Your Ride Starts Here


Washington Heights grafitti

Stay with me on this one.  It’s got nothing to do with grafitti, and I don’t know where it’s going.  The stimulus comes from a Facebook posting from Diane, a woman I met when taking a Foundations (or, maybe, Fundamentals) of Chaplaincy course at the New York Zen Center for Contemplative Care a few years ago.  Diane posted an article by a doctor (Jessica Nutik Zitter, a critical care and palliative care physician at Highland Hospital in Oakland, Calif.)   The article deals with the doctor’s response to the treatment wishes and the mortality of a particular patient.  My concern here is not the specific situation reported in the article.  Nor is it about the remarkable discussion I found elsewhere on Facebook that day arising from an article defining us as “no more than dead stardust” and the responses it provoked ranging from “We are the only rational beings in the universe” (How rational is that?) to “We are God incarnate” to “Look at the shit we do to our selves, each other and the planet and tell me we are rational or godlike.”  Whoever thought that, intermixed with photos of nude women tattooed all over and pleas to respect liberals and complaints that Caucasians get criticized for saying or writing Nigger and recommendations that I be nice to people and be myself at the same time–did I mention videos of 4 year old children dancing, adults playing in the surf and cats doing just about anything–I’d get this roundtable on mortality?

I didn’t…but I did.

Now that I spend more time among my senior peers, I meet fewer and fewer people who are willing to talk about mortality.  True, there are two.

  • There’s Reverend Doctor Barbara Simpson who runs the Ethical Death Cafe, a group which meets regularly to talk about all the various issues surrounding our passing from this mortal coil while eating delicious home-baked goodies.  The website ( hasn’t been updated in a while, but it’s still informative.
  • There’s Howard from the senior center, whose fascination with mortality has led to my reading some intriguing best sellers on the near-death experience and reincarnation.

All the other folks I hang out with nowadays at the local senior center, they just aren’t interested as far as I can tell.  They’re more focused on making good use of their time remaining by keeping doctors appointments and getting the most out of their Lincoln Center subscriptions and their children’s guilt.  There is one, a woman of 93 or so, who’s prime concerns are with getting a great winter suntan and her daily fill of cigarettes and  Jack Daniels.  When I once mentioned to her that I am 73, she looked at me in a way I still find curiously ambiguous then said, “Ah, yes. The same age as my daughter.”

But I digress.  The subject here is mortality and my lack of anything to say about it.  That being the case, I appeal to you.  What’s your take on the death of the body?  I still remember a dorm mate from way back when proudly and confidently defining death as the inability of the body’s cells to reproduce.  What is it to you?  Yes, this could very well get you into a consideration of the non-corporeal about us.  Words like soul and ethos and aura and–dare I say it–Buddha Mind come to mind.  So do such conversation enders as “When you’re dead, you’re dead!” and “What’s on TV?”

What are your feelings, thoughts, intuitions and/or insights into this matter?  Use “Comments” below to register those thoughts, feelings, et cetera in hopes of stimulating those of others.  Then come back in a week or so to check out the Comments and see what others have thought about what you’ve thought.

As for me, I’ll look too.  I’ll take any guidance I can get.


Published in: on February 8, 2015 at 6:20 pm  Comments (7)  

The URI to TrackBack this entry is:

RSS feed for comments on this post.

7 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. OK Richard,

    Here is my take on mortality:
    For those of us who believe in evolution (..and in my opinion only idiots do not), there is a mental image of a photograph of my image being taken. This is followed by a photo of my father…and his father ..and his father…etc…etc…..until the stack of photos of my ancestors is about a mile long. At that point, the genetic makeup of the last ancestor would not be able to mate with a modern female and produce a living offspring. This progression continues back until a distant relative looks like a fish who wiggles out of the sea. The question is: at what point did an ancestor become cognizant of his existence? Was that particular ancestor called “Adam”?
    As Decartes wrote “cogito ergo sum” (I think, therefor I am). That first ancestor was able to acknowledge his existence. That acknowledgement we might call a “soul”. It would seem probable that when we cease to think….we cease to exist. Is that a frightening thought? Let us assume that it is true. When we die, we cease to think…therefore we are a blown out candle. How would that effect our social behavior? Would the strong take advantage of the weak? Would there be a continuous turmoil with no moral restraints? Maybe. Therefore, man has invented the carrot and stick philosophy that if we are ‘good’ we will be rewarded…and if we are ‘bad’ we will be punished. If there were no God, we would have a strong social incentive to invent one. …..and…that god would give us hope that we would never cease to think and would exist in another dimension of reality.
    I think we should take a safe course and admit that we simply do not know with any certainty what will happen to us when we die. We need to embrace the mystery. ….and….act as if there is a benevolent God who wants us to do good. …because the picture of devils poking me with pitch forks as I roast in brimstone is a scary prospect.


  2. Friend Jay reminds us:

    I believe Hawking said that it is like the plug being pulled on a computer.


  3. From Alan out west:

    hey goldberg,

    interesting stuff. i’m way on the nothing after death spectrum and o.k. with it. i mean, i’m not rushing the process.


  4. And from
    Rev Dr Barbara A Simpson,
    Facilitator: Ethical Death Cafe 2 West 64th Street

    thank you Richard!!!


    “What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” Mary Oliver
    “The essence of life is to serve others and do good” Aristotle

    Your task is not to seek for love,but merely to seek and find
    all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it. Rumi


    • What always pissed me off about death is 1) that I have no say about it, no control. 2) that it’s eternal and there’s no way back, not even for a second or a minute to say or do something such as an unfinished business etc. . It can also happen in a ridiculous situation such as sitting on the toilet etc. On the other hand, once it happens, it’s no longer concerns us (not my problemy) . We become an inanimate object that starts to decompose until all its ingredients are consumed by other living things and the earth. Our death becomes the sadness (or joy and relief) of the individuals who cared about us and are still living. I don’t believe in life after death or any conscious existence of the mind or the “soul”, or our energy floating somewhere in the universe. But I do believe that the meaning of my life is to help, teach, and assist others. This belief is not based on any theory. It’s just a feeling I have inside and a logic that tells me that there must be a reason why giving of myself and helping others in a loving way, feels so good and right. Hava Laor


      • Hi Hava,
        I agree with most of what you say. However, we can make some use of our body. I have donated my body to The University of Texas Health Science Center. With one phone call, they will pick up my body and use it for teaching physicians. After about a year, they will cremate whatever remains and send the ashes in a box to my sister.


        • I agree with you John. Our dead body may benefit others whether it might be for science research or for organ donation. (if you die in an accident). However, if I live as long as my mother (94), I think that my organs would be too old and pickled to be transplanted into living individuals….


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: