Five Years

Yesterday was the fifth anniversary of the passing of my father, עליו השלום. He is sorely missed. Even more so since I visited my mother this year in Arizona. She’s having a rough time, and at one point she mentioned that she couldn’t go into her room because Jim was in there sleeping, and she didn’t want to bother him. It was very sad indeed to hear her speak like that. She’s 85 now. He would have been 89 this August.

My father was preceded in death by his parents Theodore and Olive (Taylor) Floyd, and his Sister Barbara Parsons-Smith. He is survived by his Wife of 33 years, one Sister, his five Children (of whom I am the only son), his four Step-Children, 31 Grandchildren, 52 Great-Grandchildren, three Nieces and numerous Cousins.

Jim was born on August 25, 1928 at Midian, Kansas. He grew up in Rock, Kansas, graduating from Douglas high school in 1946. He joined the Army soon afterward. He is a World War II veteran spending over four years in Germany as a forward observer prior to being honorably discharged in 1952. He retired from Cessna Aircraft with 45 years of service. He passed away May, 9th 2012.

 

Today I received a very nice email from Chabad.

Yahrtzeit Reminder

Dear Mr. Floyd,

Here is your reminder for the following upcoming yahrtzeit:

James Floyd
Shabbat, May 13, 2017 – Iyar 17, 5777
Passed away, Tucson, AZ May 9, 2012 / 17 Iyyar, 5772

The yahrtzeit begins with sunset the night before, when the yahrtzeit candle should be lit. (See below for details on when to light if the day before is Shabbat or a holiday).

A Note Regarding When to Light Your Yahrtzeit Candle

The yahrtzeit candle is customarily lit at sunset the night before the yahrtzeit. However, Jewish law forbids the kindling of a flame on Shabbat, and there are some restrictions regarding fire on major Jewish holidays. Therefore:

If the yahrtzeit is on Shabbat, be sure light the yahrtzeit candle before the Shabbat candles are lit on Friday afternoon. If the yahrtzeit is on Sunday, light the candle after the conclusion of Shabbat.

If yahrtzeit is on a Jewish holiday, light before the onset of the holiday (using a 48-hour candle for yahrtzeits on the second day of the holiday) or make sure to light it from a preexisting flame that was kindled prior to the start of the holiday.

How to observe a yahrtzeit

It’s the little things that people do that make a big difference. Even if this was an automated message, it was still very heartwarming to receive. May my father’s soul have an aliyah!

Understanding the Nature of “Idolatry”

The following is informative only. It is not intended to damn the practitioners of any faith, nor to prove that any practices are correct or are incorrect. Please read objectively, and do not read into what is written, read only what is written and take it at face value. What I DO encourage, is you to do your own, independent research into the matter. Learn as much as you can, and draw a well informed, logical and intelligent conclusion.

Idolatry in our day and age is completely misrepresented and misunderstood. Those who “worship” idols of stone and of wood and of metal and of gems no more believe that the representation of a god fashioned by their hands is a god than you believe a picture of a person is an actual person. From the most developed society to the most primitive, it is understood that these creations are representatives of the divine.  What the God of the Judeo-Christian books says seems confusing, and indicates that people are in fact, worshiping statues.

“You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them…”

“Do not turn to idols or make for yourselves any gods of cast metal…”

“The idols of the nations are silver and gold, the work of human hands. They have mouths, but do not speak; they have eyes, but do not see; they have ears, but do not hear, nor is there any breath in their mouths. Those who make them become like them, so do all who trust in them!”

“A tree from the forest is cut down and worked with an axe by the hands of a craftsman. They decorate it with silver and gold; they fasten it with hammer and nails so that it cannot move. Their idols are like scarecrows in a cucumber field, and they cannot speak; they have to be carried, for they cannot walk.”

“Cursed be the man who makes a carved or cast metal image, an abomination to the Lord, a thing made by the hands of a craftsman, and sets it up in secret.”

