We received the news today that one of our residents has gone to Hospice. Since I've joined our community in July of 2011 there have been nine of our family who've passed on, including one former member of Table 54. You expect this, living in a retirement community, but it usually comes as a surprise. Not that a person has died, but that they're gone today in a very final way. There is nowhere else you'll ever live where the specter of death invades the unspoken thoughts of people on a daily basis like it does here. We are all very aware of its existence whether we acknowledge it or not.
In going to Hospice, H is now standing in the doorway, about to embark upon the path of discovery that will answer the supreme question that we humans have groped with since the beginning of our history - What happens when we die? Living in this community reminds us that we are all very close to knowing the answer, no matter what our personal beliefs may be, to this ultimate of questions.
A few weeks ago one of our residents and certainly a friend of the Table, B, gave me a book she wanted me to read - Heaven Is Real: A Little Boy's Astounding Story Of His Trip To Heaven And Back by Todd Burpo. The book is purported to be the true story of a four-year old boy who during emergency surgery slips from consciousness and enters heaven. The boy survives (a miracle, of course) and talks about being able to look down and see the doctor operating on him and his dad praying in the waiting room. He surprised his parents by telling them he met his miscarried sister, whom no one had told him about, and his great grandfather who died 30 year before the boy was born including impossible for him to know details about each.
There followed descriptions of a horse that only Jesus could ride, about seeing God in his "reaaally big chair, sitting in His lap and stories about how the Holy Spirit "shoots down power from heaven" to help people. (A non-existent miracle for the millions of people around the world who suffered and died for real on the same day as his near-death experience. But who would expect a li'l boy to think about that?) He also informs his parents that Jesus really loves children and that they should be prepared because there is a last battle coming soon between you know who and you know what.
Those of us at Table 54 were not surprised to learn that the boy's father, Todd Burpo who authored the book, is a Wesleyan pastor at a local church and his mother, younger brother, and older sister are all active in the church. One has to wonder how much this close association to church life influenced the boy's stories and how much the father injected his own beliefs into the work. Whatever the case it would take a real stretch of reality to believe that this book conveys any evidence of what actually happens when we die. I'm sure, however, that the Christian masses out there will totally accept this story. Hey, it's about a kid and God and it's a sooooo real and sad and warm and fuzzy and how much more could we possibly need to believe?
I suggest you read the 3,000+ comments from people who've read this book (see link above) to gain an appreciation of what Christianity has done to the minds of its great flock of sheep out there. Be warned, you might end up like the poor sick lad in the story who couldn't stop throwing up.
Unfortunately despite the thousands of stories of near-death experiences (taken from every point-of-view you can shake a stick at) which have been reported and recorded, the veil between life and death still stands impenetrable. Until someone dead (brain dead and heart stopped for a week or more who's started to decompose or is buried for some time) comes back and relates his story about what happens when you die, we at Table 54 will continue to acknowledge that the unknown is just that...unknown. And, we might add, unknowable. These stories are no more evidence of life after death than the Bible itself (which most of them conflict with, I might add).