Life comes down to a box of ashes. I know this because I held the box. It was a box that contained my father’s cremains.
My father accomplished a lot of things in his life. He helped raise five children and six stepchildren. He married three different women. All three were difficult women to live with, but he managed not to kill any of them.
He was a crackerjack at his line of work. He made good money and was in high demand. Even after he retired he continued to work part-time, because no one wanted to let him go.
He was well-liked by just about everyone. Even his ex-wives liked him. Especially when he sent in his alimony checks. He had a great sense of humor, was generous to a fault, and was honest to everyone except the IRS.
I spoke with him on a Sunday, and he was doing great. By Thursday he was in the hospital with pneumonia. I called him on Friday, and by that time he was going out of his mind. That’s because he was an alcoholic, and they don’t serve alcohol in hospitals. Twelve days later he was dead, succumbing to a combination of pneumonia and the DT’s.
Shortly after that his body was reduced to a box of ashes. And that’s what his life came down to.
It’s easy to get nihilistic when holding a box of someone’s ashes. What a metamorphosis cremation causes! It drives home the idea that everything we’ve ever accomplished can quickly turn to dust.
But nihilism is not for me. There are good Christians and good atheists. And there are lousy Christians and lousy atheists. I’m a lousy atheist. I don’t believe in nihilism.
Instead I make the assumption that there is life after death. It’s an assumption, and not an absolute belief. But to assume or believe the opposite is too depressing for me. I hope I’m not disillusioning any of my fellow atheists when I say this.
My dad was a good man, and I like to assume he’s enjoying an afterlife. For one thing, he has no more ex-wives to pay alimony to. And I doubt that IRS agents are allowed into heaven. And instead of alcohol, he has something better to drink. Ambrosia.
Actually I have no idea what any afterlife is like. But my best guess is that it’s nothing special. My guess is that nothing really changes on a fundamental level when we change worlds. Perhaps our joys will come from basically the same things. Maybe we’ll continue to enjoy friendships and romances and close relationships. And maybe we’ll continue to take pride in whatever work we do. And perhaps we’ll still love to laugh, make other people smile, and pursue games of cat and mouse with the equivalent of IRS agents.
So my guess is that life really doesn’t come down to a box of ashes. Life doesn’t come down to anything. It remains where it’s at and continues on and on in its own special, non-special way.
Life is all about the moment-to-moment joy of simply living, regardless of what world we live in.