They say no one knows what awaits us beyond death’s door, but I do, I have been there and returned. Sure, every religion has its version, reincarnation, pearly gates and molten lakes, and I do believe each has a simple basic answer for the unfathomable question. The question of why, the big why, the why do we live, why do we die, why. Six feet under is the place to wonder, did I live up to my own personal why? Did I give my life purpose? While you remain above the ground, free to roam around, that is the time to think about living, and not asking where you might go in the hereafter. The answer might not be all you hoped for, not a clear and simple truth, and your answer might not be my answer, or the one you thought all along. I cannot answer The Great Question, I can only share my story. I know you want to know where you go. I can only say where I went. Somewhere. Yes, that is it. Somewhere, somewhere outside time.
Some deaths pass unnoticed, yes, that great event you feared all of your life, so uneventful as to not wake you from your slumber. Some deaths you remember, even if the life detached goes forgotten. I often wondered if that was the cause of our phobias? Our fears may be rooted in forgotten deaths in previous lives? I am not saying I believe in reincarnation, that is not exactly what happened to me, nor was it resurrection, or rising from the grave to feed. I am neither zombie, nor vampire, or undead thing. A ghost or a spirit may stubbornly persist to wander between realms, as I may have in the times in between. From my experience, and unique perspective, death is just one step out of time between being and not being, then being again.
The earliest death I remember was the most memorable death of all. I don’t remember the life, or much of most lives, but that death I will remember forevermore. There was a voice I remembered in the moments just before, “On this day, the Solstice of summer, in the year of our Lord twentyfour, let all bare witness. The sentence is death, death by beheading, for the high crime of fishing on the land of a Noble.”
They say, you should find comfort in a death in an instant, that its better then days of suffering. What they don’t tell you is how long an instant can be. How much that can scar you, scars that echo throughout the ages, and are with me today, two millennia from that day.
Death by beheading isn’t an instant death, it’s two. The instant before, followed by the instant after, or, perhaps after is just another before? It will all become clear, as I take you through that doorway, beyond death. As the voice pronounced my pending fate, the gathered crowd fell silent, the only sound the swish of the sword cutting through the air, then my neck, freeing my head from my now dead body. Yes, it happened that fast, but here is all I remember from that space between the light glinting off the sword as it swung, and the taste of my own blood on my tongue. I remember searching the crowd for any signs of rescue, unwilling to accept my fate even as the sword began its travel downwards. I remember the gasp of the crowd, collectively, some taking perverse pleasure in the death of a stranger, others mourning the loss of another life at the hands of the executioner. Then there was the little girl crying,”No, no no, I don’t want to watch”. I would have heard the gruff reply, but I became distracted by the entry of the blade through the back of my neck. It hurt, make no mistake about it, there was nothing painless in a merciful quick death.my spine shattered between the third and fourth vertebrae, my last breath interrupted by the blades passage through my airway. It is true, my heart stopped almost instantly, I heard it all too clearly. However, while the heart and lungs need the brain to function, the brain dies more slowly. My end was here, I was clearly dead, without a head. Or should I say, as a disembodied head. Eyes could still see, ears could still hear, the brain could still comprehend, but without breath, lacked a voice with which to complain. The tumbling trip to the floor, that’s when I saw him, out on the lake, laughing gleefully as he reeled in his catch. The Noble. There was no one else it could have been, on a gold gilded raft, lines cast in still waters. I heard his laughter above the rest, even the crack of my skull on the blood stained slate could not drown out the cackle, and caw of the gleefully delighted Noble. Was it my death, or was it his catch that brought him such happiness?
With my mouth full of blood I rose, above my twitching body, not towards the heavens, no, nothing as pleasant as that. The executioner held me up, like a prize, held by my hair. I found it particularly peculiar how quickly I accepted this head as me, and not the twitching body I once thought embodied my soul. Existential question of where the soul resides, aside, no answers would ever come from such pondering in such a moment as this. Even terror seemed a waste of the final moments of existence. Then came the tumbling blur, flashes of faces, as I was tossed out into the jeering crowd. Dirty faces, angry faces, mocking faces, faces spewing spittle, faces twisted and tormenting. One face however, though briefly perceived in the tumbling and tossing, showed a mix of kindness, tenderness, fear and worry, shame and innocence. Contradictory emotions of a frightened child, as her brutal father held her making her look death in the eye, my eyes.
