Every breath, I like to remind my students, is one breath closer to death. This invariably leads at least one kid to hold in the air in hopes of adding a few seconds on to his lifespan. It doesn’t work that way so far as I can tell, but maybe these kids are smarter than me. Maybe they’ll live to be 115, stretching out their alotted time the way a baker rolls out dough in an ever-expanding, ever-thinning blob.
Which is preferable, a shorter life filled to capacity with pleasure or a longer life marked by strict regimentation and self-preservation? That’s not for me to say. Each of us gets this one moment–always too brief regardless of the actual length–to absorb what we can before passing into the ether. I spend mine typing blogs on an iPhone with one finger, which can hardly be construed as sucking the marrow out of life. Am I doing enough? Am I living? I guess so. Hell, I hope so.
Some say we are the spirits of our ancestors returned in different form, our births their re-birth. Will I, devoid of biological lineage, destroy some eternal soul at my last breath, my heritage not unlike the final passenger pigeon staring through the cage door in Cincinnati and thinking, Jesus, is this how it all ends? I refuse to worry about it.
I don’t believe the spirits of my deceased loved ones exist anywhere but in my memories, but memory, unlike reality, is intimate and warm, a highlight reel cut from the bland live-feed of everyday existence. In their new state, my grandfather is always wise and funny, my great-grandmother forever generous, my sister-in-law Michelle eternally conspiratorial. The tired, quiet, pained moments that make up all of our lives fade into the background, there but less important.
Perhaps this is heaven, that we remain for a generation warmly connected to the living despite our deaths. It’s not eternity, but it is a gift for those we leave, paying it forward as it was given to us. It’s the best we’ve got.