Life Before Death

The novel I’m working on (I love saying that. Working on a novel. I recognize it’s an activity nearly as common as dog-walking. Still, I’m happily ensconced in my made-up world. “Imagination, free thyself.” It doesn’t get any better than that). Wait, where was I?

Ah yes: The novel I’m working on is set in New Orleans, a city practiced in resilience and experienced in all things magical, mysterious and inexplicable. The young girl at the center of the story copes with tragedy and with the blurred line between life and death.

afterlifeI thought about my protagonist as I recently tuned into yet another show about what lies beyond. Television writers and producers appear fond of the idea that we can reach out to, talk with or even resurrect the dead. Every show features a skeptic (always a person of science), a believer (usually associated with a classic religion like Catholicism), a child (because they are more open to what is inexplicable—or maybe more easily manipulated) and some new age person who assures the ones who are grieving that their beloved is “happy.” Honestly, though, the focus isn’t about the comfort of the departed souls but about comforting the survivors. Once we let go of the idea the deceased might be suffering in some unspeakable place or wandering aimlessly about, the needs of those puzzling over life and death become paramount. They’re the ones left behind to hurt and also to fret about what happens next. The departed presumably already know.


The skeptic in me squirms. The curious part of me ponders. Logic and belief fight for primacy. What do I think happens after death? What do I need to think happens? What difference does it make?

Thinking about it is human. Worrying about it is unproductive. What happens happens. Meanwhile I need to make certain any explorations into my ever-evolving beliefs don’t interfere with my life in the here and now. It’s far too easy, especially as one gets older and, let’s face it, less relevant in the world, to slip out of engagement. I’m guilty of passing, some might say wasting, time on various social media sites. Online social networking offers some interaction but it’s virtual. I’m not saying that makes it invalid, only that relying exclusively on that sort of interaction is limiting.

Most of us these days take in our surroundings indirectly. We share videos and read summaries of articles and get our news from our friends. As much time as I spend in front of a computer screen of one size or another, I’m a novice compared with the next two generations. Healthy and mobile for the most part, they seem to regularly wander past the wondrousness around them, heads down, looking at their hands or their wrists. When they catch a glimpse of something uniquely marvelous, they record it or photograph it rather than look at it in situ as it were. They see the world through the lens  of a Smartphone camera or worse, behind them, in the background to their endless selfies. If a tree falls in the forest and we’re all watching via Skype, what has actually happened?

Sometimes direct observation is impractical: We can’t all be Ernest Hemingway-style adventurers. Sometimes it’s impossible. Most of us will die but once, making post-life reporting unlikely. Meanwhile, this existence deserves our full attention. Who knows? Maybe we’ll stumble upon something while alive that suggests a journey far beyond anything we ever imagined.

About Nikki

Author of non-fiction books HOPE IN SMALL DOSES and BECAUSE I SAY SO as well as numerous published essays. Her new novel, THE FORMER ASSASSIN, is due out January 2018.
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12 Responses to Life Before Death

  1. Marlene Dunham says:

    Great article Nikki. So true about the next generations seeing the world through the lens of a smartphone camera. ” If a tree falls in the forest” Ha!

  2. Jonathan Wolfman says:

    Your provocative piece puts me in mind of Bluesman Mississippi Slim:


    That clears it all up.

  3. Boanerges says:

    Any speculation about what comes after the brief candle is blown out is just that: speculation. I don’t know if or what, and seldom even think about the subject. The most I’d say is that there is really no reason to believe in an afterlife, but nor is there any reason not to. Chacun a son gout.

    I try to live as if there’s no tomorrow (sooner or later, I’ll be right), to pack as much in as I can of the beauty around me every day. Although I do often take pictures, it’s not the same as experiencing it directly, and my head is always up and looking about.

    Have fun with the novel. Post excerpts.

  4. Linda Feldman says:

    I was talking with a Buddhist visitor today while volunteering at the Freer Gallery in DC. She wanted to see Buddhist staues in the museum, and then she started talking about reincarnation. She said when she dies, if she was not a very good person, she may come back to life as an ant. While an ant, she should try to be the very best ant; even if someone steps on her as a young ant, so she can progress to higher beings than an ant in the next life. We should always try to be good in whatever life we have, she said passionately.
    Well, I don’t know if there is something next or not, but the being good part I agree with. Too much bad in this life. Doing my part here and now can’t hurt for whatever comes next.

  5. Amy says:

    Very thought provoking.

  6. Barby says:

    My personal belief is that “when you are dead, you are dead, nothing more”, but it really bugs me that if I’m correct, I won’t be able to say “I told you so”

  7. Denese Ashbaugh Vlosky says:

    This- death, mostly, and living before I die- has been on my mind, lately. To tell you the truth, it’s been on my mind for years. My trap isn’t focusing on life after death- although my religion says it’s true for the most worthy of us (and I’m not talking about just Christians). Mostly, I am concerned about my growing family and teaching them an honest/worthy way of life, and then, at the same time, about freeing myself from that incessant call, to live before I die, which is why I’m on retreat in the mountains of SC trying to leave my obligations behind to focus on immersing myself in life.

    Those two things- obligations to others and living for myself– have always been at odds. I think they can be symbiotic, but for me, I am too passionate about one or the other, leaving the other, usually me, out.

    Good post and surprising, on so many levels.

    • Nikki says:

      Living the good life is a never-ending quest. Retreating to mountains seems like not a bad idea at all, Denese.

  8. Elizabeth Helming says:

    Excellent Nikki! Very well written and thought provoking!

  9. Con says:

    Some people want to go to heaven but I’d rather be with my friends.

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