I was speaking with my wife yesterday about our dog, as it was the 1-year anniversary of his death. I noted that I was having trouble feeling acceptance, finding meaning, and being “okay” with his passing. It feels to me to be a loss — and very little consolation comes with that. It hurts. I feel like I used to have a great dog, but no more. My wife feels quite differently.
She perceives it through the lens of her understanding of God, yes, but even more so as a spiritual being. She has a quasi Buddhist attitude; she reads Eckert Tolle and Deepak Chopra; she meditates. Through this method, she finds peace and meaning and is much more resolved about the passing of Atlas. She feels that he is still here, in a way, and that he was not “lost.” She speaks of energy never being dispelled. She believes that his essence, soul — it has a number of synonyms — is as present in the universe as it was when it was housed in his canine body. She feels that this is not “woo” but grounded in the knowledge that physics gives us — incidentally, where it intersects with Buddhist views of the world. She sees the body as being impermanent — as is every other thing in the universe. Flux. Change. Evolution.
I have a hard time grasping that viewpoint. I suppose I am more obtuse, or myopic. I seem to be stuck in a “brain science” point of view; “reductionist” or “materialist;” I am more empirical and non-metaphysical. Therefore, Atlas is “dead” to me; he no longer exists. There are no neurons to power locomotion, or to glean information from his eyes; his hormones that led to bonding are now somewhere in the atmosphere as a product of cremation. The memories that were formed over eight years were special and led to physical manifestations of excitement, fear, even love. But they are gone when he became brain-dead on the floor of the veterinarian on the Ides of March, 2016.
I feel like I can find meaning in his death. His memories are cherished; I made a big and beautiful “photo book” through Shutterfly (like $150 big). We had a pastel drawing done a few years ago and it hangs on the wall. I still have his vest he wore when he performed the duties of a “therapy dog.” However, I have a hard time finding consolation and lament his non-presence. Whether his “energy” is somewhere “around us” or in the atmosphere is almost irrelevant because it is so imperceptible. I’m not a 100% “empirical” guy (as contrasted with “rationalism”) but if I can’t touch, see, smell, or hear Atlas, he is, simply, gone. It’s sad but it feels true.
What one thinks about such matters is inextricably bound up with how one perceives the nature of life, death, and being. It is the domain of metaphysics and epistemology (branches of philosophy). There are also some interesting ways to view the situation by using quotations. Many quotes about wisdom, meaning, and truth are relevant to both my wife’s and my perspectives, cognitions, and feelings. The right proverb or quote can be touching, but also enlightening. However, they do have a tendency to be like puzzle pieces: it’s easy to see one and think “This fits!” However, if you never really try it out, and try to show that it does not in fact fit (because another fits more perfectly), one can be led astray. It’s a general warning about the nature of using quotations to develop insights and find meaning. Well, warnings about the power of using other people’s thoughts as cues and building blocks about one’s own thinking aside, here are some that come to mind:
“Like Einstein’s theories, Spinoza’s greatest work, Ethics, expressed its rational mysticism behind logical abstractions while concluding that nature’s harmony proves God’s existence, and that elegant simplicity – the “oneness” that Einstein had long hoped to find in the elusive unified field theory – holds the key to all understanding.” – Thomas J. McFarlane
“The last advance of reason is to recognize that it is surpassed by innumerable things; it is feeble if it cannot recognize that.” – Blaise Pascal
“The more I study physics, the more I am drawn to metaphysics.” – Albert Einstein
“In modern physics, the more we seem to know about reality, the more reality seems to transcend our ability to know it…As Eastern mystics attest, ultimate knowledge of reality lies infinitely beyond the reach of the thinking mind and its philosophical systems.” – Thomas J. McFarlane
“The Truth…can only be self-realized within one’s own deepest consciousness.” – Siddhartha Gautama (“The Buddha”)
“I cannot believe that the individual survives the death of his body, although feeble souls harbor such thoughts through fear or ridiculous egotism.” – Albert Einstein
“The mystery of love is greater than the mystery of death.” – Unknown
“Death is, in other words, the one fact of my life which is not relative but absolute, and my awareness of this gives my existence and what I do each hour an absolute quality.” – Rollo May
“Out of life, comes death; and out of death, life. Out of the young, the old; and out of the old, the young. Out of waking, sleep; and out of sleep, waking. The stream of creation and dissolution never stops.” – Heraclitus
“Death, time, and chance are unalterable facts of life, the backdrop against which we all labor and live under the sun. Wisdom knows this, and wisdom instructs us to enjoy the days we have.” – Jack Hernandez
“Death can only be thought of as mysterious when we try to understand it by imagining it. And then we will be imagining ‘what it will be like for me.’ But death is like nothing for me, not because it is mysteriously unlike the things I have so far known, but because there is no me left.” – Simon Blackburn
“When the body sinks into death, the essence of man is revealed. Man is a knot, a web, a mesh into which relationships are tied. Only those relationships matter. The body is an old crock that nobody will miss. I have never known a man to think of himself when dying. Never.” – Antoine de Saint-Exupery
“To live, and act, and serve the future hour;
And if, as toward the silent tomb we go,
Through love, through hope, and faith’s transcendent dower,
We feel we are greater than we know.” – William Wordsworth
“Problems of life and death cannot be resolved by any feeling, however rapturous.” – Irving Singer
“The hour of departure has arrived, and we go our ways – I to die and you to live. Which is the better God only knows.” – Socrates
“Those who are focused on the objects of the senses become attached to those objects. From attachments comes desire; and from desire comes anger….” – The Bhagavad Gita
“Now, don’t hang on, nothing lasts forever but the earth and sky
It slips away, and all your money won’t another minute buy….” – Kerry Livgren