Lake House Reflections: Of Fish and Trees

23 02 2015

Fish and Trees

As I said to a friend in a recent email, when I feel overwhelmed, I have the impulse to hit the delete key. As I was recovering from the trauma of realizing what had happened to me, my first thought was to shut down and pull back. Quit blogging, resign from everything, crawl into a hole and pull the hole in after me. Upon reflection, there are indeed be some things I need to pull back from. But writing isn’t one of them. It’s the one thing that works. The written word is what I feel most comfortable with. It’s how I communicate best. It’s how I connect. Connection is vital.

That is why I post this stuff on the web for all to see. I could just journal the way most people do, privately. Leave instructions for it all to be burned after I’m gone, or at least, revealed posthumously, when I’m beyond caring about public scrutiny and criticism. After all, aren’t I ashamed of what I did? Wouldn’t I be embarrassed having the world know about it and my weaknesses? People usually want to show only their best face to the world.

And that’s the point. This desire to only show your best face, to hide your weaknesses, to pretend everything is fine all of the time and keep the dirty laundry well-hidden, is a proud tradition in our society. But it gives us all the wrong impression of what it means to be human. When things go wrong, when we screw up or fall on that best face, we feel isolated and humiliated. We hang our heads in shame as if we are the only dog in the world who ever soiled a carpet. We end up in counseling wondering what’s wrong with us.

Fact is, we all screw up. We make bad choices, have bad luck, suffer a moment’s inattention or indulge an impulse that leads to disaster. If anyone claims they haven’t, they are either lying or not telling the truth. If a few of us have the courage to point out the Emperor’s lack of clothes, then the rest of us can breathe a sigh of relief and get about the business of talking openly and sorting it out. This is how we face our problems and deal with them, supporting one another instead of pointing fingers in hypocritical righteousness while praying nobody notices the stains on our own backsides.

Connection is vital.

I’ll readily confess, my first impulse when I woke up the next day and realized what had happened was not Holy shit, I could have died, but Holy shit, what are people going to think when they find out? Knee-jerk reaction was shame. I live in a small town, and that’s what people do. They gossip and shake their heads and pass judgement. I know, because I’ve been down this road before. And I’ve seen others crucified the same way. And yes, I’m ashamed to confess, I’ve been in the mob with the torches and pitchforks. It’s what humans do. It takes constant effort and vigilance not to let yourself do the ugly thing.

Compassion is vital.

So this is me, having screwed up, trying to figure out how to deal with it. Fortunately, I’ve done some of the work before. This is Colebrook Journal stuff. Beware the ruination chorus and that vicious, opportunistic demon, Depression. Individuals prone to clinical depression are far more likely to succumb with each successive episode. You’ve got to know your triggers. If you can’t disarm them, avoid them.

Compassion for oneself is vital.

I am a fish. I keep trying to climb trees. I get suckered by social pressure, the desire for approval and praise that success and fame bring. I keep falling for the Great Lie that Anyone can succeed if they try hard enough (Corollary: If you didn’t succeed, it is because you didn’t try hard enough. Conclusion: Your failure is your own fault.).

Doctor, it hurts when I do this. Doctor replies, So stop doing that.

Or as Thich Nhat Hanh says it, “If we ignore our stress, and just think that if we only work more we can take care of everything, then every day we add stress to stress and store it up in our body. If we continue like this, we make ourselves sick.” I made myself sick.

And, succinctly, “Running after wealth, fame, power and sensual pleasures can bring much suffering and despair.” No kidding.

I’ll keep on writing (fish gotta swim) but my tree-climbing days are over.





Lake House Reflections

22 02 2015

Lake HouseStop posting? Silly of me. This is my passion, my therapy, my mission, my compulsion. I wrote that last entry in shut down mode, panicked by the fact that I could have been killed.

