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It is late afternoon as I wonder through the Great Hall and into one of our many gardens on the property where I sit down on the small bench under the large oak tree to ponder my talk for this evening. My guests have asked me to speak to the topic of why we fear death and if our fear of death is based solely upon religious dogma or is there some other reason grounded in science or philosophy.
I believe the fear of death is real but the reason for this fear I do not know. I am here as the gatekeeper. All the guests here at the Inn of Inspiration are here at my invitation and all have transitioned from the realm of death to be an inspiration and to share the keys of their inspiration with one another. I am the only one here who has not physically died. So the topic of death seems a curious one to me. From a purely scientific point of view death is merely the cessation of life within the body. However, from a religious perspective we are tought to believe in an afterlife, a return to the Garden of Eden from which man and woman were eject upon their discovery of sin.
I have never been a big fan of religious dogmas. My understanding of death comes primarily from two experiences I had in my own life neither of which led to my death. The first was the evening Kathleen died. The second was the evening of my first heart attack. In both instances I felt the presence of death in my room not as the shadowy figure wielding a scythe as depicted in horror books but as a transitional guide. It was a darkness I had not experienced before. A darkness of transition leading to a greater understanding of life. At least this is what I assume. I did not surrender to its call and therefore remained here, but I felt light on the other side of its dark curtain. There was no fear. I thought perhaps it would be more like a birth, not a resurrection, a return to existence, not as Jesus is said to have experienced.
As I look up through the leaves of the giant oak into the blue shimmering sunlight of the sky, I am suddenly brought back to my bench by the gentle words from one of the guests.
“Socrates. Are you all right.”
I return to my body from which I seemed to have briefly escaped.
“O’ please excuse me Olga. I was elsewhere.”
“No Socrates, it was I who interrupted your journey into thought. Please, forgive me,” responds Olga.
“How are you my dear friend? I was thinking about my talk this evening and drifted off into my own thoughts. I am..”
“We are all permitted to dream Socrates. I again apologize for awakening you from yours. You were with nature, who is god to me, in this beautiful garden”
“Your being here at this moment Olga is not an accident as I was thinking about the roles of philosophy and religion in our fear of death.”
Olga quietly responds, “We always fear the unknown Socrates. I am not a coward and do not fear death, which to me means nothing more than sleep, but I cannot become resigned to leave this beautiful world with all the treasures it holds for me and for everyone who knows how to understand and appreciate them.”
“I know you chose to hold on to life for as long as you could and to surrender to death’s call only when you were ready and on your own terms.”
“To leave a good example to those I love is my only understanding of immortality. As you acknowledge, I held onto life for as long as I could, but we all must at some point surrender to death’s embrace.”
“An interesting choice of wording Olga, embrace, for I also in my experiences close to death felt it more as an embrace than fear but you and I hold similar views of science and religion.”
“Science is turning on the light, but at every step forward dogmatic religion attempts to turn it out, and as it cannot succeed it (religion) puts blinkers on its followers, and tries to make them believe that to remove them would be sin. This is the only way in which I can understand their continual warning against knowledge.”
“I agree Olga. I remember reading some of the letters you wrote to your doctor in which you offered your views of science and death in contrast to his views on religion’s role in our acceptance of death. They are very elegantly written without anger or fear of your impending death. There is a note of acceptance in your letters which I fear your doctor did not understand.”
“Whatever we cannot know let us simply and truthfully agree not to know, but no one must be expected to take for granted what reason refuses to admit. More and more to me this simplest of thoughts seems right: Live, live keenly, live fully; make ample use of every power that has been given us to use, to use for the good end. Blind yourself to nothing; look straight at sadness, loss, evil; but at the same time look with such intense delight at all that is good and noble that quite naturally the heart’s longing will be to help the glory to triumph, and that to have been a strong fighter in that cause will appear the only end worth achieving.”
“I could not agree more, Olga. Perhaps you should be giving the talk this evening. You know what it is to surrender to the fate we must all face as a part of life. I have not yet experienced that release of letting go completely, although I have been at death’s door. I was not afraid. I was just not ready to surrender at that time.”
“Thank you Socrates. Your experiences makes you the perfect choice for tonight’s talk. Not to be afraid when you are all alone is the only true way of being not afraid. Where does your courage come in, when you cannot find it in your own self but always have to grasp God morally?… To get rid of the greater part of our responsibilities in life by placing them on God is by far the easier thing to do, but not the best way for making us strong in thinking well and acting still better.”
“True Olga. So true.”
Just then the bells from the Great Hall ring signaling the beginning of the evening activities.
“Well Socrates my dear friend, your audience awaits. But before we go, I want to thank you for the love you give to all of us here at the Inn. Love, like strength and courage, is a strange thing; the more we give the more we find we have to give. You have helped us all to understand those words and have given us the opportunity to live and to prove that edict on a daily basis.
“Thank you Olga for your kind sentiment, time and insights. You have provided me with much of the content for my talk this evening.”
Olga gentle places her hand on my arm. “May I accompany you to the hall Socrates.”
“Why of course Olga. Perhaps we can continue our conversation after the evening’s talk. I will be very interested to hear your insights.
“Absolutely Socrates. It would be my pleasure.”
The Gate Keeper Of Inspiration: Chapter 31 — Albert Camus