And in part I write about health, my cancer, our family, and “what it is like to live this way” because what began as “I can” became “I must.” I am still alive. I am a writer. I write about “the truth of my experiences.” I believe that once I decided to use my autoethnographic background to write about my illness I bought a little time to expand my life narrative and, as a result, I modified my relationship to immortality. Those extra blank pages are there for a reason. They represent empirical work left undone. They also call for an imaginative resolution to the narrative, a way of bringing into the light the dying body that will be left behind as well as the birth of a new narrative when the Great Whoosh arrives.
These are recurring themes that I seem to return to at the end of each month. Given the pain I’m still working on there are times when I have wanted to be “done with it,” but it’s pretty clear that someone or something isn’t done with me yet. Time, then, is one unresolved ambiguity I think and write about when I pause from known routines of the day to consider “where am I?” in this larger mystery, this larger mystery that is my life and that is heading for a resolution not too far up the road.
If I could pull The Big Book of Bud’s Amazing Life out of a magician’s top hat, by all rights I ought to be coming down to the last few blank pages of my personal narrative. Yet, when I consider the theme of time in relation to end-of-life narratives and imagine a denouement wherein immortality figures into it, I find I am closer but not close enough to figuring out my part in this divine mystery. And that feels okay. Okay for now. I’m not done yet. That much is clear.
What does happen instead is that The Big Book of Bud feels much lighter to carry around in my head, while at the same time I know deep in my soul that it’s up to me to write down what will ultimately appear there. How what I write about it is within my purview but how it will be remembered is beyond my control, a duality that has been the case since I began writing my life story and sharing it with others.
Or put differently, I accepted that challenge to write as true as I could about my life in the context of others, about the awe and all of it, about the hard stuff and the funny stuff and even the ineffable stuff, from the origins of a particular narrative conflict or desire all the way through to the final resolution. In all of those writing experiments I had some control over how I represented realities and evoked lives and scenes and outcomes. How I may be remembered for them, whether or not they continue to serve as good examples for students or inspire other writers to find their own voices or provide phrasings that find their way into the work of other scholars or the speech habits of everyday citizens - well, I have no control over any of that. But I know that will be the measure of my own immortality as a writer.
As a person there are other measures of my life.
Right now I am still working on the rough draft of that final resolution, and I have learned a few useful things about time and immortality that will no doubt make it into the final draft. My musings on time in relation to writing taught me that how others remember us and pass those memories along is as close as we get to immortality. I’m perfectly fine with that version of the story because any other version of a “life everlasting” is just too exhausting (talk about “a never-ending story”) as well as being - IMHO - spiritually confusing.
Do you really want to live forever? Or would you rather be remembered forever? Remembered for what you have done, for what you’ve contributed to the common good? For the poetry that changed a life, for the story that inspired others, for one speech - choose your favorite one and paste it here - that still resonates down the ages? Or how about the song you sung to a child? Or the food you donated to the poor? Or the bed you provided in a storm? Or the clothing you collected for families devastated by a natural disaster?
My point is a simple one: It is better to be remembered for what you’ve done when what you’ve done is not only the right thing, but the thing that in so doing revealed your faith by a fine and quiet example, by the exercise of good deed as well as by good word.
Do you trust your faith, or for that matter your science, to have prepared you for that final exit, or not? If you’ve lived a good life and, with admittedly the usual anxieties all present and accounted for, do you genuinely look forward to evolving into what waits to be written about your future?
Do you look forward to that part of the holy/scientific narrative that guarantees a resting place for your soul, a cosmic use for your energy, to what has been promised to us by God, the prophets, and his messengers?
When you consider time and eternity in this way, as a way of being remembered, isn’t the idea of immortality of any other kind best left behind, along with your earthly body and that tattered old Superman suit?
Friends, it’s the last day of our 14th month and tomorrow we will awake to a 15th month and a big shout-out: Rabbit, Rabbit, Rabbit! I will give thanks for another day of life. I will use my time to work on my life story and not worry too much about immortality. I will do what I can to make others’ lives better, happier, and, as far as it is possible, more interesting.
It’s going to be another day of life done one day at a time, but one day at a time is all we ever have. One day at a time, then, is a quiet reminder to take seriously - but please not too seriously - our selves. It is easier to lead with a smile and by a way of being in the world that makes others smile as well as seek your counsel.
The stories they will tell about you and me are unlikely to begin with “Jesus later related this story to Luke, who labored four or five days before deciding it could not be worked into an instructive parable,” but they will be told. In time they will add up. Over time they will become what you and I leave behind, worthy of being retold and enjoyed or just forgotten.
Let’s use this timeless energy for immortality to make out of the everyday a richer more poetic narrative - a narrative about who we are as creative spiritual beings; about us as women and men on a noble quest for meanings, for justice, for a way of being in this world that prepares us best for whatever comes next; and then let’s devote part of each day to figuring out what we must do to achieve our starry night destiny, our own personal narrative’s most satisfying end.