Go gentle into that good night

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1_Vincent_Van_Gogh_0010.jpgI know it is coming, and I do not fear it, because I believe there is nothing on the other side of death to fear. I hope to be spared as much pain as possible on the approach path. I was perfectly content before I was born, and I think of death as the same state. What I am grateful for is the gift of intelligence, and for life, love, wonder, and laughter. You can't say it wasn't interesting. My lifetime's memories are what I have brought home from the trip. I will require them for eternity no more than that little souvenir of the Eiffel Tower I brought home from Paris.

I don't expect to die anytime soon. But it could happen this moment, while I am writing. I was talking the other day with Jim Toback, a friend of 35 years, and the conversation turned to our deaths, as it always does. "Ask someone how they feel about death," he said, "and they'll tell you everyone's gonna die. Ask them, In the next 30 seconds? No, no, no, that's not gonna happen. How about this afternoon? No. What you're really asking them to admit is, Oh my God, I don't really exist and I might be gone at any given second."

Me too, but I hope not. I have plans. Still, this blog has led me resolutely toward the contemplation of death. In the beginning I found myself drawn toward writing about my life. Everyone's life story is awaiting only the final page. Then I began writing on the subject of evolution, that most consoling of all the sciences, and was engulfed in an unforeseen discussion about God, the afterlife, and religion.

When I began this blog I thought if there was one thing I'd never write about, it would be religion. But you, my readers, have wanted to write about it. In thousands of messages. Half a million words. Life, science, belief, gods, evolution, intelligent design, the afterlife, reincarnation, the nature of reality, what came before the Big Bang, what waits after final entropy, the nature of intelligence, the reality of the self, death, death, death. This dialog still continues. The thread beneath the evolution entry, posted Dec. 3, has drawn nearly 1,900 comments, some of them longer than the entry, and it is still active. How did I find a group of readers with so many metaphysicians?


This has been an education for me. No one will read all the comments except me, but if you did, you could learn all a layman should be expected to understand about the quantum level. You would discover a defender of Intelligent Design so articulate that when he was away for a couple of days, the Darwinians began to fret and miss him. You would have the mathematical theory of infinity explained so that, while you will still be unable to conceive of infinity, you will understand the thinking involved.

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My opinions have been challenged. I had to defend what I believed. I did some more reading. I discovered fractals and Strange Attractors. I wrote an entry about the way I believe in God, which is to say that I do not. Not, at least, in the God that most people mean when they say God. I grant you that if the universe was Caused, there might have been a Causer. But that entity, or force, must by definition be outside space and time; beyond all categories of thought, or non-thought; transcending existence, or non-existence. What is the utility of arguing our "beliefs" about it? What about the awesome possibility that there was no Cause? What if everything...just happened?

I was told that I was an atheist. Or an agnostic. Or a deist. I refused all labels. It is too easy for others to pin one on me, and believe they understand me. I am still working on understanding myself.

To explain myself, I turn to Walt Whitman:

Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself,
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)

So do we all. How sad if our freedom to think about the immensity of time and space could be defined by what someone informs us that we believe.

But certainly, some readers have informed me, it is a tragic and dreary business to go into death without faith. I don't feel that way. "Faith" is neutral. All depends on what is believed in. I have no desire to live forever. The concept frightens me. I relate it to the horror of the hero of Poe's The Premature Burial. To be in your grave and know it! Ah, but I am told, the afterlife does not involve time at all. In that case, how can it be eternal? Eternity is only thinkable in a universe that contains time. If I had but world enough, and time, I could spend time pondering a world without end.

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That whole discussion has been forging ahead on one hand. On the other hand, we have been puzzling over quantum mechanics, which suggests the possibility of instantaneous communication between two entangled particles, even if they are at opposite ends of the universe (not that the universe has ends). This happens independently of time and space. They've proven it in their labs! If the scientists are correct, everything everywhere is, in some sense, the same thing, in the same place--or it might as well be. That, too, is small consolation.

All I can do is think with my mind. All I can be is who I seem to myself. I can only be where it seems that I am. Time seems to move quickly or slowly, but it is time all the same; my wristwatch proves it. I believe my wristwatch exists, and even when I am unconscious, it is ticking all the same. You have to start somewhere. It is within these assumptions that I must live. Even if everything everywhere is the same, I must eat an orange or I will die of scurvy.

So within that reality, someday I will certainly die. I am 66, have had cancer, will die sooner than most of those reading this. That is in the nature of things. When I read about the nature of life from Camus, the odds were that he would die sooner than me. Thomas Wolfe, who wrote about a wind-grieved ghost, was already dead. Cormac McCarthy will probably live longer than me. And there is Shakespeare, who came as close as any man to immortality. In my plans for life after death, I say, again with Whitman:

I bequeath myself to the dirt to grow from the grass I love,
If you want me again look for me under your boot-soles.

And with Will, the brother in Saul Bellow's Herzog, I say: Look for me in the weather reports.

Raised as a Roman Catholic, I internalized the social values of that faith and still hold most of them, even though its theology no longer persuades me. I wrote about that, too. I have no quarrel with what anyone else subscribes to; everyone deals with these things in his own way, and I have no truths to impart. All I require of a religion is that it not insist I believe in it. I know a priest, a lovely man, whose eyes twinkle when he says, "You go about God's work in your way, and I'll go about it in His."

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What I expect will most probably happen is that my body will fail, my mind will cease to function, and that will be that. My genes will not live on, because I have had no children. Perhaps I have been infertile. If I discover that somewhere along the way I conceived a child, let that child step forward and he or she will behold a happy man. Through my wife, I have had stepchildren and grandchildren, and I love them unconditionally, which is the only kind of love worth bothering with.

I am comforted by Richard Dawkins' theory of memes. Those are mental units: thoughts, ideas, gestures, notions, songs, beliefs, rhymes, ideals, teachings, sayings, phrases, clichés, that move from mind to mind as genes move from body to body. After a lifetime of writing, teaching, broadcasting and happily torturing people with my jokes, I will leave behind more memes than many. They will all eventually die as well, but so it goes.

I drank for many years in a tavern that had a photograph of Brendan Behan on the wall, and under it this quotation, which I memorized:

I respect kindness in human beings first of all, and kindness to animals. I don't respect the law; I have a total irreverence for anything connected with society except that which makes the roads safer, the beer stronger, the food cheaper and the old men and old women warmer in the winter and happier in the summer.