Swung by the hair, tossed in the air, twisting and tumbling the world just a blur, spiraling upwards till momentum let go of my upward flow, in the instant between upwards and downwards my plight became ironic with a most curious sight. The Noble who’s fish sealed my fate, tossing a large carp back to the lake from whence it came. My life was sacrificed not for food but game.
What followed was just feet kicking me around on the ground. Oh what fun they were having at my expense. My death was certain when my head found liberation from my body, but the real dying was just beginning without blood or breath, the mind only matters for a moment or two, a handful of instants strewn together, just a flash towards eternity. Cognition fading away, until I was gone. Now that, that was a death I will never forget. Two thousand years later as I tell you this tale, I still see the look in the young girl’s eyes, and recall every tenor and tone of the wealthy arse’s cackle as he mocked my death as he released his prize catch.
The next death I can remember was four hundred years later, but I wouldn’t remember a life, a full life, until 1964. Funny how in life we believe our everyday activities to be memorable and important, but after what I assume was hundreds of lives, hundreds of deaths, it wasn’t the lives, but the deaths that left an impression. That is, until an extraordinary person made a life more extraordinary, then even the most extraordinary demise. Perhaps if this life affords me the time, I will finally tell that tale, but alas, in an eternity of living and dying, so little time has been spent living, and so much time, in the spaces in between.
This is not a story of rebirth, reincarnation, resurrection, or reanimating. No, it is a tale of being and not being. I was not born, I never grew up, or had a childhood, or parents I recalled, although I did age. I was young when beheaded, in those days, you became a woman at first bleeding and a man at first whisker or hair down there, I was on that cup of finding my manhood, old enough to know hunger, and the scent of war. I sit here today, before you, on the eve of my last passing, at an age incomprehensible even in ‘64. 2024, my final death. Date of birth unknowable. Only time exists in the spaces between life, and death. I step through death’s doorway and go somewhere, somewhen, and then I am again. Well, to be clear, I am here again. I always am in the time between. Had I haunted? How would I know if I had? Without mind or matter how would I remember if a restless spirit made a visit? Perhaps back to that lake, to drive the Nobleman mad? Awareness. Being aware of ones life, lives, death, or deaths, is what defines being, and as I am trying to explain, my experience beyond death is just a step through time, being and not being, endlessly until this last day. I am old, the oldest I have ever been. The oldest I could ever be. The last day must be today. That is okay.
My time is near, so come closer my dear. The lesson to be learned, isn’t about what lies beyond the grave, but the memories we save, that are the essence of our eternity. Come closer, my breath will soon leave me, and I still have a tale to tell, one last life, one unforgettable wife, the sole reason for one last return.
1964, the first, and the last life remembered, before this one of course. The first moment I remember, of any life I lived, was the moment I met her. Although the funny thing about memory is, once our meeting made our lives memorable, I remembered the weeks and months of loneliness before her. It should be obvious that an existence of stepping through time, death after death, would be a solitary one. I even remember the moment of being, becoming, stepping back into life one more time. It started as if peering through a mist, into a changed world, one I may have been away from for a very long time. Gone was the brutality of the Middle Ages, the stench of dung no longer clung to every street, even the streets themselves were something new and exciting. I stepped into life like others might step into a pair of sandals. My senses bombarded with a rush of new experiences. Life. How many lives had I lived before yet with my first breath of the savory air, this life, was like no other. A life remembered.
She was there. In the savory scented air. She was the source of that scent, or to be precise, the source was the task she had been engaged in at the moment fate chose to breathe air back into long lost lungs. Hunger! I knew what that was. I always knew what that was. That was the cause of my beheading. That was the cause of so many of my deaths. Famished. Famine! Memories I never had I now knew as certainty. Famine in Egypt. A thousand years before the child Christ, Had I been in his time would I have been offered food or offered death? Infancy, weakness, helplessness. I was young once. Starved in the fields where mother toiled for the pleasure of the pharaohs . A slave, only fed to pull the plow, Pregnancy ended her usefulness and there wasn’t much food to go around.
