Tuesday, May 20, 2008

I dreamt I died and went to Heaven

Ted Kennedy has just been diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor. He now has a much clearer idea of just when his life on this planet will be coming to a close. A few months ago, one of my friends was diagnosed with the same type of deadly tumor. He had gone to a fair, had a massive seizure and woke up in the hospital. Now his life completely revolves around fighting a tumor that inevitably will end his life.

Today I’m sitting here in Hawaii, perhaps with a greater appreciation of this warm beautiful place than on my previous visits. When I return to Oregon, I begin interviewing physicians, one of whom I will select to open my chest and replace my aortic valve. I can’t help but look around at the bright tropical fish as I snorkel and wonder if this will be the last time I see these colorful critters again. There will ultimately be that day, but we are never truly ready for it to be now.

I might be lucky, if I don’t survive the surgery I will never know it. I will be under sedation; my consciousness will fade and never come back. The mortality rate for this type of surgery is 2%; the mortality rate for not having the surgery is 100%.

Michael Shermer
is often asked what his opinion is of life after death. “I’m all for it!” he says. But he is under no illusions that his consciousness will survive forever in a Biblical Heaven. Those are stories made up for us to believe so we will not worry about death. They are for children.

My documentary about Jerry Andrus is extremely close to being ready for release. In it I recorded one of my favorite poems of Jerry's. He reads in the film; part of it goes like this:
“I dreamt I died and went to Heaven; everything was perfect.
I could stand it for just one day.

You could not help anyone because no one needed help.
You could not improve anything because everything was perfect.
What a joy to worship the lord for a billion billion years."

You can hear the entire poem in the memorial excerpt clip from the documentary I played at Jerry’s memorial celebration here.

I find comfort in something my wife believes; that the quality of one’s life is related to the quality of one’s relationships. If it is my time to die, I won’t take my comfort in the illusion that I will see my mom and dad and grandparents in Heaven. Rather, I find solace in the thought that my memory will live on in the minds and hearts of my wife, children, grand children and friends. And when they die, it will no longer really matter.

For now I look at my toes against the salt-and-pepper sand on the warm Hawaiian beach and realize that I am made of the same stuff; cooked in the furnaces of stars of a billion galaxies. I was created from the stuff of the universe and it is there I will ultimately return someday. I find my peace in that. - Aloha


Mary Witzl said...

Lovely, thoughtful post.

Reading about Ted Kennedy's brain tumor was a shock for me too. In fact, just looking at pictures of him was a bit of a shock: I haven't lived in the States for decades and I haven't seen recent photos of him. Suddenly he looks 20 years older.

From the minute we are born, our days are numbered and we owe it to ourselves to live well and happily. Living joyously and responsibly with others counts for a lot and gives my life real meaning. Leaving behind good memories will be enough heaven for me too. Even as a child, lavish descriptions of marble thrones and golden streets did not move me.

I know a number of people who've gone through aortic valve replacements and gone on to spectacular recoveries. I'm betting you'll be one of them: you've got the right attitude.

Kara said...

can't think about the surgery that way, dad. you'll be FINE.

besides...mexico in january will NOT be canceled.