Do You Believe in an Afterlife?

Understanding our feelings about the great beyond and the paranormal.

Does It Kill You to Contemplate Death?

Novelists (and their characters) help us cope with death creatively.

We each face death our own way, and philosophers, psychologists, scientists, poets, and novelists express a wide array of attitudes about dying. In a previous post, I shared six viewpoints. Now here are four more that I've collected from novelists whose work I've enjoyed. These happened to resonate with me and may help you make your own peace with mortality.

1. Wanting more is selfish.

From novelist Iain Banks in The Crow Road (MacAdam/Cage,1992):

The belief that we somehow moved on to something else -- whether still recognizably ourselves, or quite thoroughly changed -- might be a tribute to our evolutionary tenacity and our animal thirst for life, but not to our wisdom. That saw a value beyond itself; in intelligence, knowledge and wit as concepts -- wherever and by whomever expressed -- not just in its own personal manifestation of those qualities, and so could contemplate its own annihilation with equanimity, and suffer it with grace; it was only a sort of sad selfishness that demanded the continuation of the individual spirit in the vanity and frivolity of a heaven.

2. Just be here now.

From the novel The Music Teacher, by Barbara Hall (Algonquin Books, 2009), who is the author of nine novels (five of them for YA) and writer and producer of Judging Amy and Joan of Arcadia: One character says,

Nothing is real, and nothing is not real. Things just are. That's why you try to be in the moment. Because you might as well be somewhere. And all evidence seems to point to the fact that being here, now, is where all the good stuff happens.

And another responds:

Like when you're playing a riff, and you're not worried about finishing it. You're just in it.

3. Being the center of everything becomes less important with age.

From an article in the N.Y.Times Magazine about novelist Margaret Drabble (by Daphne Merkin, 9/13/09):

"As I get older," Drabble confided, "I do fear my physical world is getting thinner. When I was younger, I led multiple lives. When I'm here in Porlock, everything flows in again. It doesn't matter if I'm thinning out. . . . The trees are full, the sea is full and I am getting more ghostly. The physical world is taking over and absorbing me and eventually my ashes will be scattered in the churchyard." And then, taking her aptitude for seeing beyond the glare of self-interest - beyond the moment's buzz - to its natural extension, she muses unblinkingly on the inevitable void that awaits even those who fill the world with words: "My being the center has ceased to be of importance."

4. Death is simply part of life.

From Christine Falls (Picador, 2008), the debut crime novel of Benjamin Black (the pen name of John Banville, who won the Man Booker Prize) (the main character is a pathologist who has been beaten up by those who don't want him snooping into a possible crime):

He had thought he was going to die and was surprised at how little he feared the prospect. It had all been so shabby and shoddy, so ordinary; and that, he now realized, would be the manner of his real death, when it came. In the dissecting room the bodies used to seem to him the remains of sacrificial victims, spent and inert after the frightful, bloody ceremony of their souls' leaving. But he would never again view a cadaver in that lurid light. Suddenly for him death had lost its terrifying glamour and become just another bit of the mundane business of life, although its last.

Do You Believe in an Afterlife?