Recently I heard (yet another) fascinating episode of RadioLab that has kept me thinking for a couple of weeks now. The episode, Black Box, featured a story about butterflies, and specifically the transition of caterpillar-to-butterfly. I am no scientist, and can’t really explain it well (and definitely not in the fascinating way RL does) but the part that stuck with me was that someone had written in to the scientist in the story saying that the findings on butterflies had answered a question he had about The Afterlife. He said he’d always wondered if, in heaven, he’d remember his previous life.
That came as a surprise to me. I’d never considered that a person in the next life would have no memory of their life now. I’ve never even questioned it- I have a rosy image of people in heaven (as the Church teaches) watching over us and praying for us. But what if? Would that be a bad thing, to be in a whole new consciousness? A living person doesn’t remember their time in the womb- but it doesn’t mean that the time spent there was worthless or negative in any way- on the contrary, I imagine gestation is an overall pleasant time for a baby- floating, sleeping, growing to the beat of the mother’s heart. For whatever reason, it’s not important for a person to remember their life-before-life. Is it important for us to remember our life-before-death?
Last night I served a vigil for hospice and as I watched my patient’s breaths grow ever shallower and shallower, I wondered what he was experiencing. Was he seeing a light? Was he being greeted by his loved ones? And, I wondered why he would hold on so strongly to this life- laboring to keep breathing, keep breathing, keep breathing.
I thought about how a youth group kid of mine had once told me that his religion teacher said that heaven is just staring at the face of God for eternity. He was upset by this description, asking “what if that’s not what I want to do??” But I remember Jesus saying in the Gospels that we have to love God more than our parents, our spouses… I remember Him saying that there is no marriage in heaven. Maybe this is true, transcendent faith- to only want to gaze on God’s face.
Still, last night, my patient breathed on for whatever reason, and as I crawled into bed I couldn’t help but think- what in heaven could be better than Scott’s toes touching my toes, a cat on my hip, a snoring dog nearby?