Jan 25, 2024, 06:24AM

Notes on the Afterlife

Jules and Seamus ruminate.

Two old friends walking in the park with football back view uuf000714.jpg?ixlib=rails 2.1

Jules needed down time with his friend Seamus. The family weekend felt to Jules like an avalanche of interaction. The moaning and barking of the dog. The clutter of plates and cups in the sink. The heap of shoes by the door. The jackets nearly overwhelming the coat rack. At one point he noticed it teetering like the Leaning Tower of Pisa. He knew having help was the right decision, and he sensed Reva was going to insist. Still, there was a kind of resignation that cast a subtle haze over the day following Becca and Reva’s departure.

They all went back to their orbits. Neve, James and the Job-like figure of Travis Bickle the dachshund were now back in the desert. Becca was back at school, finishing up the fall semester at Pomona. Reva was most likely pulling her hair out, ordering tranquilizers and warming blankets online, while managing the endless tasks of superintendent and the ornery and self-important cast of characters on the school board.

And here was Jules, sitting at his empty dining room table, looking out at the morning sunlight in the trees.

The weekend had been cathartic, but expectedly complicated. Eighty-three years of life and Jules still struggled to find simplicity. Before anyone new arrived at Jules’ door, he called Seamus. A late-morning walk on a cold beach. Then they’d sit down with a plate of fajitas. Thirty minutes later, Seamus drove over and honked his horn. They drove down to the beach. Seamus reported that his children were in various states of disarray, but there was no fighting, and a German chocolate cake (no pumpkin pie) made everyone delirious.

As the wind whipped in their faces, Jules took out his wool trapper cap and covered up. “Whenever you wear that thing with the ear flaps, I think we should be strolling in the Yukon, crunching snow under our feet,” Seamus quipped. “I bet your ears are cold,” Jules retorted. Seamus wore a customized baseball cap that said, “Retired Horse Dentist,” a gift from his quirky wife.

Jules explained the situation. On Friday morning, he’d have a new visitor. Reva was going to email the details by tomorrow. He’d have another new visitor at six.

“I’m officially helpless,” said Jules.

“Hmm. Want me to join you for the introductions?” Seamus asked.

Jules considered it as they walked. The waves were barely noticeable. Though the sky was cloudless, the sun did little to warm them. “Yes, that would be better,” Jules replied.

“It can be tricky, having someone in your house who’s there just to help,” Seamus added. “My mom could’ve used a lot of help. Instead, she fought with my aunts until the day she died. Someone neutral. Someone you might be able to joke with.” Seamus paused for a moment. “You have been lonely at times, my dear Jules.”

“Well that’s what you and Edgar are for!” Jules elbowed Seamus more firmly than necessary, just below the ribs. Seamus toppled toward the water.

“Well yes, but a third non-family member friend wouldn’t be bad!” countered Seamus.

“No, maybe not,” replied Jules. “We’ll see. Keep an open mind, right?”

Seamus’ knee was stiffening up. They headed up out of the sand, and sat down on a walkway bench.
Seamus asked, “Have we talked about the afterlife?”

“You mean what it’ll be like to sleep in the cemetery?” Jules replied.

Seamus chuckled. “So obviously I don’t believe in heaven or hell or such nonsense, but I do think the bad shit comes back to you.”

Jules thought about it. “Hmm. How so?” he asked.

Seamus explained, “Reincarnation. Truly awful people come back as rodents or snakes or pigeons.”

Jules added, “Okay, and the good people?”

“The better animals. Horses. Monkeys. Dolphins. Capybaras,” Seamus responded.

Jules agreed. “I can see it. I’d love to be a capybara. Fed them bananas the other day at the zoo.”

They walked in silence for a while. Seamus slowed his gait for his older friend.

Jules asked, “Am I “elderly?”

Seamus laughed. “Sure, but not too much. About half. Half-elderly. But as you say, you’re now ‘Somewhat helpless.’”

“I think when you stop walking, you’re officially elderly,” Jules added.

“That’s a fair way to consider it,” Seamus replied.

Jules noted, “Elderly people need those walkers, or a wheelchair.”

“Yes. I’ve seen them at the airport. They seem happy not to walk all over LAX,” Seamus said.

They continued progressing around the bend. The wind was picking up. Jules zipped up his jacket and adjusted his wool cap.

Jules pontificated on the afterlife. “If there were something beyond this life, a heaven or hell, I’d like there to be a committee of people, like a Supreme Court, that judges each person.”

Seamus continued, “Sure, but has to be an odd number. No ties or they’d be banished to purgatory forever. Purgatory seems like it’d be far worse than hell. Like the DMV or the Post-Office. For eternity.”

Jules began, “And I’d like there to be a set of simple criteria for how you’re judged…”

Seamus added, “Okay, because the committee has to move efficiently. Imagine that hefty stack of files each day. Or do you think the afterlife judges have computer programs?”

Jules ignored the question and moved on with his criteria.

“First one: What kind of driver were you? Did you harm anyone? Cause accidents? Scare other drivers on a regular basis? Or were you usually considerate and aware of your surroundings?” Jules thought of Violet and the man who killed her with his truck.

Seamus agreed, “I’m with you. Drive safely. Keep things reasonable on the roads. What about non-drivers? So much of the world’s population doesn’t drive.”

