~ So say The Whispermen when The Doctor encounters them on Trenzalore, the place of his death, the place he is buried.
In the seventh season finale, which may be the best Doctor Who episode I’ve ever seen, The Doctor faces his own mortality. With a grave (as it were) face, The Doctor steps out of his time machine and sets foot upon the planet that serves as his own cemetery, and is able to look upon his own tomb.
Clara Oswald says, “Anybody’d be scared, looking at their own grave.”
This is the slimy, oozy underbelly of time travel, isn’t it? The one with the bugs and wiggly worms. If we had the ability to hop around time, we’d eventually — through accident or purpose — find out the time, place, and manner of our own demise.
What happens to us when we die? I don’t mean that in religious terms, per se. I mean it experientially. When we die — assuming we have some knowledge of it (i.e., not getting blindsided by oncoming Mack truck hauling a load of gravel to build a new overpass on the Parkway) — what goes through our mind? One instant you have a thought, the next instant you do not have a thought. Or, so it would seem.
In February 2003 my brother died of a heart attack. I wasn’t there when it happened, but he apparently died instantly. He was in his kitchen. He fell to the floor. Dead. What was his last thought? What was he talking about when it happened? Or was he talking? I have heard he was in a really good mood, and I certainly hope that that was the case, but honestly, I stay up at night and wonder: What did he think right before he passed out. Maybe he knew pain. Maybe he was scared out of his mind. I certainly hope not. I’d like to think he thought nothing. Or, best case, he was bewildered and confused.
But then what happened? Did he have a near-death experience? Did he slowly rise above his body and watch as his wife tried to administer CPR while she waited on the paramedics? Did he see and hear all of this? If so, how? How did he see and hear without eyes and ears? Or, was there simply nothing? Was there just blackness?
As you might imagine, being the only survivor of my immediate family, I often wonder about fatality. But I don’t have answers. Some people do. Some are convinced, through devout faith, and know with 100% certainty that there is an afterlife, with proof rooted in scripture. Likewise, secular humanists know with 100% certainty that there is nothing beyond the wall of death. And so those of us in the middle say that they can’t both be right.
Or can they?
I have a degree in physics. And I attended one of the best liberal arts colleges in the country. One of the things they taught me in my physics classes, and one of the things my alma mater emphasized, was the importance of coming to grips with cognitive dissonance, the ability (need) to hold onto two conflicting notions. Like the famous wave/particle duality of light and matter, maybe our quest for an afterlife has two correct but different solutions. And maybe Doctor Who answers the question as well as any: That the dimension of time itself is wibbly, wobbly, and that — like a greased pig — when we think we have it in our grasp it slithers away again.
You can’t believe in A and B they tell me. And I ask myself, why not?
Until next time, don’t think about matters grave. Let me take that burden from you.
Copyright © 2013 Keith Parker
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