For 57 words, that does a pretty good job of summing it up. "Kindness" covers all of my political beliefs. No need to spell them out. I believe that if, at the end of it all, according to our abilities, we have done something to make others a little happier, and something to make ourselves a little happier, that is about the best we can do. To make others less happy is a crime. To make ourselves unhappy is where all crime starts. We must try to contribute joy to the world. That is true no matter what our problems, our health, our circumstances. We must try. I didn't always know this, and am happy I lived long enough to find it out.

8_van-gogh-shoes.jpgIn a moment or a few years, maybe several, I will encounter what Henry James called, on his deathbed, "the Distinguished Thing." I may not be conscious of the moment of passing. I have already been declared dead. It wasn't so bad. After a ruptured artery following my first cancer surgery, the doctors thought I was finished. My wife Chaz said she sensed that I was still alive, and communicating to her that I wasn't finished yet. She said hearts were beating in unison, although my heartbeat couldn't be discovered. She told the doctors I was alive, they did what doctors do, and here I am, alive.

Do I believe her? Absolutely. I believe her literally--not symbolically, figuratively or spiritually. I believe she was actually aware of my call, and that she sensed my heartbeat. I believe she did it in the real, physical world I have described, the one I live in with my wristwatch. I see no reason why such communication could not take place. I'm not talking about telepathy, psychic phenomenon or a miracle. The only miracle is that she was there when it happened, as she was for many long days and nights. I'm talking about her standing there and knowing something. Haven't many of us experienced that? Come on, haven't you? I admire Skeptic magazine, but I'm not interested in their explanation or debunking of this event. What goes on happens at a level not accessible to scientists, theologians, mystics, physicists, philosophers or psychiatrists. It's a human kind of a thing.

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Someday I will no longer call out, and there will be no heartbeat. What happens then? From my point of view, nothing. Absolutely nothing. Still, as I wrote today to a woman I have known since she was six: "You'd better cry at my memorial service."

I have been corresponding with a dear friend, the wise and gentle Australian director Paul Cox. Our subject sometimes turns to death. In 1988 he made a luminous documentary named "Vincent: The Life and Death of Vincent van Gogh." Today Paul wrote me that in his Arles days, van Gogh called himself "a simple worshiper of the external Buddha." Paul told me that in those days, Vincent wrote:

Looking at the stars always makes me dream, as simply as I dream over the black dots representing towns and villages on a map. Why? I ask myself, shouldn't the shining dots of the sky be as accessible as the black dots on the map of France? Just as we take a train to get to Tarascon or Rouen, we take death to reach a star. We cannot get to a star while we are alive any more than we can take the train when we are dead. So to me it seems possible that cholera, tuberculosis and cancer are the celestial means of locomotion. Just as steamboats, buses and railways are the terrestrial means. To die quietly of old age, would be to go there on foot.

Thank you, good Paul. I think that is a lovely thing to read, and a relief to find I will probably not have to go on foot. Or, as the little dog Milou says whenever Tintin proposes a journey, pas à pied, j'espère!

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Footnote: At the urging of a reader, I took this quiz. It evaluated my replies and, from a list of 27 religions or belief systems, informed me that my top five categories were: 1. Secular Humanism (100%); 2. Unitarian Universalism (92%); 3. Liberal Quakers (80%); 4. Nontheist (73%); 5. Theravada Buddhism (71%). That was sort of what I expected.

Below: A poetry reading by the peerless Tom O'Bedlam.

somewhere I have never traveled, by e. e. cummings. [For Chaz]

Growing Old, by Matthew Arnold

When You Are Old, by W. B. Yeats

Elegy for Jane, by Theodore Roethke

The Ship of Death, by D. H. Lawrence



569 Comments

Last year, one of my very closest friends passed away at a VERY young age, leaving behind his wife and infant daughter. I have had to spend some time in therapy since, yet the experience only made me more glad to be alive, and to try to make the most of my time here. No more whining about how crummy things are job- or romance-wise. No more wishing I had never been born, or that my own life would end. Just being damned glad I got to know a great guy during his brief time here.

Incidentally, I find it weird that when I tried to take that quiz, a pop-up ad for an online horoscope showed up.

Ebert: I think that transcends weird.

Roger, the Walt Whitman quote: I remember your using it in a debate over a movie with, I believe, Gene Siskel. I can't recall the movie you were discussing, but perhaps you can? It is the quote that I always remember being said by you - one of the things that often comes to mind when I begin reading one of your reviews - though of course it was first written by Whitman. But it applies to us all oh so perfectly, doesn't it? I think it's a terribly nice thing to do to latch onto somebody else's words when they're about the most appropriate thing that could be said in a given instance: a celebration of a pure wit and a precision with words, so rarely done really well with the English language.

Ebert: I have used it more than once, and with special pleasure when I was fat.

I think that wonderful piece will win nearly unanimous sympathy in this space.

On Darwin and Dawkins - if civilization is still around 1,000 years from now, it will be due in no small part to the achievements of these men. You said it well here: there is value in the values of religion. But to me, that's where it ends.

Roger wrote: I grant you that if the universe was Caused, there might have been a Causer. But that entity, or force, must by definition be outside space and time...

Yes, yes, Roger. God who has "no beginning or end" is just that, a God who, I believe, is above the constraints of our dimension's time and space. To tell such a thing to ancient people will result in making no sense at all. Thus, just the simplest term of "no beginning and no end."

I personally believe in a time above time (and maybe others beyond), an existence beyond the physical, a death beyond death, a purpose above purposes, a dimension beyond dimensions, and thoughts that are higher than our own (as much as there are other grades of thoughts below us). And, I believe that a part of this otherworldliness is encapsulated within each and every one of us, enabling us to bridge the gap in an otherwise devoid and meaningless universe. This potential, I believe, is something that Man has yet to learn how to cultivate.

Hi Roger, It is always a pleasure to read your blog. You write about the core issues of human beings, and I'm exceedingly glad that so many people read your blog and take care to comment.

The benevolence of the universe is that it is the foundation of all existence.

That the universe is so marvelous and wondrous that matter and life forms in all their varied glory exist as far as the eye can see, as far as the ear can hear, as far as one can think. Existing in ways which add splendor to each other's existence.

The infinitude, and splendor, of the universe is its benevolence and its perfection.

I exist in this universe as a flesh and blood body, aware and conscious. And miracles don't come bigger than this.

Existence is the miracle, the implicit is the profound.

