On a fiery cloud in a field of war

I wish I could say what it was that sparked my interest in the afterlife. I know it wasn’t anything simple like the death of a relative, because to be honest, when I was young I barely knew the bulk of my relatives that died.

“So Aunt… who?”
“Your Aunt Matilda. The last time you saw her was probably when you were 6.”
“Oh.”
“She lived out of state. But she’s your father’s brother’s second…”
*my mind starts to wander to the last cartoon I watched*
“…so the funeral is tomorrow, okay?”
“Yeah. Sure.”

And I can guarantee you a lot of my family couldn’t (and still probably can’t) tell the difference between disappointment over having to go to these sorts of things versus disappointment that someone actually died. So no, it wasn’t thoughts of what my dearly departed relatives were up to.

I can say though that I’ve been interested in mythology for as long as I can remember. I’m pretty sure I got hooked on Greek mythology first, so it might have been a fascination with Hades or even Olympus that started my wondering about what happens when you die. And somewhat related to that note, I did go to a Catholic elementary school, so all the talk of a heaven filled with billowing clouds and angels strumming golden harps contrasted with the junior version of Dante’s Inferno might have something to do with it.

I’m also fairly certain some of the blame can be placed on Hollywood. I can’t remember anything specific older than Beetle Juice, but I’ve always been drawn to movies and cartoons and stories about ghosts and the “other side” and the like. I guess you could say it’s the idealized representations of “life” as a free spirit that draw my interest mixed with so many different possible outcomes. That why I like shows like Supernatural (more on that in a few paragraphs), and part of why Dead Like Me never clicked with me. Hot damn that show was depressing. Life sucks and being dead is just as inane? Ew.

And I realize that it may seem that I’m focused on Western concepts versus things like reincarnation or ascension to a higher plane, but I really do mean to be all-inclusive here. I guess it’s the essentially endless possibilities for what could happen when you die that I find so intriguing. Yeah, it’s possible that once you cease functioning, you’re done and there isn’t anything else, but that’s… boring. Oblivion doesn’t leave much room for, well, anything, so while I’m not discounting it as a possibility, it’s kind of moot to ponder. “I wonder what it’s like to not exist anymore” seems kind of dead end. (No pun intended.) Reincarnation is interesting, but as I understand it, you don’t know, or you’re not supposed to know, that you’ve been reincarnated.

So that narrows down where my interest lies in all this. It’s being dead and knowing that you used to be alive that I find so… enticing. The best way that I can explain it is a sense of having stepped into a new existence to the point of no return while knowing that your old life is still there, just without you. Make of that what you will, I’m sure there’s a metaphor for what I think of my own life in there somewhere.

That aside, let’s run with the idea of eternal paradise a bit.

First off, there’s that whole “eternal” thing. Now granted time is a unit of measurement that we invented, but you can at least think of when things will start and end. High school. College. A marriage. Your child growing up. A vacation that you’re excited about and look forward to. A business meeting that you’re dreading. A visit with your relatives that’s going so badly that time seems to have slowed to a crawl. Or a date that seems to be going so well you wish it wouldn’t end. And, ultimately, you know that once you hit your 60’s, and 70’s, you’re not much longer for the world. (Barring some unforeseen scientific advancement in our lifetimes, but I digress.) So that’s a couple examples of things that you can think about to measure the passage of time. Now just try to imagine that you no longer have any ending point.

Would you be able to continue the things you experience into eternity? Not that I know from experience (or likely ever will) but there’s that punchline about marriage that you love your spouse, and want to spend the rest of your life with them. But you like cornflakes too. Do you really want to have cornflakes for breakfast every day for the rest of your life?

And then there’s the whole paradise thing. Which is kind of funny to think about because one man’s heaven is another man’s hell. Some cultures believe(d) the ideal way to spend eternity was in a neverending battlefield. Some say that merely getting to be in the presence of “god” (in the same room? Zipcode? Plane of existence? I was never that clear on how that worked.) is such a warm and fuzzy feeling that it’s all you need for eternal bliss. Some want(ed) to spend eternity in an unending banquet filled with your family and friends. Some prefer getting to do… whatever… in a big open field.

And getting back to that whole Catholic thing, I was lead to believe I’d get to spend eternity in a white robe chilling out on clouds in the sky. Uh… yay? Which reminds me of another thing I don’t understand about the idea of heaven. You’re not supposed to be overly indulgent in life. There are pleasures that tempt you, obviously, but you’re supposed to control yourself in regards to them. So the concept of heaven is that it’s a reward for all your hard work in life. Okay, so far, so good. What I don’t get is that some folks seem to interpret their heavenly reward as an eternal life full of the pleasures they limited themselves to when they were alive.

Uhh… what?

So you spend your life in moderation in order to get an eternal life filled with your own personal harem of hot women (or men) or all the cigars you could want or your favorite food or, well, whatever it is you love. I hope you see what I’m getting at here. It doesn’t make sense to me to live your life one way so that you can spend your eternal life the opposite way.

Then you have eternal torment.

Somewhere along the line I got it stuck in my head that there’s room for advancement in hell, if you do it right. (And this was well before Supernatural, honest!) Not just in the sense of easing your suffering with the possibility of actually getting out of there. I mean advancing in the ranks of Hell’s legions. Surely if the beings responsible for punishing evil are evil themselves, there must be level of “evil” that they look favorably upon? And yeah, that appeals to me.

And finally (for now, anyway), there’s what you’re going to look like for the rest of your life. Of course you might not care once you’re finally there since you’ve, like, ascended or something. Or you might be naked and know it. You might end up in rags. You might end up in billowy white robes. Or, and this is the part that gets me, you might have to spend eternity looking like you did on the day you died. That’s part of why my eventual suicide involves so much planning.

Yeah, I’m a bit obsessed with how I look. And when you have as many physical defects as I do, you pay a lot of attention to your appearance. (Never mind growing fond of the reaction one gets to dressing a certain way.) I have strict guidelines for how I dress depending on what I plan on doing that day, and usually, the more importance I place on the occasion, the gothier I go. And even if it doesn’t do me any good looking the way I want to while I’m alive, maybe, well, I don’t know, really. Maybe demons like the militaristicish gothy steampunk aesthetic. Which, in theory, might get me some bonus points or something. But if nothing else, at least I’ll look cool when I’m dead.

-Johnny

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