“And you have praised the gods of silver and gold, of bronze, iron, wood, and stone, which do not see or hear or know…”

“Woe to him who says to a wooden thing, Awake; to a silent stone, Arise! Can this teach? Behold, it is overlaid with gold and silver, and there is no breath at all in it.”

Many people, reading such things in the sacred books of the Jews and of the Christians are left with the idea that the people actually believed that their creations WERE gods, and that the people were in fact serving the hand-crafted idols themselves. This simply isn’t true, and never has been. Even the ancient story of Abraham, (Midrash Bereishit 38:13) the father of the Jewish faith, makes clear that the idols were nothing more than statues.

“One time a woman came with a basket of bread. She said to Abraham, “Take this and offer it to the gods”. Abraham got up, took a hammer in his hand, broke all the idols to pieces, and then put the hammer in the hand of the biggest idol among them. When his father came back and saw the broken idols, he was appalled. “Who did this?” he cried. “How can I hide anything from you?” replied Abraham calmly. “A woman came with a basket of bread and told me to offer it to them. I brought it in front of them, and each one said, “I’m going to eat first.” Then the biggest one got up, took the hammer and broke all the others to pieces.” “What are you trying to pull on me?” asked Terach, “Do they have minds?” Said Abraham: “Listen to what your own mouth is saying? They have no power at all! Why worship idols?”

Now then… This story makes clear that Terach, the maker of the idols, and Abraham, the one who took offerings to the idols were both aware that the idols themselves were not gods. So we are again left baffled at why the Divine would be so upset about these little statues. Clearly the Jews were extremely concerned with the practice of idolatry to they point where they exclaimed:

“Whosoever recognizes idols has denied the entire Torah; and whosoever denies idols has recognized the entire Torah” (Midrash Sifre, Deut. 54 and parallel passages)

“As soon as one departs from the words of the Torah, it is as though he attached himself to the worship of idols” (Midrash Sifri, Deut 43)

It was forbidden to look upon images (Tosefta to Shabbat 17.1), and even thinking of idolatrous worship was prohibited (Berakhot 12b); if one saw a place where an idol had once stood, he was commanded to utter a special prayer (Berakhot 61a). Sacrifice to an idol or anything which in any way might be associated with idolatry was forbidden. It was even insufficient to reduce an idol to powder and scatter it to the winds, since it would fall to earth and become a fertilizer; but the image must be sunk in the Dead Sea, whence it could never emerge (Avodah Zarah 3.3); nor might the wood of the “asherah” be used for purposes of healing (Pesachim 25a).

Indeed, even in his The Guide to the Perplexed, I:36, the RaMBaM (Rabbi Moshe Ben Maimon / Maimonides) holds the view that in the original form of idolatry, no one actually believed that their idols were gods; he states that idol-worshipers understood that their idols were only representations of a god, or G-d Himself. Idols are “worshiped in respect of its being an image of a thing that is an intermediary between ourselves and God.”. The RaMBaM, however, goes further in defining idolatry than other Jewish thinkers before or since; he states that it is idolatry to believe that G-d is subject to any affections at all. Not only believing that God has a body, but merely believing “that one of the states of the body belong to Him, you provoke His jealousy and anger, kindle the fire of his wrath, and are a hater, an enemy and an adversary of God, much more so than an idolater.” The RaMBaM spends the first one-third of the Guide attempting to show that a literalist understanding of the metaphors, idioms, and homonyms in the Torah are idolatrous in this regard. For the RaMBaM, and other philosophers in the neo-Aristotelian mold, it is idolatry to believe that God has positive attributes. The RaMBaM’s negation of positive attributes to God reaches its epitomes in the Guide I:56, where he states that “the relation between us and God, may He be exalted, is considered to be non-existent.”

