On Our Way: The Final Passage through Life and Death

On Our Way: The Final Passage through Life and Death

On Our Way: The Final Passage through Life and Death

On Our Way: The Final Passage through Life and Death

Synopsis

How do our ideas about dying influence the way we live? Life has often been envisioned as a journey, the river of time carrying us inexorably toward the unknown country--and in our day we increasingly turn to myth and magic, ritual and virtual reality, cloning and cryostasis in the hope of eluding the reality of the inevitable end. In this book a preeminent and eminently wise writer on death and dying proposes a new way of understanding our last transition. A fresh exploration of the final passage through life and perhaps through death, his work deftly interweaves historical and contemporary experiences and reflections to demonstrate that we are always on our way.

Drawing on a remarkable range of observations--from psychology, anthropology, religion, biology, and personal experience--Robert Kastenbaum re-envisions life's forward-looking progress, from early-childhood bedtime rituals to the many small rehearsals we stage for our final separation. Along the way he illuminates such moments and ideas as becoming a "corpsed person," going down to earth or up in flames, respecting or abusing (and eating) the dead, coping with "too many dead," conceiving and achieving a "good death," undertaking the journey of the dead, and learning to live through the scrimmage of daily life fully knowing that Eternity does not really come in a designer flask. Profound, insightful, often moving, this look at death as many cultures await it or approach it enriches our understanding of life as a never-ending passage.

Excerpt

A book concerned with how we move through life and death might usefully begin with who and where we are at this moment in the co-biography of ourselves and the universe. Scientists tell us that the universe started with a Big Bang, or that maybe it didn’t. Life evolved to fulfill a cosmic plan, or maybe it popped up as a fleeting aberration. In our tiny zone of the universe, life will perish in some millions of years, but, then again, it might become a casualty of “Doom Soon,” as others have calculated. From a more poetic and spiritual perspective, it has been said that there is profound meaning in the fall of a sparrow—yet others hold that the stupendous surges, flame-outs, dark collapses, and vast scatterings of all that exists mean precisely nothing. And nothing itself is either a prime condition for everything or simply the product of overactive imaginings by scientists and mathematicians at play. But more to the point: What’s for dinner? Who’s pitching for our team tonight? Is last night’s fortune cookie reliable in its promise that love, success, honor, and enlightenment will be ours within the next phase of the teasing moon? We have our moments of contemplation about what all of this means and where we’re going. More often, though, we are likely to be engrossed in the scrimmage of everyday life. There’s been a past, and there will be a future. But here we are now. This is our life pulsing in the moment, and it commands our full attention. Just when we are most secure in our assumptions, though, the alarm sounds. Everything familiar and comforting threatens to give way. Our next step might spill us into the void. What comfort . . .

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