So here I am, once again, looking myself in the I. This time I am comfortably ensconced at “Clair de Loon”, my friend Laura’s house on Balch Lake. The lake is frozen, snowmobiles zipping back and forth past the bob houses. For those of you unfamiliar with this New England tradition, a bob house is headquarters for the serious ice fisherman, a portable shanty for storing gear and providing shelter out on the frozen waste. Good luck drilling through all the snow we’ve had this winter, plus the thick ice these cold temperatures have generated. The fish are down there, but you’d have to be some kind of dedicated to be dropping lines in this weather.

I’ve got a different kind of fishing to do, staring down through the dark ice, plumbing the depths of my own psyche.

#1, there’s the stark reality of the accident I had on the way home from Boskone, my car up on a snow bank with a tree shoved half-way up the engine block.  If I had lost control of the car at a different point, in traffic, on the highway instead of a rural back road, I could have died or been horribly injured, and taken who knows how many other people with me. As it was, the only casualty was my car, which was totaled, but I walked away from it. So they tell me. I can’t remember a thing.

#2: That I don’t remember scares me even more.  I don’t know why or when I started drinking on the drive home.  This was the second big convention in a month. I hadn’t really recovered from the first and here I was once again in the chaotic thick of it, dealing with the multiple pressures of running a book table, being on panels, taking advantage of promotional opportunities and constant social interaction. I started in with the anxiety meds to try to keep functional. And somewhere along the line, my conscious self checked out. I switched to autopilot.  It wasn’t just my car I lost control of.  I lost control of me.

So, here I am trying to figure it out, what went wrong, what I need to do to make sure it never happens again.  First, I shoved the Lorazepam into the back of the medicine cabinet with a shudder.  Also, I have not touched alcohol since.  I may never drink again. Friends have been very supportive, although they must be getting weary of my emotional crashes. They ask if they can help. Truth is, I’m the one who has to do the helping. It’s like the old joke about the Buddha telling the hot dog vendor, “Make me one with everything.” When the vendor tries to give him his change, the Buddha refuses, saying with a smile, “The change must come from within.”

Or the one about how many psychiatrists does it take to change a light bulb: only one, but the light bulb has to want to change.

I am back to the process I began a couple years ago, got serious about at the cabin in Colebrook, and am now revisiting in a house on Balch Lake. Only this time it’s a matter of life and death.





When the bough breaks

18 02 2015

Chimera Smyth

This will be my last post for a while. One discovers one’s limits by testing them. In doing so, one runs the risk of exceeding them.

Ours is a culture where failure is a character flaw and we only admire winners. If you don’t succeed it’s your own fault. You didn’t try hard enough. You’re lazy or incompetent. Losers deserve to be losers. So we push ourselves hard to succeed, terrified of being one of those poor sods that others look down upon in pity and contempt.

We struggle to climb that tree, clinging to the branches, pushing ourselves higher and higher while the branches get thinner, the wind howls, our fingers ache with fatigue, fear chokes us, but we see others around us climbing past us, yelling encouragement, “Come on, you can do it!” So we keep going.

And in the inspirational story of the winner, we applaud the heartwarming triumph of the hero achieving the top, with the attendant platitudes about struggling to overcome weakness, never giving up, believing in oneself.

This is not my story. In my story, the bough breaks.





Does This Offend You?

26 01 2015
Love Free or Die: The cover causing all the noise.

Love Free or Die: The cover causing all the noise.

I’m delighted to be a part of a new anthology being released by NH Pulp entitled Love Free or Die, set to be released in a couple of weeks.  I’ve got a reading at Gibson’s in Concord at 7pm on February 12 with some of the other authors in the anthology.  What could be bad?

This cover.  Maybe I’m overreacting.  Bleeding heart liberal,  white guilt, and all that.  But when I saw the cover art I choked.  How am I going to publicize this?  Do I really want my name connected with what looks like an insult to Native people, blatant exploitation of stereotype and a celebration of European invasion and conquest?