“Know that likeness is a certain relation between two things and that in cases where no relation can be supposed to exist between two things, no likeness between them can be represented to oneself. Similarly in all cases in which there is no likeness between two things, there is no relation between them. An example of this is that one does not say that this heat is like color, or that this voice is like this sweetness. This is a matter that is clear in itself. Accordingly, in view of the fact that the relation between us and Him, may He be exalted, is considered to be non-existent – I mean the relation between Him and that which is other than He – it follows necessarily that likeness between Him and us should also be considered nonexistent.”

Now, we find ourselves even more confused than before. We see the RaMBaM explaining that no one ever believed they were serving a created object, rather they were using it only as a representation of a god or as an attribute of the One True G-d, and yet he goes further than any Jew prior and indeed further than our modern sensibilities and equates even believing that the Divine actually possesses an arm with idolatry. So we are left with the understanding that idols were never worshiped, people never believed in them, and that they were merely “windows to the Divine”.

Let’s look at modern examples of this very same (in explanation) practice which exist within the oldest existing Christian faiths: Catholicism and Orthodoxy. Catholics erect statues of saints, and decorate them with flowers, lighting candles in front of them. The Orthodox adorn their churches with icons of saints, and pray before them, bowing before the icon and kissing it. “You shall not bow down to them or serve them…”. So, how do they explain their creating of statues and writing of icons, as well as their bowing to, kissing, lighting candles and incense before and veneration of these items of wood, stone, metal and jewels? The same exact way that the Hindus and the Buddhists and the tribesmen and any other conceivable faith inclusive of statues, and indeed the same way the RaMBaM described the ancients whom G-d Himself in the Torah accuses, describe their act of creating statues/paintings.

They create these items as a focal point. A focal point of worship. A window into heaven. The created object places their mind onto the Divine or the ascended god/being/human being represented by the manufactured item. The item becomes a representation of the Divine, much as a photograph reminds us of our loved ones dead and gone, or separated by miles. How many people believe that they are engaging in idolatry by printing a photo of their mother to hang on their wall? The same is true of idols. No one in their right mind believes that a shaped and created object, embellished with gold and with jewels, is a god. It is merely a reminder of things divine. A focal point – comparable to a telephone receiver by which they may contact the divine. Ask an Orthodox child about an icon, and he will tell you that he talks to the saint pictured therein, while gazing at the icon. Ask a Catholic who prays while gazing at a crucifix, and they will tell you that they are praying to Christ Himself, while gazing at a reminder of His suffering.

It is no different in any faith. All of these images, statues and shapes made, are representative of a divine being. They are conduits by which the divine may be reached through focus and prayer. But they, themselves, are not gods, nor are they being worshiped. So the question is still not answered… If the assumptions we have made about the ancients, and the explanation given by those engaged in the same or similar practices in the modern world are true, why is the Divine so upset about these little statues and paintings? Are stained glass windows, paintings, statues, even carvings of animals – idols? Are the modern Jews, Christians, Hindus, Buddhists, Aboriginals and others all guilty of idolatry?

Interestingly enough, the Talmud states (Yoma 69b) that the Men of the Great Assembly managed to remove the idolatry component of the Satan (Evil Inclination) from Jewish life, and it ceased to be a problem. The Talmud also records (Sanhedrin 102b) that Rav Ashi had a debate on Jewish law with idolatrous King Menashe of Judah, and lost. When asked by King Menashe in a dream what the halacha is when eating bread, Rav Ashi responded that he did not know. When Menashe responded with the well-done part first, Rav Ashi, surprised at his knowledge, responded: “As you are so learned, why then did you worship idols?”. Menashe replied: “The drive for idolatry was so strong in my time that, had you been there, you would have lifted your robe to run after me and do the same!”

