Friday, November 12, 2010

The Immutable Hereafter?

Thursday I saw Hereafter. Sad. Interesting. Measured out deliberately and slowly, but good.

Matt Damon's character in the movie believes he has the ability to speak to the dead. The three separate storylines end up intertwining until this paranormal ability (or perceived ability) becomes important.

While I watched it, I felt kind of distant to his character's gift and to the people who so hungrily sought him out. I definitely felt distant about the idea of trying to speak to people (or more importantly, hear from people) who have died--I can't identify. The loss of several characters in the movie, the pain of their families, all of that was incredibly touching and of course, moving. I could accept the reality and fictional universe of the movie enough so that I enjoyed it and I found it really compelling, but it made me think about the fact that I have no desire for or belief in speaking to anyone who has passed on. The kind of desperation that people felt in the movie to speak to their loved ones who died--it made me wonder with honest curiosity if that's more common than I thought.

I absolutely believe in an afterlife, or in something more. And while the faith side of me is strong, the intellectual side (and no, I don't think those two are mutually exclusive) also believes we're just hard-wired, genetically, to long for a connection to something greater than ourselves. I believe that there are stories and archetypes and belief systems that are central to being human. I believe there are plenty of things we just can't understand. So I come out feeling there's a purpose for looking beyond myself, beyond the implications of the here and now, and in my mind faith and rational thought peacefully coexist. Anyway. So yes, I believe there's something more than now. But as I said, the whole crossing over/communication thing is just not something I long for or wonder about so much. I guess you could say I don't believe it. Are there more people who do than I think? I guess that some of my earliest memories of dealing with death are rooted in notions about people being able to "watch over" me from the other side, but still the idea of talking to them seemed moot.

This lead me to consider the naivete of my ideas concerning death. Perhaps my relative protection from death means that I view it coldly or unsympathetically, even if I don't mean to. I'm incredibly untouched by serious loss thus far in my life. As with all things I am sure that my understanding is limited when it comes to something I don't know. I don't know if I'd lost someone I loved dearly if I'd have that kind of longing to continue to speak. It seems to me (now) to be an exercise in futility, a prolonging of painful hopes. It's interesting to me, though, that my ideas of prayer and of speaking to a God who is willing to listen and perhaps shape how life proceeds haven't informed any idea of communication with anyone beyond that. What I mean is that there are belief systems that lead people to talk to all kinds of entities. I suppose that since that's not a part of the religious tradition in which I was raised (or the one I self-selected as a teen/young adult) it's not part of my world view. Mine's not the only right one--I don't understand it well enough to claim I've got it all figured out--it's just an observation about how selective one's knowledge or beliefs can be based on how she's raised.

I have no agenda with this post. I'm just interested in how I felt after watching the movie, and in the fact that this little kernel of thought has been stuck for a few days. I'm interested in writing down my thoughts in honesty even if they're hard to write or awkward. Awkward is interesting to me. Maybe it's more common than I thought for people to want to reach beyond the only great unmovable barrier we have. For a lover of words and verbal connection, that's the greatest tragedy in death--its finality. The lack of communication beyond a certain point. That's what I miss most of those I have lost already, and I perceive it to be what I'd miss most if I lost someone else: the talk. It's an end to the conversation, a final punctuation mark.

And this post leads me to an even greater admission, that I'm pretty scared of death. Again I am sure this comes from my lack of experience. It's not an area you'd like to volunteer to educate yourself, I know. But I personalized a bit when I watched the tsunami hit in the opening scene of the movie--particularly because it was filmed at Ka'anapali Beach and Lahaina in Maui. Strange to see such a familiar place of relaxation transform into one of doom. It felt like watching the (very real) destruction of my hometown on TV. And it's not being dead that scares me, it's leaving my kids without a mom, or leaving my parents without a child. It's the moment between knowing I'd die and dying that scares me. That's why airplanes freak me out. And tsunamis. And volcanoes. And... a lot of other things. Similar feelings exist concerning the potential loss of my loved ones. It's a difficult subject and I don't often let myself go there.

It's just a movie, Heather. It's not real. But as all stories go for me, this fiction reminds that it is always based in fact, in authenticity, in some grain of an experience. Like it or not, death is the great equalizer. I am confident that my feelings on the subject will change in some way as I age, and I am confident that loss will touch my life with greater familiarity. I have no idea how. But at least now these thoughts are written down here for me to read some other day.


  1. Sometimes I talk to my grandfather who passed away last Thanksgiving. I think he hears me...

  2. I lost my dad when I was in 8th grade and I don't talk about it very much because it tends to make other people feel awkward're the one who brought it up ;) Honestly, I've lost a lot of family and friends so far but I don't really wish that I could talk to my grandpa or grandma. Most likely that's because I don't feel like our relationship wasn't finished. I wish I could see my dad again or talk to him all the time. I think that is the major difference when the death is unexpected or a tragedy and you feel like things weren't done yet and it's harder to let it go. I might be wrong but your post got me thinking so there is my two cents!

  3. Kayda, Jeni,

    I really appreciate your comments. I know it's such a personal and individual thing. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.


  4. I've been on the fence about seeing this movie.

    I'm afraid it might disturb me. Movies like this get into my head and don't leave for awhile.

    Did you ever see Vanilla Sky? I realize the concept was different, but it fucked with me for months after I watched it. I sunk into a funk that even back-to-back episodes of Seinfeld couldn't snap me out of.

    And I LOVE the idea of an afterlife. I can't handle most movie that deal heavily with death. Actually, I can't handle movies that even REMOTELY address death, which of course includes a lot of movies.