THE WRITER’S LIFE
I’m at an age when I’m losing friends of a similar vintage (conceived in the 60s, born in the 70s…), and it’s always a reminder of how brief and fragile our time here is. I believe we’re only truly gone when we’re forgotten, and today I saw a sign which said I’m right. Yesterday would have been my friend Jim’s birthday, and like many of that era, we drifted apart when we grew up. Today he told me he was still around.
To rouse them from their sleep occasionally, I post on my dead friends’ Facebook timelines and wish them happy birthday. I did it yesterday, with an old punk brother, and told him I’d raise a glass of Merrydown to him (like many bored teenagers in a park, that and Mad Dog 20/20 were our liquid entertainment).
On some matters of life, I have my own answers to the big questions: What happens when we leave this Earth? It’s perhaps wishful and wistful thinking, but I have it in my mind that we don’t actually notice our moment of passing, a bit like how we fall asleep every night: Whenever we wake from sleep, we know we’ve slept, and we remember being awake before that. But we never recall the moment we pass from wakefulness to sleep. I think (hope) dying is a bit like that.
At a quantum science level, when we pass away we inhabit a new universe we created at a catalytic point in time. It happens every moment, where alternative universes are created with every decision and action we don’t take. Think of a path, with high walls on either side. You reach a point on that path where it splits in two. Let’s say you take the left-hand path. You can’t see the path on the right (the one you didn’t take), but does it still exist? It’s a paradox, but it explains quantum alternative universes. And it requires faith.
So when we die, another life is created. The one we left continues to exist, where our loved ones mourn (or celebrate) our death. As the departed, we live on in a different universe, where we take on altered form. It’s not the physical one we know in life, as we have no body. It’s a spiritual entity with a molecular structure which allows us to move around freely, including through solid objects (a super-solid). In fact in the afterlife, we’re free of the physical restrictions and limits we knew on Earth. Out there, we’re free to explore the universe for eternity.
This is where I believe Heaven and Hell are. I think they’re personal human constructs. For someone like me with a thirst for knowledge, the world after this is a personal heaven. It’s a theme I explored in my first novel, ‘The Paradoxicon,’ which I wrote when I lived on the streets. Others might fear knowledge just as humans fear the unknown, so the same place is their imagining of an overwhelming hell.
I often think my auntie Margaret is still here, exploring and learning in her personal utopia. Certainly when there’s anything royal on TV (she was a huge royalist), I get a chill. Margaret died at two years older than I am now. She passed before my kids were born (she’d have doted on them), and before the internet. Her royal research was conducted in libraries and national institutions. She’d have loved the modern world for what it afforded her in technology, and I think she does, because she’s convinced me she’s still around. I feel her. I’m happy to be her guide in this next world, just as she was a mentor to the teenage me in my punk and Merrydown days.
Cider wraps up the story in a funny twist of my world earlier, when I was in Tesco. I got a feeling my old punk mate Jim was there, when the guy in front of me was buying Merrydown cider. Cider drinkers usually go for Strongbow, so another brand was worthy of personal note. They’re only gone when they’re forgotten, but when we remember, sometimes they visit us. They still walk among us. You just have to keep your eyes open to notice.
It’s all personal faith of course, not the religious kind, but a hope that the way I’ve worked things out isn’t far off reality. I can’t entertain thoughts of nothingness (my own personal hell), so perhaps what’s in my head is a comforting coping mechanism. But Jim gave me reassurance today that there’s more to life out there where they are. I know Margaret and him will have read this as I wrote it, silently and invisibly guiding me as I edited. I just have a feeling. It’s not my place to share this on Jim’s Facebook wall, but I know he knows about it.
As this post passed through a couple of draft stages, it gave me time to think about something else. The punk and my auntie reminded me we should cherish the people we have in this world: they are our connections to the past, and we never know when that will be gone for good. We can always dance if you want to.
Charles Hanson Towne, from Marian Solomon, My Aunt the WAC blog
In a continuation of the theme, ‘Are Friends Emojis?‘ is a short story about what happens to all those Facebook accounts when the authors depart, and it’s one of 20 stories in my second anthology, ‘The Unfinished Literary Agency,’ available now in paperback.