Autism and Religion

As most of you already know, I have high functioning autism. In some ways, this is a blessing, and in others, a curse. I see the world in black and white. There is no grey. There is no maybe. There is no “kinda sorta”. Things are, or they are not one way or the other. Logic is my guiding principle. If it makes no common sense, and has no logic, it is stupid and should be given no further thought. For this very reason, I’m often viewed as an asshole. I don’t pad the truth. I don’t engage in socially pandering methodology. It is, after all, illogical to be offended by the truth. I don’t make the truth, it simply exists. To get upset because I reveal it, is ridiculous. I have very few “feelings” or “emotions”. I am either content, or malcontent. I don’t “feel” love the way others seem to. I feel a close connection or bond for familial reasons, and defend what is mine, but it isn’t a deep seated emotion. It’s just a logical reaction of protecting what I have worked for. I have often wished that I could feel, mainly because the only real feeling I ever have, whether I am content or malcontent, is emptiness. I feel nothing. I am cognizant of that lack of feeling, and it makes me desire feeling.

With that being said, there is one area (yes only one) of my life and cognitive reasoning that troubles me, and that I DO consider to be a grey area. That area, is religion. There are a number of reasons why. Mainly, the idea that if there is a creation, there must be a creator. But the fact is that other than the creation itself, no sign of the creator exists. When I see a painting, I can meet the creator, or visit his/her grave. It’s tangible. But the idea of an unseen and unknown divinity being the creator of things that are seen and are known is difficult to grasp with any form of logic. Add to that all of the whackos that claim to have received a personal revelation from the Divine, and formed their own religions which to this day constantly go to war with one another and kill in the name of their god. And then look at all of the ancient inspired scriptures from the Torah, the Vedas,the Upanashads, the Bhagavad Ghita, the Sutras, the Tao Te Ching, the remnants of the Sumerian and Akkadian tablets, the Egyptian Book of the Dead, and more recently the Bible and the Quran. So many “truths” given to the hand of man by the “divine”. And yet, the adherents make great claims of belief, but don’t live by the words they claim to hold above all.

Of greatest importance however; of all of the reasons I can come up with, is that I have been legally dead multiple times, and each time, there was nothing. There was no tunnel with light. There were no family members greeting me. There was no angelic music. There was no demon trying to pull me down. There were no visions of heaven or of hell. There was just nothing. I ceased to exist. Until I was revived, my personhood was gone. My hopes, dreams, aspirations, my consciousness… all of it was completely gone. This was the absolute biggest blow to any faith I may have had. The faith that existed only because my father hammered it into my over and over as a child. The faith that was only going through the motions to begin with. The faith that had no roots because I cannot believe anything that isn’t based in logic – anything that isn’t tangible – anything that cannot be proven. To me, the experience was, if anything; proof that there was nothing after death whatsoever. As a result, I lost my faith. This isn’t to say that I became a bad person and “sinned” in every way imaginable. In fact, I didn’t change at all. I simply ceased praying and attending religious services.

Over the years I have drifted back and forth, unable to really find myself or faith or belief at all. I have prayed at great length asking for feeling. For something, anything that would allow my faith to increase. I have prayed for belief. I have prayed for trust. I have received none of those things. So I pray, I attend religious services. To what end, I don’t know. Maybe just to be a good example to my children. Perhaps because it’s the only time I am around other people. Perhaps because a part of me that is unknown to my mind believes, and takes me. What makes it worse, is that they tell me that just going through the actions is worthless. Without belief, and without love for G-d etc. I am just a phony that has no chance of redemption. But for me, actions are all I have. I simply cannot feel, I cannot love something that I have no knowledge of existing. It’s bad enough that I cannot feel, not even for my closest family. But add to that a requirement to LOVE an unknown divinity in order to merit the world to come, and I suppose I’m as good as lost. I’ve heard a lot of people say “I wish I didn’t feel” after they break up with their significant others… well I’m here to tell you, being without feeling isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

In fact, being without feeling is EXHAUSTING! To even be able to interact effectively with other humans, you need those feelings. I have to take my social cues from the actions, gestures and expressions of others. Sometimes I get it right, sometimes I don’t. Pretending to be interested in stories… pretending to find things humorous and faking laughs, making sure your expression is appropriate for the topic at hand, maintaining eye contact… it leaves me so drained that I can only handle an hour or two of any social interaction. I don’t know why G-d (assuming there is one) chose to make me like this, but I refuse to believe that someone referred to as “Compassionate and Gracious, Slow to anger and Abundant in Kindness and Truth, Preserver of kindness for thousands of generations, Forgiver of iniquity, willful sin, and error, and Who Cleanses” could hold it against me for not being able to do what He created me not to be able to do. This thought, and this thought alone is the only reason that I continue to pray and attend religious services.

