The Finish Line
Saw an interesting TV commercial about retirement recently. A man encountered his future self on a plane, offering him a brief glimpse ahead, into his future, a fortuitous peek down that road, you know the one, the road that makes us wonder where in hell it goes. In my case, those last five words may prove telling.
The future guy told the present guy that retirement “isn’t the finish line”. Anyone who has thought about retirement probably realizes this, but I’d never heard it said so succinctly before. It resonated.
In what is a natural extrapolation for me, it suddenly crystallized in my martini-addled brain; what is the finish line? Death? The finality of dying is limiting, and would end the discussion now. We’ll assume there are intermittent stops along the way.
So, what about reincarnation? Best described as the concept where the soul or spirit, after the death of the body, is believed to return to live in a new human body (yeah, I know plants and animals are also included, but clearly a step down). The concept of believing, of relying on faith as an intellectual premise, I tend to embrace about as much as I would an irritated wolf guarding a wild boar carcass. But this is where I might be accused of being contradictory (akin to getting accused of being human). I don’t, make that won’t, believe in God. However, I want to believe that reincarnation is indeed a reality. I like the injection of hope into the human experience. The idea that there could be something beyond the sunset, something other than the vague, abstract, almost insipid concepts of heaven and hell. To return to life. Making death merely a continuing step in the metamorphosis of life, not an ending.
There is a lot to like about reincarnation. The chance for a do-over. Some (many?) of us will approach death with more regrets than accomplishments, with a sense of unfinished business. Wouldn’t it be nice to be faced with death knowing you may get the opportunity to live a better life, be a better person, to right some wrongs? Would sure make that flat-lining monitor a lot less scary as the final breaths are taken.
My only trepidation with reincarnation is an obvious one. What if I come back, for example, as a crack baby in South Central Los Angeles, where the odds of a remotely normal or healthy life are long? No matter how many lives we may live, the risk factor is as much a part of the human condition as breathing. It can all end at any moment. Nobody has promised anyone the next minute, let alone the next life. The chance of being reincarnated merely ratchets up the risk factor. Kind of like doubling down in Black Jack. It’s a gamble.
Ultimately, we lacked control over choosing our current life, did we not? Choice was not part of the birth transaction. Never has been. Cruel? Sure. Fiercely ironic? Absolutely. But also indisputable. Choice is what you have AFTER you are dealt your cards. And we won’t even get into who the dealer may be. We’ll tackle one of life’s mysteries at a time.
The current life-vacuum we inhabit is what we made of it. Life is not, nor has it ever been, a level playing field. The quicker we discard the idea, the hope, the longing for fairness in life, the more we can get down to the brass tacks of living it. Idealism is a wonderfully abstract concept, even an admirable intellectual premise from which to live, but it’s also a breeding ground for disappointment. Fairness in the world takes a beating every minute, and in every direction you turn your gaze. Keep it as a cozy, Utopian dream, but don’t ever anticipate its existence or reliability.
The fear of my soul coming back in the “wrong” human body, destined to live the “wrong’ life, is a real one. My guess is that to believe in reincarnation, you simply are forced to accept that possibility. Come what may.
Maybe there simply is no finish line. Ever.
I’m still in.