I, as matter made aware, am completely safe in this universe, as old age, disease and death are just modifications of matter, and are as well a part of this perfection. This particular body will disintegrate in due time, just as it formed as an agglomeration over the last few decades, and only "I" in my perversity seek to preserve myself as this body and as "me" for all eternity. It is not required.

Survival is not the be all and end all of human life. Death is not
the calamity that "I" fear. Death and Disintegration is part of
perfection.

Ebert: Thank you. I find this to be a profound statement:

"I, as matter made aware, am completely safe in this universe, as old age, disease and death are just modifications of matter, and are as well a part of this perfection."

It ain't the dying' that kills you, it's the living.

A wonderful write and I see a series of responses brewing in me!
It has been my favourite topic in the last thirty years since a storm struck my life and I experienced adversity in an extreme and unusual shape.As you say you are what you are and faith is not something you have or dont---it is the most precious plant which one nourishes and cultivates into a sturdy tree through very concrete down to earth struggles of life. At least at the present juncture I dont think thought can take us beyond Hamlets soliloquoy and thinking will probably be circular, considering that the finest of minds have applied themselves to this most vital and fundamental of questions.And the night is no more necessarily gentle than the day, if you don't mind my believing so.

..... but the doctrine it contains is profound, for it probes directly into life and death, the ultimate question of Buddhist philosophy. It is that question to which Shakyamuni Buddha and all the others who lived for Buddhism devoted their wisdom and passion in the search for a solution. All of the so-called eighty-four thousand teachings and all the innumerable theses and commentaries on them, without exception, focus on one theme: life and death......

Daisaku Ikeda

Ebert: Can you tell me something about the storm?

What is life?

It is a single, sustained note. It is the end of a symphony, an explosion of a star, the stopping of a heart. It is the final flickerings of a thought, it is contained in last words like you trap flies in glass bottles and it is the last nanosecond of something before nothing.

I cannot view life in any other way. It is ephemeral, it is temporary, and I don't think there are angels or Grim Reapers to take me away. Some say they are unafraid of death, and I do not count myself as brave like that. I would like to unravel the universe, or at least receive a glimpse of it before I die. I would like to be remembered, but I'm not quite sure how one goes about gaining metaphorical immortality. I would hate to have real immortality, though. Once all human beings die, one would be adrift in an empty world, and then when, inadvertently, the sun explodes -- well, what then? You float from one dying star to another dying star and maybe there'll be life in the universe, and maybe not. Days become seconds and lives (at least, human ones) are fleeting glimpses of what could be and what has been. And even if you were immortal and managed to learn everything, do everything, and be everything, there would be one mystery left unsolved.

What lies behind Death's door?

And I suppose that may be the same question as "What is life?", because I think that death could very well be the same thing as life. One cannot have happiness without sadness, and happiness can be called a lack of sadness just as life is a lack of death. (Or, if one's in the mood, you could say life is a sexually transmitted disease with 100% fatality).

I have struggled with the acceptance that our lives are insignificant in the grand scheme of things. There are six (or is it seven?) billion of us living, breathing humans in the world. It is like stamping on red ants when we were children. And even if our hearts, our voices, our minds, are a beautiful mass of chords and soundscapes and staccatos, even the most exquisite music must come to an end.

I'm not a nihilist. The world has meaning, but not the same way you can look something up in the dictionary. All dictionary definitions for 'existence', 'life', and 'being' are horribly clinical.

So I limit ephemeral, temporary, bottled-up life to a quote.

"We are star stuff which has taken its destiny into its own hands." - Sagan.

PS: I took your quiz and it said I should be Unitarian Universalist, Secular Humanist, or a Liberal Quaker. ^-^

Ebert: Red ants, perhaps, but what red ants! Each with a mind of his own. Wouldn't work for the ants, but to each his own.

I believe that if, at the end of it all, according to our abilities, we have done something to make others a little happier, and something to make ourselves a little happier, that is about the best we can do. To make others less happy is a crime. To make ourselves unhappy is where all crime starts. We must try to contribute joy to the world. That is true no matter what our problems, our health, our circumstances. We must try. I didn't always know this, and am happy I lived long enough to find it out.

Yes. Me too. And kindness toward all of life (including our own) is key in that task. Yet ultimately behind kindness, I believe, is respect. A lack of respect for anyone or anything brings, at the least, indifference, or even cruelty, and there can be no true joy that way (though, sadly, some derive pleasure). With genuine respect, we are much more likely to be kind. And with respect and kindness, both given and received, we are much more likely to be joyful. It's so very simple - just not always easy.

I don't know very much about Albert Schweitzer, but I've always liked this quote that has been attributed to him:

Until we extend the circle of our compassion to all living things, we will not ourselves find peace.

Thank you for sharing your memories and beliefs in these blogs. I find your childhood recollections especially moving.

speaking of going gentle into that goodnight, has anyone thought much about Caden Cotard lately?

This ought to cheer you up, Roger. A refreshing new reading of S, NY.

http://www.moviesintofilm.com/second-sight-synecdoche.htm


love the ee cummings verse, above.

At 23, I suppose contemplating my own death is atypical for my age, but you've made my contemplations a bit more comfortable when my thoughts trail to this place on a sleepless night. Of course, I may not wake up tomorrow, so having the thoughts now as opposed to some day 60 or so years from now is as good a time as any. As long as "See You on the Other Side" (by Ozzy Osbourne) is played at the funeral, I'll be happy. That is, if I have feelings there. :) Thank you, Roger. I hope this puts many more minds at ease.

Roger,

This might be the most insightful essay about life, death, God, eternity - the works - that I've ever read. Your reviews have always challenged and inspired me - literally (I read them when I hit writer's block and they always pull me out of the slump) - but you really outdid yourself here. If I ever become an English teacher (still working on that diploma), this will go on the required reading list.

Life is pleasant. Death is peaceful. It's the transition that's troublesome.
- Isaac Asimov

I just may cry, too.

Harmanjit Singh on May 4, 2009 11:58 PM

Though hardly strange its good to meet the proprieter of Remains of the Day and a guy from the same city. I corresponded with your blog for a while as Onlyne.

Ki pucchde ho haal faquiran da !
Saade nadion vicchre neeran da
Saade hanj de joone aayan da
Saade dil jaallyan dilgeeran da!