Jules considered Seamus’ point. “If no automobile, then bicycle driving. Or how you moved through a crowd of people, like at the airport or at a packed stadium.”

“Got it. Yes,” said Seamus, as he nodded.

Jules followed, “Then the second one: small gestures of humanity and compassion. Holding the door for the next person. Replacing things when you use the last one. Really listening to a friend in need.”

“Of course. Morality. Compassion,” Seamus replied.

Jules had some deeply-felt convictions to announce. “Soap box. Okay, seems like most people under 60 don’t practice listening or even the art of meaningful conversation anymore. They express concern with a yellow face that has enormous blue cartoon tears flying out of the eyes. That’s supposed to mean, ‘I feel sadness for you.’ They express confusion by typing the letters ‘WTF?’ because writing ‘What the fuck?’ takes too long.” All the young people are depressed because they can’t look each other in the eyes and use social media too much. Becca’s done research with middle schoolers around some of this.”

Seamus took it all in and then spoke. “I agree with most of that. People can’t be bothered to give a shit. Especially if it might take more than five minutes. Our technology has been fucking us up lately. Give $100 with a few clicks, but avoid any complicated or emotional conversations.”

Jules thought of how he’d raised Reva. How much listening and support he’d given her and hoped she’d in turn give to her children. All the ripple effects of our childhoods. Was anyone listening?

Jules continued, “How did you treat your exes? Did you harbor resentment for the rest of your life toward the person you’d fallen in love with at one point? Did you make peace with that anger and grieve the past? Did you allow yourself and did they allow you… to move on?”

Seamus exclaimed, “Now that’s a tough one! Most would fail by that metric. Myself included. Forgiveness and acceptance. That’s a rare state for us vengeful creatures. Maybe all the sad love songs about heartbreak make it impossible to find acceptance. Not a lot of classic tunes about acceptance.”

Jules furthered the thought, “Not saying you had to be a saint and forgive everyone who wronged you or broke your heart. But how you treat them afterward, that’s a true test of character.”

Jules thought of Lisa and how he’d eventually come to a place of neutrality with her abandonment of him and of her parental responsibilities to Reva. The hardest part was finding forgiveness for the pain she caused Reva during those teenage years. How Lisa never addressed him after she left. How she refused to acknowledge the need for forgiveness. How Lisa’s life had been like an endless road trip, driving a car with no rearview mirror.

Seamus noted, “That’s a complicated one. Did you forgive Lisa?”

Jules explained, “Not at the beginning. Maybe not until Reva went to college. When I began to feel better about myself and my life and stopped blaming her. I started to find peace with it. The work I did in my sessions helped. Acceptance of my childhood and how my folks were with us. I found acceptance with the chaos Lisa caused. I even began to understand how I made things worse at times. The fears and instability that polluted our air for all those years.”

Seamus nodded, “I’d say you pass with that one, too. Very impressive, my friend. That’s work.”

Jules added, “The last one, and hear me out, the Jumbo Tron at sporting events.”

Seamus asked, “What! What about it?”

Jules: “Adults dancing for the Jumbo Tron. The court of eternal judgement should vote on the dances. Not for the kids who show up on the screen. The kids don’t know better. They’re not self-conscious. They’re full of joy and mischief. They’re goofballs. But the adults. The ones over 25, who preen for the camera. The arrogance. Those ones should be judged. If they didn’t dazzle in those moments, they shouldn’t get in. The self-promotion. The narcissism. In front of so many thousands of people.”

Seamus thought for a moment about Jules’ criticism of this somewhat childish, but mostly harmless cultural phenomenon. Seamus: “They’re mostly drunk, aren’t they?”

Jules replied, “So be it.”

“What is it exactly that disturbs you? The lack of inhibition? The self-focus?” Seamus tried to understand this peccadillo of Jules.

Jules explained. “Yes, all of that. The way some people are so impressed with themselves is off-putting and lacking in humility. Maybe it’s the Jumbo Tron itself. Those screens have gotten so enormous. If you’re in the upper deck, sometimes it’s all you can see. Don’t they represent so much of what’s wrong with our screen-obsessed culture?”

Seamus considered it. “Maybe. They’re mostly drunk and dancing to music, though. The screen just happens to catch them.”

Jules disagreed. “You really think so? Half of them wouldn’t be dancing without the Jumbo Tron. The look of idiotic delight that comes upon their faces when they see themselves as giants on the 90-foot screens. That’s pure ego and narcissism, in my opinion.”

Seamus replied, “Hmm. That’s possible. Maybe less than half, but sure, some just want to see themselves and their own moves. That’s true.”

Jules added, “Just to reiterate, I don’t believe in any afterlife, but if there was one, the Jumbo Tron or the character traits that it illuminates in most people would be a factor in the entrance test.”

Seamus replied, “Fair enough. I’ll continue to believe the assholes come back as rats or pigeons. Maybe porcupines.”

Jules concluded, “Glad we’ve cleared that up. I’m ready to circle back, have lunch and then a drink.”

Seamus agreed. “Back we shall go, my dear Jules.”

Seamus took a moment and gazed at his half-elderly, somewhat helpless pal.

“Can we dance back?” he asked.


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