Surviving Death


Yes. Speak up.

Q: Was being a sheet . . .

A: You'll have to speak up.

It was years later; centuries; aeons; I had become a fulltime lecturer, traveling everywhere. Q: Was being a SHEET;;;;; [The sound system finally kicked in.] Was being a sheet the high point of your death? A: Let's hope not! [I like to give them something to look forward to.] I have a lot of death ahead of me! Or behind me! I wouldn't know the difference!

It was a good crowd; there was a real buzz. I've done this so many years I did know how to work them.

Q: What is the worst part of death?

A: Semicolons! They're overrunning the place like kudzu. Yes. On the right.

I felt I was serving some sort of purpose. I was demystifying death.

Q: Is it true the dead have no illusions?

A: It's true. The dead have no illusions. We have holograms.

It was a job.

Q: Ah!

The routine did sometimes take its toll. I was working graveyard shift. Lectures, meetings, interviews--my death was not my own. It was very hard work. And sometimes it did get to be too much.

Q: Seen Larry?

Until I realized I could lie.

A: I am Larry.

Believe me, you wouldn't know the difference.

Q: Ah!

That idiot with the goatee became my lover; if you can call it lover. It was a very loose relationship; we spent so little time together. Half the time, we didn't even recognize each other.

Sometimes I think the part where I spoke of Imelda was in this era.

A: Yes. All the way in the back.

Q: You're dead.

Shock silenced the room.

And for a moment, after all these aeons, it even got to me. I put so much of myself into these lectures. Not a moment's rest; and I'd earned it. And then, this. This sickness; this disgust. Why do I even bother?

But then I remembered. I did it for all of us. For the little dead. The floozies. For Imelda. I did it for Larry.

A: So what?

So what.

And when I put it that way, it just rolled off me. I rolled with it. I just rolled off the stage and kept rolling. I never looked back. I rolled straight out of the hall and up the mountain.

There is a cave near a rockpile which I sometimes haunt. Floozies crouch silently nearby. For a long time I stayed in this cave, and in a way it was the high point of my death.

It all seems like such a freak show sometimes.

When we were sheets, we shot through long glass chasms which broke like icebound lakes with a boom; we leaned on spheres; we blew fuses; we blew those little souls so far out into the galaxy we thought we'd never see the other side of them. Wrong there, too.

We felt, just by being sheets, we could change things.

And for all I know, we did.

But I loosened up after a while. It was very isolating to stay in the cave. And there was so much to be done. I know the lectures serve a purpose. But more and more I see the need to work right here; there is so much suffering; nothing can hurt us now, but we get mixed up.

I liked to be on hand to comfort the new dead, and of course there were fringe benefits. Whenever Larry showed up, I was the first to know; the little dead ran ahead to tell me.

I still went to the meetings. I still learned from them.

Sometimes, when we dead were able to really talk, we realized we felt we were being punished for something; we thought of death as punishment, not as part of life; those who had been born again felt life was part of death, and you can see the logic to it; when you realize that the dead, or some of them, are going to be born again, the terms begin to get a little imprecise.

Personally, I doubted everything; I was a skeptic; I kept an open mind.

It's like with any outsider group; others want to make generalizations about us; but the experience varied. It varied with the individual.

Some lived their lives again, some lived related lives again, some lived unrelated lives again. For the most part, I stayed where I was and lived my death in straight lines, starting at the beginning again when I was through. The whole thing seemed to take forever, so it was hard to tell how much had changed in the intervening period. I'm fairly sure I've never been to heaven, though possibly those sheets were it for me. That doesn't mean no one goes the classical way; I just speak for myself. But you had choice all the time. You always had choice, because it wasn't really happening.

I think of those first eras we spent together--the slug eras--and I feel so lucky. I know it seems silly but we felt as if--well, as if no one had ever been dead before.

I've come to think increasingly that the little dead really were a disease; I can't bring myself to judge them. We were all part of something.

I try to keep an open mind; it gets opener and opener, as far as I can tell. I go to the end of my death, then start at the beginning again. It takes so long I can't tell if I've changed or am even myself. I used to think, death will be all right, I won't know I'm dead. But I was wrong. I do know I'm dead. But I was right, too. It is all right. I'm not myself.

I still sleep, sometimes for centuries, I suppose. For aeons. The dead live in the present. I just speak for myself. I don't know what that means. Who said that? Is that your head? It's possible I went to heaven but have forgotten; I doubt it, though; it doesn't seem like me. That has to be the understatement of the aeon. Depending what aeon it is; I get mixed up.

I'm fairly sure of one thing, though: it's not your thoughts that keep us alive. I mean, you must think them for yourselves, if you miss us, and of course we're touched. But we have a real incentive to live on, ourselves. There is great appeal in living on. It is certainly less interesting than living on in life, but the parts of our brain that get bored are missing; more interest would be lost on us. This is plenty for us. It's true it's tedious. It's true time seems to take forever. It's better than stopping.

If we don't think of you as often as you think of us, please, please, don't take it to heart; it doesn't mean a thing; it takes all our energy just surviving; not a one of us has managed to keep body and soul together.

But remember, how we live on for you and how we live on for ourselves are rather different matters.

For, finally, this story is not about your needs, but ours, and as you care for us, or did care for us, I would think you'd like to know: we're fine. We manage. It's not that bad.