Oh how that scent beckons me. So does she, though as of yet she still hasn’t noticed me. I filled my lungs, though my belly was empty, both the inhale, and tummy grumbles must have been louder than I imagined, for she turned to me with the most angelic smile. “You look like you could use a good meal, are you hungry dear?” She spoke in the softest sweetest voice I ever heard, in a strange accent both lyrical and mystical. “Looks like you haven’t eaten in quite a while, if your starving, i could whip you up something really quick, but if you got the time, have a seat, this is going to take a little while, but will be worth it.” She said as she sprinkled some flowers and herbs in a handmade clay pot, simmering over a small fire on a dark and dismal street.
I wasn’t sure when I ate last, and certainly I never experienced anything that satiated my hunger like this intoxicating aroma. I surveyed the long line of sandwiches, stews, samosas, and sweets already arranged artfully on a long table on the sidewalk. The homeless, the hungry, the lost and the lonely, the most desperate outcasts from society gathered to share a meal and a story. “I can’t tell you how long I have waited for such bounty, I am grateful.” I sniffed the air and sighed deeply, soulfully. “I think I can wait a little longer.” She looked at me with a curious smile, loving and nurturing, but maybe bit of confusion. “Tell me.” She said. Just that, two little words with no indication what she hoped to hear. Cocking her head without a word more, her eyes broke contact with mine,to gaze upon a chair by her side, before returning to her simmering pot full of… I took my place in the chair by her side, nearer the fire and the…. So many contradictory scents and salivation inducing sensations. I did not know what to call the culinary delight that was the focus of her attention and intention. Love.yes, that was it, a pot full of love, and somehow, like the sweat on her brow, love exuded from her pores as well.
Tell her i did, without knowing where to start, or how to end, I told her things, everything, things I didn’t know I knew. Things i can only share with you now, because I discovered them, or rediscovered, in that moment. I told her of lives and deaths I didn’t even know I had lived, and left behind. I told her my feelings, my sufferings, my trials and tribulations. I told her some things she maybe wished i hadn’t. I couldn’t help it. When she said tell me I took it as a command, to spill my lives many stories before her, hoping for understanding. How could I even understand myself? All these memories I never had.
I am sorry dear lil one, I keep drifting through moments in time, from this moment to the ast, and far beyond to other lives, other places, other faces, but i still exist, in that moment, on that street, where I fell in love, for the first time, the only time. If there were others, and I assume there probably were, they were just flashes of memories, shadows shifting through time, vague impressions that came and went, not like that moment I find myself in again, and again. Here I am, on my last eve, maybe hours from my last breath, trying to impart onto you my story, and I cannot escape drifting back to that place, that scent, that smile.
i must have spoken for hours, she remained silent, without reaction. I grew concerned I said far too much. Right on cue, as if to shut me up, she withdrew her hand carved wooden spoon from the depths of her mysterious brew, and poured a sip between my still flapping lips. I fell silent, forgetting how to speak, I think I gurgled something like “delicia” because delicious was too common a word for such an uncommon delight. The Pharaohs and Nobles of old would be so jealous of such ambrosial decadence.
This was not food, no, it was far more. Sustenance may be the substance upon what life’s continuance is dependent upon, but emotion is the flavor to savor. Prasada. Food prepared for the lips of divinity, passed down to those bound by mortality. Where had I heard that name before? Had India been a home or place to roam? No, the Pharaohs and Nobles would be deemed unworthy, but here she was, pure of heart, serving the forgotten and downtrodden.
Brought back to the here-now bedridden and weakened in my ancient state of advanced age, by the calls of hunger and thirst unanswered except by the crackers and dusty tasting water left by the nurses at my bedside. My deathbedside. My vision grayed by the ravishes of age it was hard to focus on the young girls face. Curiously, there was never any question, when this strange young child walked through my door to sit and quietly listen to my tale, that she would be the unwitting repository of my many lives stories, and the last ears to hear my quivering voice. She had never doubted the truthfulness, despite the wild divergence from normality, and reality of a commonplace life. Birth, life, death. Simple to understand. The young girl never asked once why or how I cheated that plan.
