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22 February 2005 @ 05:02 am
Found while reading....  

From Kaddish by Leon Wieseltier. Knopf, New York, 1999. Pages 235-236.

At the desert shul I open a glossy magazine and find a meditation on the afterlife. “On the night of July 17, TWA flight 800 blew up and fell into the ocean, taking 230 people to their deaths. Where are those people now? … I continue to be amazed at the reluctance of many people to acknowledge the consequences of their lack of belief in an afterlife.” Living on in the memory of others, you see, is not enough. “People who don’t believe in an afterlife must recognize that being remembered is no substitute for the afterlife.… What about those Jews who were murdered in the Holocaust along with every single person who loved or knew them? With no memories of them, and no afterlife, what has become of them?” What has become of them? I’ll tell you what has become of them, you pious fool. Nothing has become of them. Or more precisely, they have become nothingness. That is why courage is required for the confrontation with their death, with all death. “The consequences of their lack of belief”! What do the consequences of belief, or the lack of it, have to do with the truth of belief, or the lack of it? Reality does not answer to need. I need to believe that my father is not gone, but I cannot believe it. And if I could believe it, the intensity of my need to believe it would make my belief suspect, at least in my eyes. Consolations are more frequently false than true. The universe does not owe me edification.

Annenetmouse on February 22nd, 2005 12:11 pm (UTC)
This reminds me of a passage I quoted from Bertrand Russell recently in matt_arnold's lj:

The world is a higgledy-piggledy place, containing things pleasant and things unpleasant in haphazard sequence. And the desire to make an intelligible system or pattern out of it is at bottom an outcome of fear, in fact a kind of agoraphobia or dread of open spaces. Within the four walls of his library the timid student feels safe. If he can persuade himself that the universe is equally tidy, he can feel almost equally safe when he has to venture forth into the streets. Such a man, if he had received more affection, would have feared the real world less, and would not have had to invent an ideal world to take its place in his beliefs.

I have often thought that belief in the afterlife stems from fear that once this ends that's it, end of story, next guy comes on stage. The audience remembers, or forgets, and that's all you can hope for. I feel that fear, but like you, I cannot consider it sufficient cause for belief.

I guess, one thing that conforts me is that influence is not dependent on memory. A person does not have to remember you, in particular, to continue to be influenced by the music we made at ConFusion. I do not have to remember being taught to read, in order to be able to read now. Complexity theory and all I have studied in school reinforces my understanding of how much influence a small perturbation of a system can have. Everyone who came to ConFusion did not know me, will not remember me. And yet in a way I influenced them all. I hope I helped make their life better. The ego may wish to get credit, but the heart rejoices in the good, credit or no.

Whomever invented the toothbrush hopefully felt accomplished in life, for look how many teeth they have saved since. And the modern toothbrush is a refinement, an effort and an achievement of many. And all society is so, also. Even should all those close to me perish, along with myself, I might still have left some (still pretty local in time) lasting effect. And, sighs the physicist in me, all my subatomic energies will still be out there, dancing with yours, preparing to become something else.

Lionesselisem on February 22nd, 2005 03:22 pm (UTC)
(i'm really glad i got to read both the original entry and this reply. will be pondering this for a while. thank you both. it was perfect timing.)
ask me: Esthervorona on February 22nd, 2005 09:09 pm (UTC)
Reality does not answer to need.

True. This has been my view in the hardest situations, which have included, but have not been limited to, facing ovarian cancer and facing a gun pointed at me, a good existentialist saying the Shma. One may still have the power to act, but no results are guaranteed. Life itself is enough. I know there's something about Purim in this, but I haven't had breakfast yet. Life is both random and deliberate, and contains both fighting to live and acceptance of life. I tend more toward fighting, myself, but ultimately what I am is lucky to be here.