Predestination

There is a prevailing thought in Western culture, which sickeningly ascribes all things that occur to Divine will. This horrible notion is perpetuated ignorantly by well meaning persons at funerals, for instance. I’m sorry that your loved one died. It was G-d’s will. He/She’s in a better place now. G-d was just ready to take him/her home. When there are horrendous tragedies with high human cost such as school shootings, people are quick to declare that it was G-d’s will that it happen. That there is some sort of Divine logic in all of it. This is absolutely WRONG. And those that say such things are doing great damage. This line of thinking encourages anger at G-d by victims family. Why would G-d want this to happen? Why would G-d take him/her like this? etc. The correct response to such happenings requires knowledge (to the extent that we CAN understand the Divine) of the workings of Divine will. I won’t attempt to address any theological implications here, only to give a very basic understanding of the very fundamental precepts of these ideas.

The notion of predestination is comprised of two essential elements:  infallible foreknowledge, and immutable decrees. Predestination is further affected by an “external” element, and that is the free will granted to mankind. First of all, we must start with free will.

FREE WILL: (noun) –  the power of acting without the constraint of necessity or fate; the ability to act at one’s own discretion.

The age old question applies? Why would the Divine grant free will, and then punish us for our use of the gift? Greater theologians and philosophers than I have pondered this for centuries, and still have arrived at no mutually satisfactory response. I am left therefore, only to ponder the implication of how this “gift” relates to Divine will.

The human creature is created with potential, talents, deficiencies, handicaps and free will. What the human does with this “hand delt” is entirely up to the human. One may have multiple handicaps, and turn them into strengths. Another with the same handicaps may become bitter to the world and behave as if everything is owed them. For this reason it is clear to see that “G-d made me this way” is nothing more than an excuse. The Divine does not create a killer as such. How they became so, is another argument best left to the Nature vs. Nurture psycho babble. But it is not something to be blamed on heavenly forces.

We can no longer proceed further without the inclusion of the idea of predestination. For our example of the murderer, we now have a set of decrees. This person, with these particular handicaps is to be born to this abusive man and his on again, off again girlfriend who, due to their own life choices, live in complete poverty. This is an immutable decree. A set of circumstances that cannot be changed. There are variables, of course… a social worker may notice, and set in motion governmental intervention resulting in the child being placed in a loving foster home, or a not so loving, but nonetheless safe boys home etc. But the base decree cannot be changed. This IS who the child will be born to. Now then, there are several roads that this child’s life may take. Free choice. Regardless of where he ends up, with his birth parents, foster parents, a boys home, or a teen runaway, every choice opens new possibilities and paths. Now we begin to see a taste of infallible foreknowledge. To divine eyes, which transcend all time, all is seen, all is known. All possible paths and variations are foreseen, and the free will choices that will be made have already been observed. This is not to say that the Divine in any way leads the outcome, but at certain junctures in ones life, He may, by immutable decree, cause certain persons to cross a particular path which may be helpful to the individual. But then again, the choice is on that individual to accept or reject the help, and take or leave that path.