So I tossed the question out on Facebook.  Do you folks find this offensive?  The comments were mixed and very interesting.  Some reacted to the interracial thing.  That doesn’t bother me, except for the baggage that comes with history.  Some reacted to the stereotyped swooning babe.  Well, it’s NH Pulp.  The cover is supposed to be deliberately reminiscent of all the swooning babes and scantily clad heroines of the classic pulp era.  One person said what offended her was that the Indian in the lower left “has a face like a monkey.”  Good point.

I loved what my friend George said: “My take is that the Indian maid will stab the Anglo and her Indian lover will finish him off, they’ll get married, move to Wyoming and their grandson will help kill Custer and his son will work in Cody’s Wild West Show.”  George should have written that up for the anthology.

Fellow author Phoebe Wray had a different take.  She just found it boring.  Pastel colors and stiff, awkward-looking characters.  I thought she meant it wasn’t lurid enough, and indeed, I’ll agree, the babe isn’t sexualized nearly enough for classic pulp. I’d consider it ironic if they went for tasteful in that department while ignoring possible racism  Another fellow author and editor, Catherine Lundoff, found it “twitch-inducing on multiple levels,” and asked if it was supposed to be ironic.  But I checked with the editor.  It isn’t.

Another friend who is both a writer and a teacher, had this to say: “I’m offended by the fact that this ‘Native’ woman is just a classic European aesthetic with the skin tone adjusted. I’m offended that the use of hide-colored clothing and fringe is meant to represent the clothes of an entire race of people that, within each tribe, hell, village, had their own materials, styles and decorative flare. I know what this is referencing, the character prototypes from that dreadful Disney film, you know, the one where not only did they manage to get everything wrong historically, but they turned the Powhantans into a bunch of broken-English speaking idiots with unflattering character models. … I cannot say that seeing this cover would make me react in any sort of positive way to the content inside, regardless of how good that content is. It would be like going to see your favorite band, but the opener was just bad, bad, bad… it almost makes the headliner guilty by association.”

The cover of NH Pulp's first anthology, Live Free or Undead

The cover of NH Pulp’s first anthology, Live Free or Undead

Gulp.  Pretty much just what I was afraid of.

To put things into context, here’s a sample of a different cover, from Love Free or Undead, the horror anthology. You can see the nod to classic pulp, and no issues to cause anybody twitches. Note that it’s the woman who not only isn’t swooning but is wielding the ax. It’s campy, cartoonish, and fun, and I’ve got no problem with it.

The comments kept rolling in. Barb Galler-Smith fiction editor for On Spec said, “I find this cover exceedingly shallow, ill-informed, relying on out-dated cultural stereotypes and thus highly offensive. It’s bad cover art design. Pulp is fine but seriously… this is not 1950.” Ouch. Shots fired.

S.C. Butler said, succinctly, “Oy. Awful.

My heart goes out to the editor, who was not responsible for this travesty, but labored long and mightily to bring out a collection of great stories.  And to the other folks in the anthology, who offered up some of their very best stories for it.  Barb suggested I withdraw my story rather than ride under this dubious banner.  But even if that were possible at this late date, I’m pleased to be in this company.  Don’t judge us by our cover, please!

It’s too late to withdraw the cover; it’s already at the printers.  So I guess I’ll just have to take Oscar Wilde’s attitude on this: “The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about.”  Or, to paraphrase P.T. Barnum, “There’s no such thing as bad publicity.”

I hope he’s right.

In the final analysis, it’s better to laugh than to weep.  My husband Larry came up with this alternative.  Perhaps for a later edition?

Cover alternate





Arisia 2015

21 01 2015
Space Cadets / Tsiolkovsky’s Stepchildren

Space Cadets / Tsiolkovsky’s Stepchildren

It was a bit like a hyperspace luge. The Arisia SF/Fantasy convention in Boston sold a record 4000 badges. Four days of non-stop events, some of which weren’t even on the program. Just sitting in the lobby taking in the costumes is a show in itself. To paraphrase BarFleet, if you aren’t staff, you’re entertainment.