She had asked, in the past, or maybe the future from that moment before. You see, that first sip from that Cyprus spoon would not be the last. Lasting, yes, the elegance of which she extracted the flavor of the charcoal made from camphor and musaise, the spoon of Cyprus, the mineral rich clay from the blood red lake in Kapedo. I could even taste the sweetness of her fingertips that nimbly picked through piles of grains selecting the most perfectly diverse selection, which she seemed to measure to an exactness of a single grain precision, from a recipe devised of consensus of nostrils and eyes, unlocked by ancestral connections in the recesses of her mind. You would think that with such skill, the rich and famous would flock to her bistro and pay a kings ransom per plate. She toiled in poverty and purity, for the pleasure of the penniless and pitiful, the barefooted, the dirty, and cast away, runaways and hopelessly homeless masses. They knew her worth. I saw it to. I stayed because she mesmerized me. I had nowhere else I would rather be, then by her side. I never left. Months later, she asked.
“What lies beyond death? For that matter, if you lived before, how is it you came to live again?” It was odd to me that she was willing to accept my transference from death to life again and again, but would wait months to ask the why and wherefore. Death was a fascination and the sum of her fears. I was a phantom, the mystery of me, was equally a mystery to me. I did not know how to explain. I died of hunger, of want, of neglect, of discounting the value of my brain and my breath. The simple truth of my passage through death’s door, was the want of more. I wanted life. I wanted fulfillment. I wanted satisfaction and sustenance. I wanted to live a life denied by every death. I wanted her before I knew she existed. I wanted to want without dying of wanting. When death came a calling, a doorway opened and I stepped through. Even as an infant, a newborn, the simplest solution was just to call for a redo. A different time, a different place, one more chance at a life of grace.
“Oh, I see how you are looking at me now with the innocence of a child, you are not accepting my explanation. I can’t blame you for your confusion, I am confused too.” I said, more to break the silence of the room, then to address my young observers questioning glances. “You don’t confuse me.” She said sweetly. Her voice, though soft and sweet, shocked me. She had not spoken a word since coming through that door. It was noticeable she did not say ‘you don’t confuse me, mister’ like a child would an elder, there was a sense of familiarity, even of family.
My breath was weakening, my organs close to failure, I resumed my reiterating of my lives and deaths, wanting to finish my tale before it was stolen by my last breath. Quickening yet quivering I went on with my quest, to explain the unexplainable life beyond death.
We were blissfully together from the summer of ‘64 till her birth celebration eighty four. She was old, I was ancient, regardless of my origin embedded in eons gone past. Though no famine, there was pestilence, pandemic, and an underlying pessimism. Climate change began to rearrange the map by flood drought fire and storm. We were surviving. Thriving. Helping the helpless.
Storm. Now I remember. The flash of light. The ignite. Life burned out, matter, my matter, accelerated disappearing, accelerating beyond the speed of light. It was this death that broke the bonds of time and space. Wanting was never enough, everyone who ever died most likely would have wanted a second chance, but chance, dumb luck, or fate, led me to stand in this very place at this very time, with this very storm raging. Some supercharged storms produced thousands of lightening strikes as the atmosphere became enraged. This storm produced just one. And I was it’s conduit and conductor. Matter turned to energy to pass freely between states. As the human race must face climate change, a test of collective survivability, I must face the climate that has changed me. Thrust me on a path, back to the past. To our early days of history. A path through time and place, that could not be, without me, here, now. Funny thing about a mind supercharged by a gazillion volts evaporating the synapses to the cosmos. It had a final thought of such clarity. I would not have met her, without leaving her in this way, at this moment.
It has not been so long since I have been gone, nothing much seems to have changed. I went to our home searching, she was not there. I was back, she was gone, I was to old and weak to go on.
“I am sorry, my little one, I am afraid my time is nearly done.” Her reaction was the strangest one, a child would react to pending death with fear sorrow and grief, whether a stranger or pet, family or friends. This curious quiet sweet little girl just smiled a silly gap toothed smile, made a silly face, and said “don’t be silly, we will see eachother once again, when your younger, cause wanting, can be enough, when what you want is stronger then the storm”
I stared and I stared in disbelief, that smile was her smile, on a different body, in a different form. For a man who has seen all recorded history, forever had a whole new meaning, and now a whole new reason. Though I died a thousand deaths, I had never even thought of what it would be like to be reborn. “Rest now,” she said. “See you real soon”
I want there to be heaven, I want there to be an afterlife, I want there to be more than living for dying. But most of all, I want to see that gap toothed smile once again.