In short, yes. G-d knows all and sees all. He knows the end. He knows what we will do and how. But it is not because He causes us to do so, merely because He, like a person watching a movie with the ability to fast forward and rewind, sees and knows what has been, what is, and what will be. The choices made are the individuals own. The paths taken, results of choices. The Divine lovingly created each of us with our potential. He decreed our start point. He gave us our strengths and our weaknesses, and then He gave us free will to do with them as we may. He never commanded a boy to go into a school with a gun and kill twenty kids and four teachers. He allowed that boy to make the choices that led him to that point, and even placed doubt in the boy before he did the horrid act. One last call of the conscience. Only He knows how many children have listened to that still, small voice, and not committed the act they had planned. But He CERTAINLY never made them do it. He did not decree that it should happen. He did not make it part of His “plan”. He allowed free choice to be made.

Sure, there are particular persons who He takes a more active role with. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Aaron, Joshua, Saul, David, Solomon, the Prophets etc… World leaders, world events and such. I have no doubt that it was Divine and Immutable Decree that the Nazi’s come to power, much as their forebears, Babylon and Assyria. Or that the United States of America be discovered, formed and established on Judeo Christian principles, and to go on and become a world leader for fifty years. But we know this already. The Tanakh/Bible makes clear that He places Kings on their thrones and guides the destinies of nations. But this little rant addresses only the individual level. That is the most basic terms that I can place on the most difficult to understand mystery of Divine will, decrees and free choice. Hopefully it made some sort of sense. If you want to know more, contact me and I’ll send you a reading list on the subject, by minds greater than mine could ever hope to be.

Predestination was originally published on Theo's Thoughts

Predestination

There is a prevailing thought in Western culture, which sickeningly ascribes all things that occur to Divine will. This horrible notion is perpetuated ignorantly by well meaning persons at funerals, for instance. I’m sorry that your loved one died. It was G-d’s will. He/She’s in a better place now. G-d was just ready to take him/her home. When there are horrendous tragedies with high human cost such as school shootings, people are quick to declare that it was G-d’s will that it happen. That there is some sort of Divine logic in all of it. This is absolutely WRONG. And those that say such things are doing great damage. This line of thinking encourages anger at G-d by victims family. Why would G-d want this to happen? Why would G-d take him/her like this? etc. The correct response to such happenings requires knowledge (to the extent that we CAN understand the Divine) of the workings of Divine will. I won’t attempt to address any theological implications here, only to give a very basic understanding of the very fundamental precepts of these ideas.

The notion of predestination is comprised of two essential elements:  infallible foreknowledge, and immutable decrees. Predestination is further affected by an “external” element, and that is the free will granted to mankind. First of all, we must start with free will.

FREE WILL: (noun) –  the power of acting without the constraint of necessity or fate; the ability to act at one’s own discretion.

The age old question applies? Why would the Divine grant free will, and then punish us for our use of the gift? Greater theologians and philosophers than I have pondered this for centuries, and still have arrived at no mutually satisfactory response. I am left therefore, only to ponder the implication of how this “gift” relates to Divine will.

The human creature is created with potential, talents, deficiencies, handicaps and free will. What the human does with this “hand delt” is entirely up to the human. One may have multiple handicaps, and turn them into strengths. Another with the same handicaps may become bitter to the world and behave as if everything is owed them. For this reason it is clear to see that “G-d made me this way” is nothing more than an excuse. The Divine does not create a killer as such. How they became so, is another argument best left to the Nature vs. Nurture psycho babble. But it is not something to be blamed on heavenly forces.

We can no longer proceed further without the inclusion of the idea of predestination. For our example of the murderer, we now have a set of decrees. This person, with these particular handicaps is to be born to this abusive man and his on again, off again girlfriend who, due to their own life choices, live in complete poverty. This is an immutable decree. A set of circumstances that cannot be changed. There are variables, of course… a social worker may notice, and set in motion governmental intervention resulting in the child being placed in a loving foster home, or a not so loving, but nonetheless safe boys home etc. But the base decree cannot be changed. This IS who the child will be born to. Now then, there are several roads that this child’s life may take. Free choice. Regardless of where he ends up, with his birth parents, foster parents, a boys home, or a teen runaway, every choice opens new possibilities and paths. Now we begin to see a taste of infallible foreknowledge. To divine eyes, which transcend all time, all is seen, all is known. All possible paths and variations are foreseen, and the free will choices that will be made have already been observed. This is not to say that the Divine in any way leads the outcome, but at certain junctures in ones life, He may, by immutable decree, cause certain persons to cross a particular path which may be helpful to the individual. But then again, the choice is on that individual to accept or reject the help, and take or leave that path.