It seems kind of inevitable that the conversation in your journal would turn towards religion and the metaphysical as well as the science that underpins everything... who in the world is more in tune with details of the universe than a movie lover? All of the deepest questions have been posed by film, and very occassionaly in ways that utterly defy the written word (just about anything by Kieslowski comes to mind). It's not all about giant, battling robots! Although my son would beg to differ, but he's two... :)

Over the past seven years I have become a cinephile, largely because I began reading your reviews. I then became a regularly visitor to your website. Then I became a regularly reader of your blog. I feel more and more like I know you, like this is correspondence from an old friend. Your movie reviews have played a major role in shaping my tastes, and these posts have made you a friend, though the friendship only really flows one direction. Thank you.

I am nearing 30 and have begun to worry that I am wasting the best years of my life. I have my stories, sure, but they feel like parlor tricks; I tell people I used to be a homeless poet in upstate New York, they find the idea rather romantic, they ask me to write them a poem, they fake a big reaction, and if I play my cards right I can get a phone number. But I haven't really done anything with my life, and I am scared to death of my indifference. I am not particularly afraid of what will happen when I die (it is only the general uncertainty of the question which bothers me); what I fear is that I will not have used my time in this world adequately. I suppose this isn't a fear I will have to deal with after death, which makes it seem absurd, but while I'm trying to make something of myself in this world it seems...

Ebert: In your 20s it is wise to ask such questions and unusual to have the answers. Hang onto those phone numbers. It is good to know people who like you to write poems for them.

Unlocking the Mysteries of Birth and Death:
A Buddhist View of Life Pub. Year 2003 (2nd edition)
1982 (paperback)
Publisher Middleway Press (USA)
ISBN 0-9723267-0-7
4-7700-1026-5 (paperback)

Since the first English edition of Unlocking the Mysteries of Birth and Death, in 1988 (Macdonald & Co.), breakthroughs in such fields as stem-cell research have propelled the medical questions of what constitutes life and what constitutes death into public debate. While these are taken up in the author’s three-way dialogue On Being Human with cancer researcher Rene Simard and bioethicist Guy Bourgeault, this second edition of Unlocking the Mysteries of Birth and Death takes up the philosophical and spiritual aspects of these questions from the Nichiren Buddhist view.

http://www.ikedabooks.org/philosophy/myst_birth_death.html

Just as I can't explain why a ten minute sleep can produce a dream seeming to exist in my mind for hours on end, or vice versa, I like to think that towards the end I'll have one last dream and it will feel like reality as it always does. And again as it always does, I will not be aware that it is just my imagination until I awake from it. In my final moments if I am not able to wake up from that last dream, would my perception of death be completely different? Would I die not as myself in my current circumstances, but as whatever/whomever I may be in that last dream?
It's nice to think that my life up to that point will affect that final moment of brain activity. That if I am happy in reality I will be utterly blissful in my last dream, and my last memories of existence could be somewhat unrelated to reality.



Hi Roger, I am an Irish 16 year old. I really admire your commitment to your blog. Death fascinates me as well. Is the transition a mere instant or is it a procession which lasts for hours? Although I'm not very religious I can't fathom the notion of no afterlife, eternal blackness without the power to acknowledge it, a place where even nothing ceases to be. Then again I am more comfortable with the belief there was no life before birth. These questions can ultimately define our purpose, a daunting prospect death is. But as Scott Fitz says "so we beat on".

Ebert: Somehow the word Irish put me in mind of these lyrics, sung by the Clancy Brothers:

The Bells of Hell go ting-a-ling-a-ling
For you but not for me:
For me the angels sing-a-ling-a-ling,
They've got the goods for me.

Oh! Death, where is thy sting-a-ling-a-ling
Oh! Grave, thy victory?
The Bells of Hell go ting-a-ling-a-ling
For you but not for me.

Roger, I can see, to some extent, how your viewpoint can bring comfort to you and take some of the sting out of death. But, honestly, would it bring any consolation to someone in lesser circumstances? If we are all destined for oblivion, then surely attributing meaning to any part of life is futile, beyond fooling ourselves in hope of maintaing sanity.

I will frame it this way:
Two men were born on the same day, one in Africa, one in America. The American lived a fulfilling life, had a University education, wife, 1.8 kids, satisfying job, pleasurable retirement, and passed away peacefully in his sleep. The African was orphaned, managed to struggle through childhood then adulthood, always hungry, often lonely, until he, too, died a painful death on the same day as the American.

A day after their deaths, of what advantage was the American's good life to him? What meaning is there in the African's suffering?

None. Absolutely none.

Death is the ultimate negative.

Ebert: You play the hand you are dealt, and try your best to improve your cards.

Lovely Yeats. The weather is gloomy and there's nobody but me in the lonely old house - and there you are, offering Yeats.

I read your review for "My Neighbour Totoro" today and you made me think about Blake - about seeing "a World in a Grain of Sand / And a Heaven in a Wild Flower."

Thank you for both.


I don't know about after. But while we're here, something to consider, a quote from Etienne de Grillet:

"I shall pass through this world but once. Any good therefore that I can do, or any kindness that I can show to any human being, let me do it now. Let me not defer or neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again."

A thought to consider...

"Like a wind crying endlessly through the universe, time carries away the names and deeds of conquerors and commoners alike. And all that we were, all that remains is in the memories of those who cared we came this way for a brief moment." (From the closing narration of the Twilight Zone's adaptation of "Paladin of the Lost Hour" by Harlan Ellison)

But much like Garrison Keillor's commentary in the film version of "A Prairie Home Companion", "I don't want them to be told to remember me."

I suspect in both cases you have little to fear. *smile*

Thank you for another wonderful post. Being just diagnosed w/cancer I have every intention of beating it...but sometimes late at night while I lay in bed, dark thoughts creep into my head. At first, I would push them away and try not to think about them. With time, you realize to understand and accept death you have to think about death. Now I can go on living...

Ebert: Some cancers are curable, many are treatable, others can be slowed down. What do you want to do that will be fun?

Thank you for writing this. I've been plagued in the past few years by an obsession with death, specifically my own and I've only "calmed down" about it really in the past eight months or so. I'm 21, and in good health but that provides little comfort for what is ultimately an inevitability. I lost sleep, my grades suffered and I became somewhat insufferable to others I assume when banal conversations somehow got steered back towards death.

I remember one night three years ago when I was driving and thinking about death and the notion really hit me for the very first time, that I am going to die. I'd of course acknowledged this before but never had I really felt the full force of what that actually means. I also do not believe there is an afterlife, and for months after that I'd be stifled by anxiety, this looming, dooming presence of non-existence, and in hours of desperation I'd try to believe in something, anything, but it never felt real or genuine and I could never convince myself to forgive the holes in the theology I was trying to attach myself to.

