Friday, September 18, 2009

Phillip Update

For all of you who remember Phillip, my father's pet plastic bag, I'd like to inform you all that he is alive and well, happily neurotic in his hatbox of a home. For those of you who don't remember or don't know, see here and here.

I was inspired to think of Phillip this evening/morning (depending which end of the bedtime you're on; my mother, sister, brother, and I were still wide awake and fully functioning when my Dad strolled down to the kitchen for breakfast at 3:20 a.m. He's nervous about making it on time to the vasikin minyan - he takes the Judgement Day very seriously,) when my father mentioned casually that the turkey sitting sadly in our kitchen sink waiting to be stuffed had been named Ratliffe. In reaction to this, the story continued, my Mother had named a local gnat. On inquiry as to the specific moniker, he responded "Nat," which he considered rather clever, and was appropriately appreciative. This resulted in a couple of minutes of "Who's on first?"-like explanation, and then he briefly considered naming two dead flies. When he couldn't come up with anything better than Dead and Deader, we let the conversation slip and he wandered off to bed. I mentioned this conversation to my Mom later, and she told me that in fact she had named the gnat "Gnat" and not "Nat," and that she was being sarcastic, not cute. We then continued with the baking.

The above paragraph more or less sums up my family life. Happy honeying to all!

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Musings on Mortality

Hello, people who are still out there.

I'm flying back to Chicago tomorrow, and as usual this event has brought on another bout of depression and unhealthy obsessing over the apocalypse and mortality in general. You might wonder why traveling does this to me; and there are a number of reasons, most of them due to intensely high stress levels, and a shortage of both sleep and proper nutrition. In any case, I freaked myself out pretty bad the other night. I was trying to sleep (not entirely sober, I suppose I ought to mention) and all I could think of was the many many ways in which it is possible to die, or even worse, to not-die.

A couple of months ago, while trying not to study for something, I came upon a video of one man telling about his "near-death experience." He was Israeli, and at the time of the events of his story, he was completely secular. By the time he's telling the story he's completely chareidi - long beard, black hat and coat, the whole thing. I think he might have been a chossid, but I don't remember where to find the video. Anyway he was describing all this stuff he saw and went through in Heaven, and it was reasonably convincing until he got to the part about all his spilled seed calling him a murderer. That was where I went skeptical. So Tobie and I discussed it a bit afterwards, and in her opinion, "near death experiences" are mostly brain cells misfiring as they slowly begin to expire. Which made me wonder a lot of scary things. People who are in comas for extended periods of time, are they having those kinds of experiences in their heads during all that time? What about people who aren't exactly brain dead, like they're technically awake, but mentally vacant, like old people in nursing homes? And then I thought, how awful must it be to be conscious, but incapable of doing or saying anything, completely dependent and at the mercy of those around you? And I realized that most people who live to a ripe old age end up in one or another of these kinds of experiences eventually, no one really ends happily; I mean, forget dying in a nuclear blast, or worse as a survivor in a post-nuclear world, or at the tortuous hands of some enemy who only wants to cause as much pain as possible during the killing process- nobody dies happily. And it really really scared me. I'm not saying it here as vividly, as viscerally as I felt it at the time, but I came really close to having a major anxiety attack. I managed to talk myself down, but was actually worried that I might not be able to. It was almost enough to make me believe in G-d again. I really really wanted to; I swear I really tried. But I am not capable of choosing what to believe in, and it didn't work. It was the first time I understood to any extent what it means to consider ending one's own life as a serious possibility. Luckily my terror of death will probably always rescue me from that.

Anyway, those are some pre-Rosh Hashanna thoughts for all of you. I do sincerely wish you all a good year, filled with health and success and good things. I hope these things come to all of you, and more importantly, that they stay.