In short, yes. G-d knows all and sees all. He knows the end. He knows what we will do and how. But it is not because He causes us to do so, merely because He, like a person watching a movie with the ability to fast forward and rewind, sees and knows what has been, what is, and what will be. The choices made are the individuals own. The paths taken, results of choices. The Divine lovingly created each of us with our potential. He decreed our start point. He gave us our strengths and our weaknesses, and then He gave us free will to do with them as we may. He never commanded a boy to go into a school with a gun and kill twenty kids and four teachers. He allowed that boy to make the choices that led him to that point, and even placed doubt in the boy before he did the horrid act. One last call of the conscience. Only He knows how many children have listened to that still, small voice, and not committed the act they had planned. But He CERTAINLY never made them do it. He did not decree that it should happen. He did not make it part of His “plan”. He allowed free choice to be made.

Sure, there are particular persons who He takes a more active role with. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Aaron, Joshua, Saul, David, Solomon, the Prophets etc… World leaders, world events and such. I have no doubt that it was Divine and Immutable Decree that the Nazi’s come to power, much as their forebears, Babylon and Assyria. Or that the United States of America be discovered, formed and established on Judeo Christian principles, and to go on and become a world leader for fifty years. But we know this already. The Tanakh/Bible makes clear that He places Kings on their thrones and guides the destinies of nations. But this little rant addresses only the individual level. That is the most basic terms that I can place on the most difficult to understand mystery of Divine will, decrees and free choice. Hopefully it made some sort of sense. If you want to know more, contact me and I’ll send you a reading list on the subject, by minds greater than mine could ever hope to be.

Birthday Thoughts

I have died several times, over the course of my thirty-five years. The first time, as an infant. I remember after being revived, seeing everything blurrily through the oxygen tent. Another time, as a toddler, I drowned. Another time as a teen, I fell from a second story roof. The list goes on. Death has courted me since birth. Each time,  heart had ceased. There was no brain activity. I was physically dead. And guess what? There was nothing. During the time I was dead, I didn’t float out of my body. I didn’t hear people trying to revive me. I didn’t see a light. No dead family members appeared to me. There was no heaven. I received no vision of hell. Not one single time that I died, did I see anything at all. I simply ceased to be. A priest that I consulted at the time, Father Daniel, encouraged me to remain steadfast in the faith. He explained that had I received any visions, or seen the afterlife, in truth, the Divine would have been removing my freedom of choice. Regardless of any justification, the nothingness still terrifies me. Sleeping terrifies me because it reminds me, every time I close my eyes, of the nothingness that awaits. Each time I go to sleep I wonder as the darkness envelopes me and I mentally slip away, will this be the last time? Will I see another sunrise? What about my family?

Is there a heaven? Is there a hell? Truthfully, I don’t know. I like to think that I believe that there is, and I go through the motions…  Yes, I am faithful. Following a code of laws that I believe to be Divine. Attending religious services. Praying and confessing my sins, trying to do better, living according to a code that the rest of the world views as silly and antiquated. I am kind to others. I force myself to like everyone by killing that judgmental little voice. I do my best to not get angry. I give my tithes and offerings. I read the Holy Book, the Word of the Divine inscribed by the hand of man, His messengers. Is it really His word? I honestly don’t know. I like to think that I believe, but do I? The fact is, I am filled with doubt. All I know is what I can perceive with my senses, and even my senses betray me.

