Thomas Wictor

Mystery is important

Mystery is important

The possibility of life after death has been on my mind since I was six years old, when I first understood what death was, and I realized that someday I’d die. There were periods in which I couldn’t bear to think about it because I couldn’t accept either the possibility of eternal life or the cessation of existence. If we lived forever in some other place, how would we keep from going crazy after trillions and trillions of years? As my brother Pat said, people would be doing things like walking to Hawaii at the bottom of the ocean. Sure, it would take years, but since you couldn’t die and didn’t need to breathe, why not?

I wasn’t afraid of ceasing to exist, since I knew it would be akin to unconsciousness; what scared me was the moment of transition from existence to nonexistence. What would it be like? Would it be like a rheostat being turned down? It was horrible to contemplate.

Throughout my life I’ve had odd epiphanies that gave me hope. I’m saving some of them for future fiction, but here’s one that I can relate: On August 24, 1981, as I took a shower in the bathroom next to my bedroom—this was in Stavanger, Norway—I had a full-fledged panic attack as I again went over the conundrum of eternal life-boredom versus nonexistence. And then suddenly my fear evaporated because it came to me that the other side would bear no resemblance to anything I knew. There was no need for me to be afraid. My coal-powered brain couldn’t even begin to comprehend how different it would be.

Here on this planet, we’re limited by having to eat, sleep, watch out for danger—all the issues that will have no relevance once we no longer have a body. The actual structure of our brain functions as a reducing valve that allows us to concentrate on feeding and watering the meat-suit we’re in. Worrying about the infinite and the ethereal isn’t what we’re supposed to do right now. We can ponder them, sure, but we’re really not going to get anywhere. We just don’t have the equipment. If our brains allowed us to genuinely conceive existence on the next plane, we wouldn’t bother eating, working, or having sex. All of that would become instantly too grubby and pedestrian to bother with.

An aside.

My friend “Lola” came over and knocked on the back door at two o’clock one morning. My bedroom was in the basement, so Lola had come down the flight of concrete steps to tap at the glass, like a cat wanting to be let in. I quietly admitted her, and she asked to use the shower where I’d had my epiphany a few weeks earlier. I told her she could, then I went to my room. About twenty minutes later, she came in, toweling her wet hair.

“Why didn’t you join me?” she asked.

I thought, YOU MEAN I COULD’VE? As I’d lain on my bed listening to the water run, the urge to go in there was nearly irresistible. It still bugs me that I didn’t. On the other hand, she never gave me any indication that she wanted me to join her. I wasn’t a mind reader; I was a shy, awkward, troubled eighteen-year-old. In the next life, any girl-woman who wants me to take a shower with her has to either tell me right out or just drag me in. I won’t put up a fight.

I hoped Lola would come back one night and ask to take another shower, but she never did. Like a cat, she was mercurial.

Returning to what I am not.

I’m not a “believer.” When I say I believe in a Planner and I believe that we get multiple chances, it’s just shorthand for “In my opinion, this is the most likely scenario.” I don’t know. I feel that I know, in exactly the same way that I recognized and remembered Carmen the moment I met her, but it’s just a feeling. I have no proof that my feelings are accurate. What I’m positive isn’t genuine is this.

Saint Michael the Archangel is one of my heroes. But I don’t know if he’s real or not. If he is real, he’s a warrior. His job is to destroy evil through brute force, so he doesn’t use sexy young Aussie mediums to convey schmaltzy messages of love. I’m not saying there are no real mediums. John Grant Fuller’s book The Airmen Who Would Not Die is the most convincing argument I’ve read for the existence of true mediums and life after death. Even so, I’m not interested in mediums, channeling, seances, or contacting the dead. I’ll learn about everything firsthand soon enough. All the famous mediums who appear on TV strike me as sinister, cynical con artists. They creep me out, every one of them.