I'm not entirely sure what's made me not be anxious about it 24/7, but I certainly don't think it's that I've come to any comforting answers. I do find though that I'm most at peace with the notion when I'm moved by something. It may most often be from film or other arts, but it can also be while I'm working creatively, or I hear my niece or nephew say something to me that makes me see how much they understand the world. Art and family aren't cures for death, but they seem to me right now to be the best treatment for the anxiety surrounding it.

I was a philosophy student when I first started feeling this anxiety, and though I've since dropped out, one major thing I've taken away from studying philosophy is the organization and management of thoughts when faced with complex ideas with no simple solutions. I haven't found solutions to this problem that satisfy me yet, but I'm happier for facing it.

Speaking of film, this scene has helped me in tough times as well. Simple, yes, but it has a directness I find lifts my spirits. I uploaded it two years ago and the comments and view numbers make me think it probably has that effect on a lot of people.


As for the quiz, we pretty much line up. Probably why I like your writing so much.

1. Secular Humanism (100%), 2. Unitarian Universalism (91%), 3. Nontheist (77%), 4. Liberal Quakers (75%), 5. Theravada Buddhism (69%)

Ebert: Now what would be really depressing would be to be unaware of such questions.

This made me think of my grandfather's funeral from 6 years ago. As per my grandmother's request, it turned out to be a very traditional one--all of it a practice in formalism, with little quibbles over how something or other wasn't being done right. We were, ostensibly, Buddhists and had called upon a team of priests to guide us through the final rites. They had with them a 10 year old boy who was supposed to represent some divine emperor (I'm not sure why this was relevant), and I remember him looking very small as he stared down at us from his regal throne, with his Nike sneakers sticking out from underneath his elaborate robe. There was even a professional crier, who was paid to amble up to random family members and sob violently by their side.

By the 10th hour, we'd pretty much had enough of it. We'd kneeled, sulked, and got cried-on for all of the day, and never once was my grandfather's name even mentioned in the proceedings. It was a very hollow experience, and all I'd wanted was for the day to be over.

Then we engaged in another ritual, one where we were all knelt before a priest, repeating whatever chant he was intoning. We were doing this when a fly landed on my shoulder. I noticed it, but did not bother to shoo it off. Kneeling next to me was my little brother: 8 years old, trying to be very respectful about everything. He took note of the fly too and, with a calculated swiftness, swat at it with his palm. The fly spiraled to the ground.

My father, who has pretty much strung-out by this time, turned around and glared at us. "What are you doing?" he growled. "Nothing," my brother said, the panic rising in his voice. "There was a fly on Tim's arm, and I hit it." My father shifted his eyes between the two of us, then remarked casually, "Who told you to do that? That fly was probably grandpa." Now, I knew this reincarnation stuff was a bluff. So did my father. It was just another indication of his acid wit. But my brother bought it, and the blood drained from his face, and his eyes expanded to twice their normal size. I spent the rest of the day trying to stifle my laughter. It was perhaps as perfect of a moment as I could ever ask for that day.

Ebert: This is a great scene in a movie: The Buddhist version of "Radio Days.'


It's fascinating that your thoughts have turned to death in the wake of two of your favourite endeavours: the Annual Conference on World Affairs University of Colorado at Boulder and the Ebertfest. Not to mention a visit down memory lane in your hometown, and a dedication of a plaque in your honour on the pavement leading to your childhood home.

But, maybe, it is in such moments of unadulterated joy and reflection, for the two must surely go hand-in-hand, that we think the most about death. I am unable to fathom the end of my existence. But I can understand the horrifying, eventual, certain, prospect of never being able to pursue and fulfil my passions any longer. That won't matter to me then. But it kind of matters to me now. Though it only raises my awareness of how crucial it is to matter in this world. To make a difference.

I wrote a retrospective on "Groundhog Day" earlier this year, and commented how Phil Connors is a spiritual descendant of Camus' Sisyphus. The final paragraph of "The Myth of Sisyphus" explains why:

I leave Sisyphus at the foot of the mountain! One always finds one's burden again. But Sisyphus teaches the higher fidelity that negates the gods and raises rocks. He too concludes that all is well. This universe henceforth without a master seems to him neither sterile nor futile. Each atom of that stone, each mineral flake of that night filled mountain, in itself forms a world. The struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill a man's heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy.

Life is a struggle, but its reward is not death. Its reward is itself. Death is just a bonus.

Thank you for this wonderful essay. And you might enjoy this song in the spirit of your work:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sMsXFALeGIY

The Joy of Living, by Ewen McColl.

My favorite quote relating to the matter of life and death:

"The cradle rocks above an abyss, and common sense tells us that our existence is but a brief crack of light between two eternities of darkness.” V. Nabakov

Hi Roger;

I wish I had something smart or fullfilling to say, but truth be told. I don't. You pretty much said it all.

I appreciate your writing and all the great work you've done (yes, great work).

I've tried to say a lot of things before on this blog. But it seems like the more I write the less and less I have to say. And that's a funny thing isn't it.

Keep it up and take care.


Steve Michael C.

-College Student.

Ebert: Zeiram, Zeiram, Zeiram. You have published excellent 42 comments. Get a grip on yourself.

Ebert wrote: "Kindness" covers all of my political beliefs. No need to spell them out. Kindness is why I vote liberal and not conservative--but let's not go there, not today. I believe that if, at the end of it all, according to our abilities, we have done something to make others a little happier, and something to make ourselves a little happier, that is about the best we can do. To make others less happy is a crime. To make ourselves unhappy is where all crime starts. We must try to contribute joy to the world. That is true no matter what our problems, our health, our circumstances. We must try. I didn't always know this, and am happy I lived long enough to find it out."

One down, 3.5 billion men to go until world peace. :)

And yes, I have known things, just standing there. I'm not surprised Chaz knew you were still around - I'd have been surprised if she hadn't been able to feel you there. It's a woman thing. Like when your mom knows what you're up to and yells at you from downstairs; smile.