If the afterlife is real, as I like to think that I believe, what hope do I have? Will the angels at the moment of my final death draw swords and prevent me from uttering my final declaration of faith? Will demons scratch and grasp at me as I attempt to ascend? Will the accuser be able to pile enough in the scales to have me declared a completely wicked person? If I go down to punishment, will there be enough silver remaining once the dross is cleared for me to rise up again? If the afterlife is not real, I leave no legacy. I have done nothing worthy of praise. I have accomplished nothing worthy of memory. I have failed my ancestors and their legacy. I have not sacrificed. I have not gone without. I have been selfish and have only sought after my own comfort. I will go down to nothing, to darkness, I will cease to be, and my brief time upon this planet will have been wasted. A life filled with labour and affliction. Seeking after vanity and comfort. Wandering through life, only to find that my final destination is destruction. Either way, do I have anything to look forward to? On the one hand, a glimmer of hope, the minuscule chance of reward for an unworthy sinner, on the other, the end of it all. What is it about me that any Creator, any Divine, if such truly awaits me, would find worthy of consideration? If I do not sink into darkness, but instead go to judgment, what merit accompanies me in my favour? I am… unworthy.

What Makes a Person?

I want to share with you, what made me who I am today. I was speaking about it with a friend, and realized that I had never bothered to inform anyone. In truth, it never seemed important to me. It’s just who I am, and I never gave it a second thought.

I started a company several (it seems like a lifetime) years ago which created advertisements and menu boards using flat screen televisions. Now everywhere you go, you see menus at fast food that have the television screens that change, or Old Navy with its screens that advertise their products, in malls.. all over the place really. I did that. I made buckets full of money, but wanted more and more. I lost everything, including my own sanity. It was a dark time. I was young and stupid, and only cared about money. I wore $5,000.00 suits, drove a Mercedes and thought I was better than everyone. I was an a**hole, and I deserved worse than what I got, in the end. I should still be suffering for the way I treated people. I destroyed relationships without a care, drank like a sailor, and my whole life spiraled out of control.

What changed it all? What made me who I am today? Simple! I died (don’t ask how, that’s a different story), and saw nothing. There was nothing at all. I was clinically dead for more than ten minutes. I should have had severe brain damage from lack of oxygen. From what I understand, I just spontaneously started coughing and began breathing on my own. I don’t remember much from the time, only that I was absolutely terrified upon my… resurrection, because I had been dead, but there was no light, no family to greet me… no heaven, no hell, no nothing.

For a few weeks, nothing mattered. What was the point? But then I got a wake up call. I was told that I should still be dead, and that at very least, my brain should be damaged to the point where I should be bedridden and under the care of others until I die. I was told to stop being pathetic and to start being grateful. I was sent to a cleric, and confided my experience, my feelings of it all being pointless, a waste, and my desire to just die and be done with it all. The cleric said “I don’t have answers, but I can tell you this. G-d didn’t show you anything at all, because that would have destroyed your free choice. But he preserved your mind and raised you from the dead. Isn’t that enough to thank him by serving him at least an hour every week?”

I started out slow, examined my life and my deeds, and began to go on the Sabbath. It became natural. I started going weekday mornings. I felt happy for the first time. Started praying regularly. It was relaxing and refreshing. I wanted more and more. For a while, I won’t lie… I just went through the actions. Then the more I learned, I served because I was terrified. Eventually, however; I served because I was grateful. For each and every breath. Now I am grateful because of my children who would have never been here, and who I would never have gotten to meet and to see grow.

But to be perfectly honest… the thought of dying still terrifies me. The separation from the body is the most painful thing ever. And I’m scared that when I die for good, there may be nothing like before, but this time it will be forever. Don’t get me wrong, I am by no means a religious freak, but I do believe, and I do attend services because of that belief. I do try to live my life according to the teachings and tenants of my faith, and when I fail, I get up and try again. It isn’t so much faith that drives me, as hope. I have hope. I don’t just “trust” that G-d exists and that heaven is real. I am not to that level yet. I just “hope that it is so” and try to live accordingly.