Understanding Death: The Most Important Event of Your Life

After forty-three years of university teaching, I retired in 2007. For the first time since I had begun writing, I found myself with as much time as I needed. I could write about whatever struck my fancy or my sense of service. So it was that in the fall in 2008, at the age of 68 (but two years younger than the age of my brother when passed), I began to think about death.

Like any human being, I had reflected many times before on my mortality and what the afterlife experience might be. And as a confirmed Bahá’í, I had long since acquired a fair degree of certitude that the conditions of that experience as portrayed in the Bahá’í writings were accurate and reliable. Furthermore, I fully expected—and do still—that I will during the course of my life review be made keenly aware of the times when I knowingly and willfully did things I should not have, even as—I dearly hope—I shall also become apprised of some little acts of kindness and of love I performed without the least concern about winning points for my afterlife evaluations score. 

Unlike anything I had ever written before—other than a few poems—this work flowed from my imagination through my fingers onto the keyboard scarcely without thought or revision. I certainly do not mean to imply this was some divine inspiration. Rather it was if long pent-up thoughts and observations had suddenly been unleashed upon me, like a flood of emotionally charged and quasi rational reflections on my own life experience as it relates to my ultimate outcome in this life and in my transition to the next. 

It is a light-hearted work, and thus begins with a humorous bit of fiction, as I imagined how triplets in the womb—were they cognitively aware of their condition and also able to communicate—might observe their progress through the nine months of rapid change. The climax of this narrative naturally occurs as they sequentially experience what they are certain is the end of their existence as one-by-one each exits the warmth and security of the uterine world and is suddenly thrust out into the realm of noise, lights, voices.

Needless to say, this quirky story is intended as a parable, an allegory, about our fear of death which, the Writings assure us, would be immediately changed into joy beyond measure were we to understand the reality that awaits us.

The theme of the work beyond that initial foray into the realm of fiction dwells on something I began to observe shortly after my accession to the position of a tenure-track professorial rank at the University of South Florida—that somehow I was living out a life that I had not really chosen, so much as I had followed, or had allowed myself to be coerced along, a path prescribed by society at large, but as reinforced by family, friends, and popular culture. Employing a useful metaphor, I describe this path as boarding train along with everyone else I knew, and not getting off until I had become aware that it was not going anywhere that in my heart of hearts I really wanted to go. 

The work proceeds to weave together bits of autobiographical exempla with axiomatic philosophical observations derived therefrom, but all the while focusing on the endgame that all our lives must ultimately play with death. And yet, unlike the chess match with Death in Bergman’s 1957 film The Seventh Seal, this game we’re in as Bahá’ís is ours to lose, if we but follow the alternate path, the path “less traveled by” that Bahá’u’lláh has plainly laid out for us and which the plans of the Universal House of Justice have made even more explicit.

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