This is the thirty-three-ring circus they call a convention. Choose your own adventure. I took advantage of the opportunity to touch base with folks I never see at any other time. Of course it is a bit like passing someone on escalators going in opposite directions; you barely have time to shout “Hey! Great to see you!” before you each get whisked away. One or both of you are likely on your way to a panel, event, or meeting, running late. You promise to catch up later, and you never do. Like, for example, I realized as we were breaking down the table at the end of the con that I never had a chance to check out Stephen Wilk’s follow-up to his Grinch Beowulf. I still have the note he left at the Broad Universe table, but I can’t find the contact info. Stephen, if you read this, I am so sorry and sincerely hope you are planning on attending Boskone. At Boskone, a person can actually get some work done. Arisia is insanity.

I was mostly on science track panels this year, which suited me fine. I suspect that any person of the female persuasion who can talk intelligently on matters scientific is a precious commodity to con programming. They want gender balance whenever possible, and this can be tough. I have an omnivorous interest in most branches of science, which is necessary to effective world-building in SF.  It sure doesn’t hurt when writing Fantasy, either, but that’s a different panel.  In fact, it was a panel I attended called “The Ecology of Fantasy Worlds.”  The description was sweet: “Magic is not a get-out-of-logic-free card.”  I wish I could have recorded it for my husband to play to his students who think that writing Fantasy is easy because you can make everything up.

The Cosmos panel was a mix of science and society, contrasting Sagan’s version with DeGrasse Tyson’s reboot. It was moderated by Gordon Linzner, editor emeritus of Space and Time Magazine, whom I recall from my first Arisia five years ago. He, James D. Macdonald and I sat around in an empty solo reading room telling each other duck jokes while waiting for an audience that never showed up (we were on the 10th floor in the hotel with the wonky elevators). Science and society have gone through some pretty radical changes during the time between the first and second Cosmos dynasties, and we talked about the difference both in the style of the hosts and the issues they addressed in their approach to the show.

“For Science”, moderated by the Science Babe, was lively, if somewhat unfocused. We weren’t entirely clear on parameters of the topic, and let the discussion stray where it wanted to go, which seemed to suit everyone just fine. It was supposed to be about the risks taken and sacrifices made in the name of science (I came ready to talk about Wolf Vishniac) and Science Babe opened with sharing her own adventures testing pet meds on herself. But then we strayed into informed consent, risk aversion in society, and the complexity of issues such as antibiotic overuse and genetically modified organisms.

My third panel, “Where the Hell is Everyone”, in which we tossed around the so-called Fermi Paradox, was remarkably well-attended for a Monday morning. The panel dispensed with the topic in the first fifteen minutes, and so opened it up to the audience to keep the discussion going. Personally, I think the Fermi Paradox is bogus, and the Drake equation it is based on is full of values which have been pulled straight out of somebody’s assumptions, the biggest and most obvious being that intelligent life is going to manifest itself the same way on other worlds that it did among Homo Sapiens, that is, in the development of technology. But that’s a rant for a different blog.

Only three panels, and yet it seemed like I was forever running to get somewhere. Part of what ate up my time was BarFleet. I got recruited to be part of the crew this year. On the one hand, that gave me a splendid opportunity to see how putting together a con party works from the inside. On the other hand, I worked more and drank less than I might have liked. On the third hand, drinking less was probably good for me. I’ve always admired this outfit, but never appreciated how much goes into putting on a BarFleet event. I was briefed on all the safety precautions they take to make sure their guests are safe. Unattended drinks are dumped (never mind, just go get another one — it isn’t like you paid for it) to avoid the possibility of some nefarious nogoodnik dosing it. We are to keep an eye out for excessive inebriation, and if needed, will make sure the person gets to a safe place to sleep it off. We check in with anyone getting paid particular attention by another guest to make sure that attention is welcome. If not, we intervene. Politely, of course.