My opinion is that this realm has to remain a mystery out of necessity. The purpose of our lives on earth is to learn, grow, and improve. I think little hints are given here and there, especially when you need them; “Ask and you shall receive” refers to strength to carry on. But free will depends on being unsure. I read somewhere that morality is based on what you do when you know that nobody will ever find out. You have to do the right thing because it’s the right thing to do. Trying simply to rack up points would make you a fraud.

An Iraqi cleric was asked if he wanted to ban nightclubs and alcohol in Iraq. He said he didn’t, because when all temptations are taken away and you have no opportunity to sin, you can’t become a virtuous person. In the same way, if we all knew exactly what awaited us after life on earth, it would skew the results. Apparently simply observing subatomic particles changes how they behave. Having absolute knowledge would change how we behave, and not for the better.

But I think help is offered, if you’re open to it. Signs are shown. However, you have to discover-create the actual path yourself. It has to be a choice, after all, or else it isn’t real. I don’t view this as mind games. People ask, “Why doesn’t God just come out and tell us He exists?”

Because we have to find our own way. The point isn’t to make you do anything. You have to choose to do it in order to be the best person you can, not because you’re trying to please the Creator or because you’re afraid—like my father was—that you’ll go to hell. Dad’s death is another event that bolsters my belief in an afterlife. After he died we were haunted for months. There’s no other way of putting it. I don’t think it was Dad per se, but rather the part of him that made such terrible choices. I’ve got some amazing photos that someday I’ll post on this Website, and Tim, Eric, and I experienced lots of really bizarre manifestations.

When Eric came out to say goodbye to Mom, he slept in her house on the pull-out bed. One night he was awoken by the sound of typing, coming from Dad’s desk. Dad typed lists, personal and business correspondence, and endless complaints to every institution in the country, but there are no typewriters in the house anymore.

As Tim walked across the wooden floor one evening, he felt footsteps matching his on the other side of the boards, as though someone were walking upside down in the crawlspace. He tested it by dancing, jogging, and making sudden lunges. The footsteps exactly duplicated his movements.

As I sat here at my desk, writing, there was a thud in my crawlspace. It struck the floor beneath my chair, and then I heard a sort of thundering, bashing rush that headed toward the entrance to the crawlspace, which is covered with a wire screen in a wooden frame. Whatever it was then crashed into the steel railing on the steps behind my house, producing a loud bwoy-yoy-yoy-yoy-yoinnnnnng!

I went outside and looked, but nothing was out of place. The entrance to the crawlspace was intact.

Dad loved to spend time in the crawlspaces of our houses. It allowed him to put on his special Action Coveralls, load up with a clipboard, tape measure, drafting paper, and pencils, and take charge of a grand project. We did a lot of work on the foundations of all three houses, mainly seismic retrofitting with bolts. Dad did the prep work, stretching it out so it lasted years. There was a period when he was always under one of our houses, clanging around. He was a slammer; he actually broke my back door and the rear door of his station wagon. You could locate him on any of our three properties by following the crashing sounds.

We weren’t afraid of the noises under our houses. To be blunt, we thought it was absurd. Your greatest fear is death, so when you die and find out that it didn’t kill you, instead of moving on, you come back and haunt your children by banging around in their crawlspaces?

In the end I don’t actually know a thing about this stuff. I’m just not afraid anymore. In fact I like thinking about it now. In 2006 I went to a postcard show in Oklahoma, almost certainly my final long-distance road trip. For much of the way, I could get only country music on the radio. Due to my experiences in Texas and being targeted by the children of Southern oil workers in the Netherlands and Norway, I didn’t listen to country music. Yet when I heard this, it instantly became one of my all-time favorites.

That road trip led me to spend a few years listening to country music. Here’s the most artistic and ambiguous appeal to religion I’ve heard. I find it more interesting each time I listen to it or watch the video. And then I discovered what I think is the most upbeat, joyful, optimistic song about death ever written. I’m not sure if my interpretation is what the writers intended.

“I won’t sleep ’til I’ve had enough.”

Does it mean, “until I’ve done everything I wanted,” or does it mean, “until I can’t stand it anymore”? Don’t know. Which is why I like it.

Mystery is important. It’s helpful.

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