of all our exploring
    Will be to arrive where we started
    And know the place for the first time….
    And all manner of thing shall be well….


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