So it makes me more than a little frustrated that certain individuals in high places consider BarFleet to be trouble, and have targeted them to be shut down given any excuse. It has happened in years past, under circumstances that are suspect at best. This year, the crew were in charge not only of their own party, but of the Nauticon party as well. And they were short-handed due to illness and other factors. And the Captain wasn’t in perfect health, himself. Fortunately, they had a bunch of new recruits, myself included, but we were untrained cadets. So, two parties to put on with a bunch of bumbling newbs in a hotel that is out to get them.

Not only did they pull it off without getting shut down, but they broke even on expenses. Yes, that’s another thing. The UBS Shameless does not earn a pile of money doing this. The raffle is for charity (This year the proceeds went, once again, to Operation Hammond, “Nerds helping nerds in times of need,” certified EMTs that work the con seeing to the health and safety of the attendees, since last year’s shut down bolloxed the raffle.) and the donations and revenue from cup sales covers costs maybe. So it was with immense satisfaction at the end of the night to declare both parties a success which paid for itself.

TARDIS consoleAfter doing the Safety Dance sober at BarFleet, I had the pleasure of doing it in a more traditional frame of mind at Space Cadets (a.k.a. Tsiolkovsky’s Stepchildren). These guys prep all year and create a party atmosphere that you would not believe. This year’s theme was Dr. Who and they converted the hotel room into a TARDIS. The drinks were wickedly delicious, also Who themed. And although they don’t have a DJ on board, the music was respectable. Last year’s theme was DS9 and they recreated Quark’s Bar with the centerpiece of a Dabo table. This year’s TARDIS centerpiece was an impressive structure with interactive dials and switches. Absolutely delightful. And the theme brought out the inevitable Doctor variations. I wished I could have stayed longer, but I had to get back to the Broad Universe party.

The Broad Universe party was in my room, and went on as long as the food lasted. No alcohol, but this was where to go to eat. Salmon sandwiches, melon wrapped in prosciutto, that sort of thing. And great conversation. It was the one opportunity I had to actually talk to people. As much as I love to dance, having no music at a party can be a distinct advantage. The Pi-Con Pie party was like that. An excellent selection of pies, and interesting people. Pi-Con will be happening July 31 – August 2, and they have a new hotel, the Sheraton Hotel at Bradley Airport, Windsor Locks, CT. I haven’t seen the location yet, but it couldn’t be easier to get to. Inexpensive, too, at only $99 a night. I hear the hotel itself is a grand place to have a convention, lots of room, and Pi-Con is planning expanded programming to fill it. This is going to include a Writer’s Workshop on Friday. Check out their website for more details. If you are looking for a new convention to try out, this is it. Friendliest little con in the northeast. Like Arisia, only not as likely to cause brain damage.

As always I must tip my hat to the staff of the con suite and the Green Room, with special thanks to Tom Traina to whom I shall be eternally grateful for procuring coffee for me at a critical moment. Also, a special shout-out to the guy wrangling the the crowds of cranky, exhausted vendors all trying to get through the loading dock at the same time after the Dealers Room closed. This hero kept things moving smoothly with grace under pressure, in the face of rudeness and high stress, all without blowing his own cool (at least while I was there). Kudos.





Bad news, good news

7 01 2015

Protest

First, the bad news: According to alJazeera, a record 18,000 people turned out for an anti-immigrant rally in the German city of Dresden organized by a right-wing populist movement called the “Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the Occident”, or PEGIDA.

Now, the good news: Alarmed at this expression of xenophobia, an estimated 30,000 people turned out to rally against the group.

More bad news: A mosque in the city of Cold Lake, in Alberta, Canada, was vandalized. Windows were broken and racist messages were scrawled on the walls, including the words “Go home” written multiple times across the outside of the building in red spray paint.