I love the Art you've hung up inside the thread, by the way! Nice big hi-res jpegs that let you dive right into the paint! I spent 20 minutes inside Starry Night feeling it all with my eyes. And it was an interesting choice, Van Gogh, seeing as how he was never appreciated until after he was dead and that's a fate you've managed to escape. I don't know if that means anything, I'm just noting it aloud. :)

I liked the poetry too - especially "somewhere I have never traveled" by e. e. cummings; which you dedicated to Chaz; insert heart-shape icon. I remember hearing it in Woody Allen's "Hannah and Her Sisters". I always like the last part best:

"I do not know what it is about you that closes
and opens; only something in me understands
the voice of your eyes is deeper than all roses
nobody, not even the rain, has such small hands."

I can't think of a poem to match it, but I can share this with you instead.

The band "Dead Can Dance" combine elements of European folk music, particularly from the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, with ambient pop and world beats. They're on the soundtrack for "Baraka". I saw them play live once in Vancouver back in the early 90's. It was truly extraordinary; and a spiritual experience. To this day, I like to think that when you leave this world for the next, passing through the gate kinda sounds like this, like all the sounds in the world rolled into one....

Dead Can Dance - "Rakim" (Arabic var. of Merciful) off the LIVE album Toward the Within...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=itwL5y0He-k

At least I hope there's music! Crossing over won't feel as trippy without it. :)

That aside, I was intrigued by the Belief-O-Matic you mentioned, and so I took their quiz too! Here are the most interesting results...

1. Neo-Pagan (100%)
2. Liberal Quakers (96%)
3. Unitarian Universalism (96%)
4. Mahayana Buddhism (95%)
5. New Age (88%)
6. Theravada Buddhism (81%)
7. Jainism (80%)
8. Reform Judaism (76%)
9. Mainline to Liberal Christian Protestants (75%)
10. Sikhism (74%)
11. Hinduism (70%)
12. Baha'i Faith (67%)
13. Taoism (67%)

Neo-Pagan?! Chuckle! I guess my Feminist leanings showed. :)

So, I'm basically a Neo-Pagan Quaker Unitarian Buddhist New Age Jewish Christian Hindu Taoist; yeah, okay!

Actually, Neo-Pagan includes Wicca! A nature-based religion. And while I'm all in favor of being nice to the planet and use the force Luke, and all that, I draw the line at worshiping the "horned God" - as that's just testosterone in disguise, and too easily the Vatican in another. Men + Religion = yuck! Monks + Religion = well, okay, but I'm keeping my eye on you all the same - and I'm going through the front door of the temple and sitting up front, pal, whether YOU like it or not! :)

Or maybe I'll just worship quietly to myself while plotting your demise - I'm a Neo-Pagan, don't push me! I'll use my Tao on you!

That comes with some Martial Arts training, right?

When I was younger, in my twenties or so, I did not fear death. It seemed far away.

I do not believe I will fear death when I am old. It will seem like a release from pain and the sorrow of losing those whom I have loved all my life.

Right now, in middle age, I fear death. Because I know it will happen to me, and that I cannot stop it, and I fear not going on in some form. I do not want to cease to exist.

I try to believe in God and an afterlife, but at this point in my life, it's very difficult to accept the fact that someday--possibly sooner, probably later if I'm fortunate--I will die.

Which reminds me of A Prairie Home Companion, and what our fellow Midwesterner, Garrison Keillor, says:

"What happens when you die someday?"
"I will die."
"Don't you want people to remember you?"
"I don't want them to be told to remember me."

I will remember you, Roger, if you predecease me, and I will cry at your memorial service (although I probably shan't be there, except in spirit).

I'll leave you with Sir Paul's recent words on the subject, from "The End of the End":

On the day that I die
I'd like bells to be rung
And songs that were sung to be hung out like blankets
That lovers have played on
And laid on to listen to songs that were sung.
At the end of the end, it's the start of a journey to a much better place
And a much better place would have to be special.
No reason to cry.

I want to believe that.

Life is a series of new experiences, and I hope during that time I have been able to touch one life. I hope I have made a difference. And that I felt the richness of love... Death is not the issue, but how you have prepared your life to that point... By the way, you can never leave, Roger... No one else would know how to review and appreciate movies like you if that happened!

What a scintillating flow of thought and words ! Your mind is opening out like an eight pettalled lotus flower ! No one can deny death but surely there is no aging !

Quote: 'To make others less happy is a crime. To make ourselves unhappy is where all crime starts. We must try to contribute joy to the world. That is true no matter what our problems, our health, our circumstances. We must try. I didn't always know this, and am happy I lived long enough to find it out.'

Dear Roger,

I feel the same, well said. I suspected (vaguely) that happiness (my own and that of others) was the only thing that mattered in this life when I was in my teens, but fully accept it now as an excedingly simple yet complete 'religion'. I often tell myself 'I am grateful that I was able to experience this', it is like a prayer.

Thanks for the post, what a nice way to start my day!

Beautiful blog, Roger. You know, I have never feared death probably because I A0 never give it much thought and B) don't let the prospect of it stop me from living my dreams. I actually just returned from a trip to East Africa, visiting Kenya and Tanzania. Visiting the Swahili region of Africa had been my life-long dream. Every one I know was warning me against the trip (the diseases, the war, terrorists). Still I went because, as reckless as this may sound, to me it ws preferable to die early having seen Africa than dying decades from now without having seen it. One could argue as well that it was the knowledge of death and that everything in life, as Paul Bowles said in "The Sheltering Sky", is numbered and limited that encouraged me to fulfill my dream trip. Now, I am really living. Next year I am planning a forest trecking tour of Uganda. Wanna come?

I believe there is nothing on the other side of death to fear.

.....which is far ahead of saying there is nothing at all !

Another worthy post.

When I was twenty, my mother and I counted and discovered that I had thus far attended thirty-two funerals. The one that initiated the count was for my father. One might think the death of a parent at age twenty would be devastating, and it did hurt –I still miss him, of course– but by then I had learned to accept death as both natural and inevitable. It was my father himself, referring to the death of one of his brothers, who told me that death was far more painful for the survivors than for the deceased, who, as he explained it, no longer felt anything at all.

I realized a long time ago that what I feel apprehensive about is not death, but dying. That is, I fear the (inevitable?) pain of the experience more than what might happen afterward.

The way I see it, I am just meat that thinks. When the meat goes, the think goes. I firmly believe that if my “soul” somehow exists post-death, it must have existed pre-birth, something I have no memory of. So I expect that the post-death experience will be very like the pre-birth.

My strongest feelings about death center not on my own death, but on how I respond to the deaths of others. To me, it is important that when I think of (for example) my father, I think of him as he was when he was alive & vital, and not let my memories of him become tainted by dwelling on the manner of his death. I would hope others would remember me for my life, not my death.

