Once again, it’s time for the next installment of Howard’s Divine Comedy, wherein Howard continues his journey toward death with his hero companion.
Howard: Yo, Jerry, I know you said you’re sworn to secrecy, that you can’t tell me anything about the afterlife, but I’m curious, you know Bobby [Weir] has said that you visited him in a dream he had just before waking the morning of August 9, 1995, around the exact time you died.
Jerry Garcia: [laughs] I can neither confirm nor deny that, man!
H: Oh, come on! Here’s what he said:
“He was looking really splendid. His hair was black again. He was tall. And he had a velour cape on. He had a real sort of intense look in his eye. He looked straight at me, and then through me, and then he stepped into me … So Jerry came to me pretty directly that night.”
J: Listen, brother, if Bob believes that’s what happened, and as long as, you know, he’s no danger to himself or others, would it surprise you if I said that it doesn’t at all matter whether or not I confirm it happened, or if you or anyone else believes him?
H: Surprised? No, not really. Disappointed? Yeah, a little.
J: I get it, Howard. I do. It’s a beautiful story. Bob was well aware that stewardship of the Grateful Dead’s substantial legacy would be a huge responsibility, yes he’d share that responsibility with Phil, Billy, Mickey and the staff, but it’s a daunting task nonetheless. That he’s still making music and thriving; that Ratdog, Dead & Company and Wolf Bros. remain vibrant, creative endeavors; and if these successes can at all be attributed to Bob carrying me with him after I supposedly stepped into him in a dream, well, sounds like a pretty great, quantumy make-your-own-universe kinda thing to me!
H: Like, “Sometimes the songs that we hear are just songs of our own*.”?
(* –Robert Hunter, from Eyes of the World by the Grateful Dead)
par·a·dise | ˈper-ə-ˌdīs | noun
- a: EDEN
b: an intermediate place or state where the souls of the righteous await resurrection and final judgment
- a place or state of bliss, felicity, or delight
Paradise Waits On The Crest Of A Wave**
Lost, found, or, um, waiting … Paradise is a lovely, shape-shifting idea with one helluva long shelf life.
From the earliest creation myths, to the world’s religions, to many volumes of literature, and from gardens of innocence, to pearly gates in the clouds, to a Grateful Dead show that never ends, humans have had a longstanding desire for a place or experience or state of consciousness that transcends the harsh aspects of mortal life.
I mean, just imagine the day-to-day lives of evolving protohumans. Survival was a constant challenge; they had to hunt and kill and butcher animals for food or else starve; they had to be vigilant and watchful, or else they, themselves, could fall prey to large carnivorous mammals or be trampled by large herbivores on the run. And that’s all before early humans started forming into tribes and killing each other over territory.
I imagine that witnessing these violent forms of demise on a regular basis, as well as experiencing threatening weather and geological disturbances, might have resulted in a deep longing for an escape route. Then, as myths and legends were developed in attempts to explain the origins of the world and the cosmos — perhaps with occasional infusions of imagination courtesy of a variety of psychedelic plants and fungi — well, of course the gods, angels, spirits, faeries, etc., that we dreamt up dwelled in magical realms, where there is no aging or death or suffering of any kind, and if we are lucky and/or behave ourselves while we’re alive, we get to go to this Paradise too when our time on earth is up!
(Caveat: I’ll leave the concepts of purgatory and hell to the judgmental and/or guilt-ridden who believe in such nonsense. 😜)
Anyway, that all seems to jibe with definition #1a, b, and c above, but what of definition #2, a considerably less literal definition?
(**—Robert Hunter, from Help On The Way by the Grateful Dead)
Moving away from mythology and from the majority of religions, the concept of Paradise can take on a variety of very different meanings. Most enticingly, in a number of contexts, Paradise isn’t necessarily ‘To-Die-For,’ i.e., you don’t have to believe in and/or wait for the afterlife to experience it.
That’s a pretty big deal, and pretty great news, especially if you are a young, healthy person!
Examples here include:
- Buddhism’s god-free concept of Nirvana, a state of enlightenment achieved via the Noble Eightfold Path, rarely attained, though in the attempt suffering can be greatly reduced and happiness greatly increased;
- Psychedelics like LSD, MDMA, DMT, psilocybin, ayahuasca, etc., that offer glimpses of, and joyous experiences with, the ego-free nondualistic interconnectedness of all things;
- Self-help modalities — the Power of Positive Thinking, Gratitude Journals, secular Mindfulness Awareness, the Law of Attraction, etc. — that, via a variety of practices, claim to help us experience Paradise regularly in our everyday lives through more focused awareness of the beauty of the world and the love of the people all around us;
- Even the simple hedonism of a thatch-roofed cabana on a quiet, secluded tropical beach; or a campsite in the alpine backcountry under a field of stars, planets and galaxies free of light pollution.