The good news: Volunteers from the community turned out to help clean up the mess and speak out in support of their Islamic neighbors. In response to the hateful message, “Go Home”, folks put up a sign that said, “You ARE home!”

Welcome

The bad news: The death of Michael Brown, followed by Eric Garner, unarmed black men killed by police without any legal penalty against the officers responsible.

The good news: This. and this.

And the protests continue. Ordinary people outraged by injustice.

The point here is that yes, bad things do happen. Gay teenagers still get bullied and beaten up. The homes of Jewish families still get spray-painted with hateful slogans. Racism exists, intolerance exists, brutality happens. That’s the bad news. But the good news is that people don’t just turn away. They respond. They unite. They speak out and declare that this is not acceptable.

Once, a black man could be publicly lynched and nothing would be done. Not anymore.

Once, whole families could be marched off in the middle of the night and no one would speak up. Not anymore.

Once, a gay kid could be punched senseless in the schoolyard and people would shrug that he asked for it. Not anymore.

Certainly bigots and racists do still get away with acts of violence, but it is getting harder for them to do so. Brutal and arrogant members of the police force still routinely get away with bullying and terrorizing, confident of being protected by their brethren, shielded by authority. But more and more often they are getting called out. The tide is turning. The moral arc of the universe is bending towards justice.

It puts us in a bit of a tough position, those of us who believe in tolerance. As Tom Lehrer famously said, “I know there are people in the world who do not love their fellow human beings — and I hate people like that!” How do we balance freedom of thought, expression, belief and information with the fact that we aren’t going to like what some people have to say?

Another famous quote answers this: “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” (From Evelyn Beatrice Hall’s biography of Voltaire). In an open and free society, PEGIDA has every right to take to the streets with a message of xenophobia. And we have every right to turn out en masse and outnumber them. But not to shout them down. Let them speak. The fact that they are vastly outnumbered speaks even louder.

Prosecute those who commit vandalism. Defend individuals being harassed and bullied, and report the offenders. Speak up at a party when someone tells a racist or misogynist joke. And if they make some snide comment about “political correctness run amuck” just smile and say they are entitled to their opinion — and you are entitled to disagree with it.

And for pity’s sake, if you are a policeman or have any connection with the police force, have the courage to break the code protecting those who shame the force with their brutality, and their indifference to civil rights and common decency. “Racist police” refers to police who are racist, not to the force as a whole. But the entire force takes on the stink of those who commit acts of injustice with impunity.

One final, but important, distinction: Condemn the acts, disagree with the ideas, but remember, people are only human. You cannot know what fears, inner pain or bad lessons learned compel a person to lash out in anger. If we are to be true to the compassion we profess, we must extend it even to those who commit evil acts. You can try to change their minds, and best of luck. But each of us cannot help but believe what seems obvious to us. If we feel threatened by another ethnic group, if we have been taught to fear the Other, we cannot help but act on our fears. Remember this when you look into the eyes of a bigot, and feel pity.

Then condemn not him, but his bigotry. Peacefully. Firmly. And loudly.





Dealing with Death without the Supernatural

12 12 2014

tree and stars

I don’t go on Facebook much. I check every day or so to see if my friend Peter has played his turn in our on-going Scrabble tournament (at the moment, he’s beating me) and sometimes I’ll scan through the feed. I often find links to interesting articles or pick up news of friends. Most recently, I came across a friend posting an appeal about how to tell their child about a playmate who had died. The responses were what you might expect, mostly involving God, Heaven and angels.

I wrote a cynical reply, but thought better of it and deleted it. I don’t want to be one of those people who think that asserting “the truth” is more important than considering someone’s feelings. I have no sympathy for theists who whine when schools or the Government refuse to go along with their particular belief system. But death is tricky. It’s among the most difficult of Life’s misfortunes for any of us to deal with. I’m happy to debate religion under normal circumstances, and in fact, I feel an obligation to present the atheist alternative to counteract theist propaganda (We don’t all hate God, believe in moral anarchy, and suffer in bitterness and materialistic gloom). However, intruding on someone’s grief is just being a jerk.