We all go through what Erik Erikson termed the 8 Stages of Psychosocial Development, and it seems fairly obvious from reading this post that you have achieved (are achieving?) wisdom vs. bitterness and despair: (my apologies, I don't know HTML to format this quote)


“Stage 8
This phase occurs during old age and is focused on reflecting back on life.
Those who are unsuccessful during this phase will feel that their life has been wasted and will experience many regrets. The individual will be left with feelings of bitterness and despair.
Those who feel proud of their accomplishments will feel a sense of integrity. Successfully completing this phase means looking back with few regrets and a general feeling of satisfaction. These individuals will attain wisdom, even when confronting death.”


It is with no little awe that I congratulate you on the equanimity with which you face your wizened years. I wish you all the best as you continue your search for wisdom, and I thank you for sharing it with us.

--Alfred, adragonist

Since I started reading your blog, I have found that I think of things from it from time to time. I also occasionally share ideas that I have gleaned from it and its comments with friends and family, which breeds discussion, and then they might share it with others, and...

My point is that, in the relatively small action of you writing this blog, you have had an impact that has transcended yourself. I imagine that the greater impact of your life is imparted to those who are close to you. In that way, I don't think we ever die, just like Whitman's dirt carries on. The checkout lady who gave me a genuine smile the other day when I really needed it is a small part of me, and I will pass that on as well.

I don't know if that is actually true, but the idea of it does make me try to be mindful of my thoughts, actions, and speech. And I love Toback's line about "How about in the next 30 seconds?" If that doesn't get a person thinking, not much will.

I'm not afraid of death. I'm afraid of getting dead. That's the bit that sounds like it hurts.

I have read this lovely and provocative blog entry sitting at my desk at my office job, trying to avoid work--probably a sign that I could be doing something else with the time I've been allotted on the planet. Your words put me in mind of some others, by that great Midwestern songwriter John Mellencamp:

In the sweet belly of the moment
When you realize you've changed
And everything you're after
Has gone down the drain
You're nothing more than just a drifter
As you walk down your road
Not exactly the picture
You thought you'd be sending home
All these places mean nothing
It's the people we count on
Here without a purpose
Gone without a song

Thank you, Roger for your words in this blog. I have been working my way through, slowly but surely, your list of Great Movies. Every time I finish one, I read your review and the movie takes on new meaning. Now, in your writings here, I read your words and life (and death) take on new meaning. I am not religious, but I find many of your newest posts here very spiritual. You seem to have developed a deeper understanding of what it means to live in this era of human history.

While an undergraduate, I became obsessed with stargazing. I was in awe of the size and grandeur of the universe that surrounds this little planet, on which everything I have experienced and everything I know exists. I found comfort in the sizes and distances and stoicism of the stars in the sky. Currently I am devoting my life to a better understanding of the atmosphere and climate of our planet. The earth system also holds the stoic indifference that the stars do, where our existence is completely dependent on the air and warmth that it provides us, and if we abuse it, it will change and develop feedbacks that we may or may not be able to adapt to. It does all of this without contemplation. Our atmosphere does not care what happens to us, and it will continue to exist and operate whether we are here or not. I find some comfort in that, as well. More recently, I have taken up a somewhat obsessive interest in birdwatching, and again find comfort in the patterns and rituals and existence of the various forms of life that I encounter every day. A bird does what it does, eats what it can, builds its nest as it always has, and irks out a life independent of my actions.

And now I eagerly await your newest essays here, as they demonstrate how our lives can be woven together with our experiences, from our thoughts and love and pain, to the candy we eat and birds that we hear, to the great poems, novels, and movies that we experience. I am greatly comforted by your ability to bring all of these various experiences together and express, if not a complete understanding, at least a full and active awareness of what it means to exist. I hope someday to be able to bring all of these together and synthesize them into one coherent, beautiful passage like you do here, with every post. Thank you.

I know you said that you did not want to go there today, but I don't think I am really going "there" by saying that you captured why many people vote, liberal or conservative": kindness.

And so we've moved with you beyond the elegaic tone of so many of your recent posts to thanatopsis. I first noticed this strain some months back when, in the middle of a post on something far from the subject of death, while commenting about how uneducated we as a people have become, you quoted, from Marvell, and in spite of of Marvell's whimsy you could've quoted, you chose instead to quote "But at my back I always hear times winged chariot hurrying near." As I recall, you stopped there, did not also quote the next line: "And yonder all before us lie deserts of vast eternity." But that was the next line and I knew surely you thought of it while writing your post. And yet, in spite of the direction your mind has been flowing, the conclusions you reach are heartening. I'm glad you've come to the place you are at, not physically but mentally. Eerily, two of the poems you pasted to your post, the Yeats and the cummings, are among my ten favorite poems, the ten I have recited most to anyone who would listen in the course of my lifetime. And the Marvell you cited in that earlier post is also on my list. Here's another, by Pablo Neruda. Probably you know it. It's perhaps not quite on point with where you've arrived recently, but it certainly has something to say here:

If I die, survive me with such sheer force
that you waken the furies of the pallid and the cold,
from south to south lift your indelible eyes,
from sun to sun dream through your singing mouth.
I don't want your laughter or your steps to waver,
I don't want my heritage of joy to die.
Don't call up my person. I am absent.
Live in my absence as if in a house.
Absence is a house so vast
that inside you will pass through its walls
and hang pictures on the air.
Absence is a house so transparent
that I, lifeless, will see you, living,
and if you suffer, my love, I will die again.

Last night, while laying in bed, I was wishing I would just die in my sleep. I am sad that I will never have the degree of intelligence, or have the time, or the energy I desire, and will always be disappointed with the state of my very modest life.

Ebert: Greg, if you have the imagination to think like that, you have what you need. I promise you.

I can't stand people who tell you what book to read, even if they don't know you. So I will only say that I found a great deal in Walden, by Thoreau. Talk about a modest life.

Dear Roger, we're all dying. Every day brings us closer to our last one. Certainly Princess Diana, Tim Russert, Natasha Richardson, Heath Ledger, so many others had no idea how soon and how abruptly their days would end. We don't know either. May you be like Ted Kennedy and Art Buchwald and enjoy an unexpectedly prolonged final act.

Haven't you ever read Jorge Luis Borges? A lot of his works deal with the notion of immortality.

Ebert: He is beyond compare.

