The dead have the last laugh

The dead have the last laugh

The dead have the last laugh

Some photographs can seem innocent enough; pretty and colourful but without substance. This is one such photograph, and yet, it did ignite a memory…

I don’t remember how the conversation got started – it was too long ago – and I can’t be sure exactly where it happened but this photograph brought it back, if not from the dead than at least from the land of forgotten memories. Beyond this point this post stops being about photography per se so feel free to stop reading now if that is what you are looking for. This particular writing is about one of the ways I view life, namely: life from a perspective of death (hence the photo).

I was taking photos when a woman asked me to take a photo of her and her infant using her camera. Happy to oblige, I took the shot and handed back the camera. At this point a conversation started up and somehow, for a reason I cannot recall, we got onto the subject of religion and she asked me if I was Christian. I told her I wasn’t and she automatically jumped to the conclusion that I was an atheist. Again I said no and before I could explain, she asked if I was Buddhist (‘It’s rather trendy these days isn’t it? Zen and all that Eastern stuff’). I shook my head. She named a few more religions until she admitted defeat. ‘I give up,’ she said. ‘What do you believe in?’

‘I prefer to hold no particular belief; including a belief in nothing.’

‘Well, everyone needs to believe in something, anything.’

I thought about this for a while and finally I said ‘I believe in Art.’

‘Pardon me?’

‘I believe in Art, with a capital A. Art museums are my cathedrals and Art galleries are my churches. Curators are my priests. The dark room is my confessional. Van Gogh, Monet, White, Dali, Picasso and Ray are but some of my saints. Inspiration is my Holy Spirit and light is my Saviour. So I guess you could say: Art is my religion.’

‘Oh… Okay… Really?’

‘No, not really. I was just yanking your chain. Sorry.’ I laughed, hoping she’d see the joke.

‘Oh, sure. Right. Well, I still think everyone needs something to believe in. Something greater than us, than all of this,’ she said waving one arm about (fortunately not the one holding the baby). ‘You need to believe in something and if you don’t know it now you’ll probably figure it out on your deathbed.’

I’ll figure it out on my deathbed.

Bring together the right mix of people and any conversation about the afterlife can quickly get overheated despite no one knowing the truth. I mean, the reality is that in the end only the dead get the last laugh and, considering the wide disparity in beliefs, only some of the dead will get the last laugh with the rest of them having to endure the endless we-told-you-so’s for all of eternity. Unless of course, the atheists have it right in which case no one gets a laugh. Too bad for the atheists, they have no chance of uttering a single told-you-so.

I’ll figure it out on my deathbed.

Despite being brought up a catholic, I started to question the “meaning of life” at seven. I won’t bore you with my seeker’s story but it suffices to say that eventually I decided that truth, if it can be known at all, is extremely elusive and so, rather than spending my life looking for it in boring texts and scriptures, I figured if it could be found at all, I was just as likely to find it in art and photography as anything else. And I’ve had more fun ever since.

I’ll figure it out on my deathbed.

However before getting to that point I went through a bunch of beliefs from Heaven & Hell, reincarnation, Nirvana, souls, the Matrix, computer simulations and so on but I eventually settled on oblivion. It seemed to me that oblivion made the most sense, the only possible end to this cosmic accident that we call life. But then somebody comes along and tells me that I need to believe in something greater than me, greater than the sum of all the parts and it is implied that this need will at the very least be realised when most needed.

I’ll figure it out on my deathbed.

Does life really need to have meaning? And if there is some meaning, does it matter if I am to remain ignorant of it? Does believing in something, anything, make for a better life? Does it make it easier to die?

To be continued…

Maybe.

(And by ‘maybe’ I mean if I’m not too busy, not because I’m on my deathbed ready to cark it at anytime, though technically speaking I could cark it at anytime but let me say, it would come as a total surprise.)

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13 thoughts on “The dead have the last laugh

  1. I don’t mean to get too serious here, but I’ve always been deeply puzzled by the question: “What happens when you die?” Is there something other than oblivion out there? Does how we live affect what happens to us after we’ve “died”? Unfortunately, after 60+ years of wondering I still haven’t a clue. When my father died in 1980, after enduring a short but horrific battle with cancer, the questions hit very close to home. On the afternoon that he died I was alone with him (my mother had gone to call my brothers and sister). I literally watched the life flow out of him. As heartbreaking as the experience was I couldn’t keep the questions from surfacing. What was I seeing? A passage from consciousness to eternal nothingness? Or something else, something a little more hopeful perhaps. The last thing he said was “Maybe I’ll see Mom”. And then he was gone. He now knew the “answer”. But he couldn’t tell me. The secret was still safe.