Paradise meets ALS
Ok, listen, I wouldn’t blame you if you were tired by now of how nearly everything I write here at The Owl Journal is either directly or peripherally related to the fact that I’ve been “living” with ALS, aka Lou Gehrig’s Disease, for two and a half years.
And now, here I am talking about enduring human narratives offering the hope of, and even instruction on how to find/achieve, a “place or state of bliss, felicity, or delight,” only to turn attention to my ALS once again.
Truly, I’d like nothing more than to write about other things. Oh, if I could I would so happily go back to the novel I’d been working on prior to my diagnosis, portions of which I have posted here in five Excerpts From The Abandoned Novel. I even considered returning to my previous blog, Fish & Bicycles, where I wrote on a wide variety of topics for nearly 10 years.
Alas, as I’ve mentioned numerous times (Example 1, Example 2), ALS is a cruel thief, it has stolen from me many of the things that for 50+ years made life worth living, and sadly one of those things is the ability to write anything worth sharing on any topic besides my experience of slowly dying from a brutal neurogenerative disease for which there is no cure or effective treatment.
Sometimes The Songs That We Hear Are Just Songs Of Our Own
That said, this post was inspired by a minor little incident that could have easily been overlooked, but which seemed to tie right into a theme that has run through a lot of what I’ve written here on the blog, as well as throughout my memoir, I, Too, Heard The Owl: namely, the struggle to overcome profound grief and crippling disability in order to find any possible remaining ways to enjoy life.
I’ve been unable to hike or ride a bicycle or paddle a kayak, etc., for over two years. These activities were inextricably tied to my experience of meaning in life and my wellbeing. And, as I mentioned back in September, autumn comes to Bellingham each year with an attitude; dry, not to mention sunny, days become few and far between; winter’s now a week away and the mornings are already covered in frost; and so I’m currently at high-risk of getting really, really low. Attempts to engage my Pacific Northwest weather warrior via outings in my wheelchair in rain gear didn’t cut it: something about not being able to make eye contact with the person pushing me, and that person having to struggle on hills and uneven terrain.
Then, weeks of being housebound, brief periods of respite gazing out at our lovely yard and gardens and the forest that surrounds us, until one day I remembered that we could rent an electric disability scooter, remembered that we’d seen one sometime over the summer that easily disassembles into four parts light enough for one person to transfer it into and out of a car without a lift or ramp.
From the moment I first mounted this tiny little vehicle, I felt the first impulse of playful energy I’d felt in a long, long time. For humor’s sake, I loudly exaggerated revving motorcycle engine noises and then belted out “Get your motor running. Head out on the highway!” from Steppenwolf’s Born To Be Wild. Then, I cranked the throttle all the way up and sped off, driving in a wild, erratic route, turning into sudden tight circles, round and around and around, taunting the dog and the humans I was with, pretending like I was going to run them down, only to veer off sharply at the last second in order to swerve around them.
Perhaps it’s a stretch, to categorize a scooter ride as Paradise. After all, there I was, rolling along a path I’d walked many, many times, mournfully watching all of the able-bodied souls around me enjoying themselves, some of them looking back at me, a man of a mere 56-years of age, and wondering what kind of misfortune had befallen me.
But that scooter ride absolutely was a taste of paradise; FAR, FAR, FAR better than no taste at all, and I certainly can’t see what’s seen in that photo — Boulevard Park, Bellingham Bay, Lummi Island in the distance — from my armchair in the living room of my house.
As with all of the other Paradises mentioned above, it helps if you consciously decide to seek out those happy places and states of mind, and then it requires persistence and practice, and in some cases, belief and faith.
Yes, there are going to be moments, likely whole days, when, despite my best efforts, I just can’t access the Paradise Channel. I might be using the remote correctly, might try rebooting, might even call tech support, yet nothing seems to work.
But, the Buddha pulled no punches, he told us:
Suffering is an inherent part of existence, and clinging to a desire for a totally suffering-free existence only creates more suffering.
What a relief!
I don’t know any perfect people.
Do you?! 😁
1 thought on “Howard’s Divine Comedy: Canto 8 – Paradiso”
Brilliantly put and strikes so many chords in me and so many human beings. Being 78years old, does, of course, bring home so much more of what life and death means. I have, at least in my present time, decided and am comfortable that life and death are the same…nothing before birth and nothing after death. This may change with the knowledge of my eminent death but I’m at peace for now. I would love to see peace in you however that should come. Love you and thank you for your sharing!! Julie
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