In my old blog I had a category called Magic. While I’m not in a constant alternative reality, the Other Side definitely speaks to me at times. And it happened again yesterday. I’ve been going to the hospital the last couple of days to visit Stephen, who is recovering from an operation. As I was driving there, I passed a graveyard by the side of the road. I’ve never even been in it, and I know of no one who is buried there. I’ve driven by it dozens of times. But yesterday afternoon, for some inexplicable reason, just as I could see the grassy hillside leading up to the well-spaced grave markers disappearing in my right field of vision, I had the sudden urge just to go and sit on the inviting green grass amongst the graves. Being on the interstate, I had to drive on, of course, to complete my journey to visit my friend. My mind, however, remained ensconced in the grass, and I began to have an amazing set of cogitations and realizations. This morning, as I was visiting with Stephen, I tried to tell him about my experience, and now I am going to try to set some of this down here.
In my imagination, I saw each of these headstones as pegs in time and space tethering the life of the deceased to the earth. I thought of what an immensely complex path one’s body cuts through time and space as it goes from birth to death. A friend of ours, Anne, at her 80th birthday party had a huge map of the world showing her many travels throughout each of the seven continents on the earth. It was truly impressive. But the swath I am imagining that defines a person’s meanderings through life is enormously more complicated than just a map of the places that one has been. I am thinking of ALL of the actions of a person living his or her life. We do millions, maybe even billions, of deeds in our three score and ten—and incidentally, I am three score and ten, so no accident that I would be thinking about headstones. Of course, we do not reduce to our actions. We are much, much more: feelings, thoughts, imaginings, commitments, purposes and intentions. But when they give our eulogy, it is our actions that they are talking about, by and large.
Wait, but more. You can see that as we take more and more charge of our life, the effects of our actions begin to link our lives so very complexly to the lives of others, that other minds begin to bear a video of our impressions on them. Just take the friendly person who likes to smile and speak to another, even a stranger, as they pass. Such a little kindness may have lightened another soul’s heart and inspired them to brighten the next life that they encounter. Or, for example, I said yes to my nephew’s request to let him live with us as he worked on his masters degree in a strange city, and was drawn into his life for the next couple of years. Or what about the 30,000 students whose lives I touched during my 33 year career as an educator? I know I had a strong, indelible impact on a few, like Kathy, who is now a state senator. What about all the faithful phone calls to my mother, my church attendance for 30 years, my genealogy website? And mind you, I am talking now not only about the colossally complex wake I am leaving, but all of the other ships slowly rising and falling as the wake passes.
In Physics, there is a concept known as the world line, which is the unique path of that object as it travels through 4-dimensional space-time. But I am speaking of a much more complex thing than that. I am speaking of the wave of meaning that all the actions of a person’s life creates. And, I think this wave of meaning exists in more than just 4-dimensions. Just ask the physicists, they will tell you that there are 10 dimensions. Or is it 11? But quite a few more. As I live, my waves of meaning become so overlapped with your waves of meaning (all the people who have seen me and understood what I was doing), that when my body gets pegged to the graveyard, my meaning lives on in the meaning of both my beneficiaries and my benefactors.
I continued on the freeway toward my hospital visit with Stephen, with part of my attention still on the grassy green graveyard site under the trees amidst the tombstones on a sunny, breezy day in May. What I have just tried to describe to you, and much more that is ineffable, was in my mind. I felt a comfort and a peace descend on me as I contemplated this kind of immortality that, really, we all have to look forward to. And I thought that it was probably enough if that was all that remains. My priest often speaks of living in the hope of the resurrection. I never know for sure about that, and maybe it is a sign that I haven’t fully mastered my Christian discipline. But please spare me the lecture on being saved. I am talking here about my life BEING in the safe, the safe of the memories of the people who loved me, and even in some who have forgotten me. It’s too overwhelmingly complex to really understand. But I am comforted, very comforted. It feels to me like the God that I face day in and day out is well pleased with this.