We didn’t bring up our kids with the supernatural. Oh, we had fun pretending about lots of things. We made up games and imaginary characters. But when a child of any age looks at me in complete seriousness and asks to know the truth, I’m not going to lie. I’m going to explain things as best I can. No, Santa Claus isn’t real. But we can pretend.

That included all the awkward questions. No, you didn’t come to us by stork or cabbage patch. Might have been easier at first to go that route, but it only makes things more difficult in the long run. Withholding information is just prolonging ignorance. If the child is old enough to ask the question, they are old enough for a straight answer. Give them the truth from the start, and they learn that you can be trusted to be honest with them. Put them off with fantasy, and they won’t be sure when they are older if you aren’t doing the same thing when you talk about serious stuff like drugs and sex, lying to them “for their own good”.

But the whole heaven and angels thing is different. People really do believe, and if you contradict them they will only resent it. The tactic may even backfire, with them pitying you because you don’t have the comfort of God. There you both sit, pitying each other for exactly the same reason: each convinced the other is suffering because they can’t accept “the truth”. So there is nothing to be gained by scolding somebody for presenting religious dogma to kids as fact. They honestly think it is fact.

What I have trouble with is an adult doing the equivalent of handing kids a line about the stork, soft-peddling a difficult subject with a fantasy they themselves don’t believe. It starts with doggy or kitty heaven, even if the adult himself does not believe animals have souls. Then they comfort kids whose teacher dies suddenly, assuring them that God wanted Miss Ruth in Heaven to teach all the little children there. Even if the adult has only the vaguest notions of an afterlife, they feel compelled to default to the candy-cane version of Grandma with angel wings looking down on them from atop the Pearly Gates.

I agree, it’s tricky, and one has to consider what is developmentally appropriate for the child. Age figures into it, but the individual child does, too. Some get sophisticated much earlier than others, especially if they’ve been exposed to reality. Farm kids are savvy to where babies come from much sooner than suburban kids. Those who have seen a pet die have a better handle on death when their first close relative or friend dies. It’s always traumatic, but we adults do children no favors by sheltering them from the truth. We help them by being there for them, making sure they know they are loved, and explaining things as best we can.

To the question, “Where do you go when you die?” I think it’s best to admit we just don’t know. Nobody’s gone and come back to tell us about it. What we do know is that everything in the world is connected. The tiny parts that make us up, and make up dogs and cats and houses and toys, once came from stars, and those parts are never lost. They come together to make a person, and when that person dies, those parts go on to make trees, flowers, and other people. So when Mittens dies, maybe there’s a Kitty Heaven and maybe there isn’t. You can pretend if you like. We know Mittens becomes a part of the world again, to return as a bit of the bush that we planted over the place where he’s buried, and also to ride on the wind, to fall with the rain, to bloom in the garden. This much we know for sure.

And yes, some day you will die, too, because everything does eventually. But you, too, will go on. Parts of you will ride the wind, fall with the rain, and bloom in the garden. Parts of you will become another person, a different person, and life will go on. Death is, indeed, only a threshold, a transition. But it isn’t an immortal soul that lives on, some sort of ghost we can’t know about in some paradise we can only imagine. What transforms and goes on is everything that makes you who you are. Even the Earth will die someday, but still it will go on. All the bits that made up its people and animals, its oceans and mountains, will return to the stars from where they came.

No God, no Heaven, no angels. Nothing supernatural. And yet, it is comforting. I could share that explanation with my children, knowing its what I really believe to be true, and they will know it, too. Whatever their stage of sophistication, they can imagine some invisible part of themselves or their beloved pet riding the wind and falling with the rain, or they might understand the concept of atoms and molecules dispersing and recombining.

If they need to, they can pretend about Heaven. That’s fine. I’m here with honest answers when they need them.








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