    Eventually, we all get to find out. But until that moment I think I’ll go with Carl’s T-shirt.

    • The question of life after death is definitely a puzzle Paul. And so are all the other questions you ask. My own mother died in my arms while we were dancing at a wedding. She just collapsed from a massive heart attack. No warning, no pain, no goodbye. It’s pretty tough and it’s the kind of experience that can easily make people wish or hope for some sort of continuance beyond death. I imagine such thoughts would be a great comfort for those who can hold such beliefs. For sure, none of us will know while we’re on this side of the fence.

  2. My friend, you do have some interesting conversations. I’m sure that you leave people scratching their heads, wondering if you were serious at all. :) I, too, find it interesting that you have to have something to believe in. I haven’t a clue, but I really seem to enjoy my life, even more, without that belief.

    • Actually I was semi serious in this conversation Paul. I remember when I talked about Art the way I did, it was perhaps the first time I realised how important art and photography were to me. While I prefer not to hold onto any beliefs, I don’t think I could honestly say that I have none. The idea of oblivion – we live, we die, we’re forgotten – seems more like a fact to me than a belief but then when I ponder this cosmic accident that somehow created consciousness, well, it’s difficult not to wonder and ask how and why.

  3. Interesting conversation starter indeed! I admit to having thought about it from time to time, and I don’t subscribe to any particular religious answer. The scientist in me tells me that energy is never destroyed, but transferred. All of those electrical impulses in our heads trying to figure this stuff out end up going somewhere. I just can’t picture a place where everyone who has died being in that spot – seems like it would be pretty darn crowded and awful. If we do end up as free as the electrons floating in the air or traveling through space, are they as one consciousness, or are we then split into the elements of many? Enough to make your head hurt for sure, but not so much if you are comfortable in just not knowing.

    • There’s a scientist in me as well Mark and I’ve often wondered if that’s a good thing. As you say, if you’re happy enough not knowing the answers then it’s all good but it’s hard to know what circumstances life will throw at us that will make us wish we had the answer. I recall one staunch atheist friend who turned to religion when he was given months to live and I also recall a story of a woman who renounced all her beliefs in Jesus when, over a period of 18 months, she lost her husband and her three children, all in separate accidents. But still, the wisest and truest thing anyone can say on the matter is simply: I don’t know. And then just get on with living.

  4. I don’t know, either – but I’ve rejected traditional religion for years. Blatantly fantasy and wishful thinking in my view. Whether there’s something after life, well, that’s a whole different question. I suspect once you’re gone, you’re gone, but how can one know except to die – and I don’t plan on crashing any séances after I’m gone, even if Whoopi Goldberg’s there.

  5. Changing the subject a tad. I have a belief in something. I believe that people (mostly men) are driven to graffiti, computer hacking, and other forms of vandalism by the same inner demon. They rationalize their obsession ideologically, religiously, artistically, or through some psycho-babbling claim to alienation, disenfranchisement, discrimination… Yada, yada….and the like, but it’s a far deeper drive. I’m thinking that it’s ambition gone dysfunctional. It can’t be confused with the mere carelessness that generates litter, abandonment, or polar mood swings. They are all driven by a sort of cultural Tourette’s. If Roman, Greek, Egyptian, or older ruins are any example, it’s not a new drive to foul their nests – but it’s an irritating one. And it’s fed by recognition. I try not to incorporate their stuff in my work. Still it’s understandable that others do even though it sort of reinforces a meme, eh?

    • I assume Ted, that you are referring to the photo associated with this post. As it turns out, this particular photo is of a wall inside a Mexican restaurant viewed through their front window, hence the reflection of the street. I’m not a big fan of unauthorised graffiti either and rarely photograph it. However I know some who do but their intent is certainly not to reinforce a meme. Should destructive graffiti even be called a meme? Doesn’t such a title revere the act more than it deserves? Vandalism in any form is an act of aggression or anger, perhaps even one of frustration but I’m not sure that it is dysfunctional ambition. But then again, maybe; after all we are all of us trying to achieve something with our lives, be it wealth, health, power, fame, love, success, happiness, etc.. Perhaps the difference between vandals and other, less destructive folk, is that the vandal is directionless. Of course, now I am just justifying their actions too. I don’t really know the answer but then again I find the careless litterer far more irritating.
      By the way, as someone who has made a career out of proficiently using or programming a computer (a.k.a. hacking), I take offence that you classify computer hackers as vandals.
      Nuh… just kidding. I don’t take offence; or give a proverbial you-know-what ;)

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