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My uncle died on Tuesday. About a month ago, so I’ve been told, he went deaf, and finding this a curious state, he found a doctor to see what the matter was. Turns out he had tumors in his brain, and they were threatening to squeeze grey matter through his ears like toothpaste from a tube. He had an operation. They pulled a mass from his brain stem, but more tests showed others in his pancreas and liver. On Friday the doctors said there was nothing to do but wait. A rapid transition from life to death, and early too. He was 59.

It’s hard to say how I feel about it. It’s a shame to see a consciousness blink out of existence, but somehow it seems harder for the people still here. My grandmother seeing her first born buried. Grand kids saying bye to grandpa. It’s easy to wonder how it’ll be for me.

I have a student who happens to be a Christian. We get along quite well, have become friends, and talk about a variety of things. Today it was heaven and hell, concepts which are illustrative of hopes and fears of humankind but hollow in the absence of a supernatural universe. What we see is what we get. There’s no god waiting just inside those shimmering gates, arms heavy with a towel and jacket to welcome you in from out of rainy existence. There’s nothing waiting.

But today we talked about heaven and hell and complications therein, vis-a-vis the guest list and who, according to the adherents of my student’s particular brand of Christianity, is welcomed inside. He had problems with the concept too, but he seemed to be saying that regardless of what you do, only the belief in his Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is enough to get you VIP access to the whole harp-y goodness that is floating on a cloud for all eternity. I am not of that number.

And I didn’t ask him, couldn’t quite bring myself to ask him, this guy I’ve become friends with over the last six months, if he thought I personally was going to slip from my coffin and slide kiddy-park style through the floor, the earth, magma and mantle, and find myself clutched to the bosom of Satan himself, another demigod hard to fathom. I’m afraid the answer might be yes.

There’s no heaven or hell. But I wouldn’t tell my aunt that. I’m not sure what kind of place this earns me, or where. But it’s enough just to stay out of the way.

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