Salomon saith. There is no new thing upon the earth. So that as Plato had and imagination, that all knowledge was but remembrance; so Salomon giveth his sentence, that all novelty is but oblivion.

FRANCIS BACON: Essays LVIII.

Dear Roger,

When my father's mother, my grandmother, was 88, I wrote her a letter and told her what a wonderful grandma I thought she'd been and how much I loved her. She happened to die about two months later, and I was always very glad I'd written that letter to her.

When my other grandmother was 101, after we'd been in a decades-long habit of talking weekly on the phone, I told her one day what a wonderful grandmother she had been, and how much I loved her, too. Her mind had started to go by then, and she responded with "Now, remind me, who are you to me?" I had to tell her I was her granddaughter, and then when she asked whose daughter I was and did not remember who my mother was, I knew I was too late.

I wept that day as if she'd died, and indeed, after that she started not knowing anyone, living another three years in some sort of unknowable limbo, neither alive as she had been alive nor dead.

I want you to know that you are a person who has enriched my life and that I have valued your presence in it. I have spoken with you several times. Once was on a WGN radio show when I called in and asked a question. Another time was just after the screening of "Deja Vu" at one of the early Overlooked festivals.

I have the distinctly pleasant privilege of having sat two rows in front of you in one of the early festivals (when the VIP section wasn't so big) and hearing you laugh as you (as we) watched one of the films. That was a sweet moment, as if we had sat at the same dinner table and shared a meal.

I recently read Walter Payton's book, "Never Die Easy," and I firmly believe anyone who reads that book cannot walk away from it unchanged. I admired Walter too, for his skill as a football player, certainly, but also for his attitudes about life and his community involvement.

I didn't ever contact him because I thought he was unreachable, he would think I was just another silly fan, whatever. But I should have made the attempt. I should have told him how much he, a famous person who did not know me, meant to me. And I really could have kicked myself after I read his book, because he did respond to many fan letters and even called some of them on the phone!

So I'm telling you, Roger Ebert, that you have made a difference in my life. I'm glad to have had this one-way relationship with you. I know you a lot better than you'll ever know me, but that doesn't invalidate the relationship, in my opinion. I've enjoyed your literate reviews of movies both good and bad, your humor, sarcasm, snappy retorts, and, most recently, these very poignant, beautifully-written, thoughtful, intelligent pieces on your blog about life, death, youth, memories, and beliefs. I read them with a certain breathlessness.

Thank you.
Anne in Champaign

Some days intelligence and intense self-awareness seem a burden. I am occasionally a bit jealous of the folks that seem to float through life blissfully ignorant of Great Questions. But asking those questions is also the greatest joy. It is comforting to know that other, better men such as yourself, Roger, think as deeply, or deeper, as I think and struggle as I struggle. Thank you for this entry. Now you'll have to excuse me, I have many labels to refuse and much understanding to seek.

I won't add anything of mine to the words of a man who contains multitudes. But your piece--"peace"?--put me in mind of Gerard Manley Hopkins (mid-to-late 19th-century poet, Jesuit, gone at 45, not published until 1918, the accidental grandfather of English Modernist poetry), so I'll turn things over to him.


First, one on death, "Felix Randal" (1880):

Felix Randal the farrier, O he is dead then? my duty all ended,
Who have watched his mould of man, big-boned and hardy-handsome
Pining, pining, till time when reason rambled in it and some
Fatal four disorders, fleshed there, all contended?

Sickness broke him. Impatient he cursed at first, but mended
Being anointed and all; though a heavenlier heart began some
Months earlier, since I had our sweet reprieve and ransom
Tendered to him. Ah well, God rest him all road ever he offended!

This seeing the sick endears them to us, us too it endears.
My tongue had taught thee comfort, touch had quenched thy tears,
Thy tears that touched my heart, child, Felix, poor Felix Randal;

How far from then forethought of, all thy more boisterous years,
When thou at the random grim forge, powerful amidst peers,
Didst fettle for the great grey drayhorse his bright and battering sandal!


And one for van Gogh and springtime, "The Starlight Night" (1877):

Look at the stars! look, look up at the skies!
O look at all the fire-folk sitting in the air!
The bright boroughs, the circle-citadels there!
Down in dim woods the diamond delves! the elves’-eyes!
The grey lawns cold where gold, where quickgold lies!
Wind-beat whitebeam! airy abeles set on a flare!
Flake-doves sent floating forth at a farmyard scare!—
Ah well! it is all a purchase, all is a prize.
Buy then! bid then!—What?—Prayer, patience, aims, vows.
Look, look: a May-mess, like on orchard boughs!
Look! March-bloom, like on mealed-with-yellow sallows!
These are indeed the barn; withindoors house
The shocks. This piece-bright paling shuts the spouse
Christ home, Christ and his mother and all his hallows.

One more word, again not my own: The Dylan Thomas poem came up somehow the other day, and Jill--with me for 27 years and counting, poor thing--commented, "I think he's wrong; I think you should go gentle; that's why it's a "good night." So there you have it: Good night, sweet Prince. (I couldn't resist--but I promise: The rest is silence.)

Life and Death.

Relax and enjoy it, y'all!

The best answer I've ever seen to how you'll feel after you die is the same as how you felt before you lived. Nice to see your blog repeating the sentiment.

Incidentally, My scores were almost exactly the same as yours. 100% secular humanist, 75% liberal quaker, 67% Theravda Buddhist. I had the same issue as RWA--continually assaulted by popups, including the horoscope popup.

Thanks for the interesting piece. And also thanks for the James Toback piece on the main page. Fascinating stuff all around.

Roger,

Once again this a lovely and thought provoking entry. I was moved.

I share your belief that life is a journey that will come to a specific and finite end. As we get older and contemplate the end, our view of the journey itself and the experiences we have, starts to change. We do things differently. My responsibility is to live my journey to the full, to be rich, not with possessions, but from life itself.

To illustrate this, last year at fifty I decided to stop watching endless modern movies that left me frustrated at the time and were forgotten hours later. I committed to watching the greatest thousand movies (theyshootpictures.com) ever made. I have almost completed the top hundred and call it my cinematic journey. I ask myself how I went fifty years without seeing Greed, Rules of the Game, the breathtaking Sunrise, The beautiful L'Atalante, The jaw dropping Man With A Movie Camera, Max Ophuls emotional Madame De and Letter from an Unknown Woman, Potemkin, Rossellini's Open City and Journey to italy.....

Every coupe of days I watch a movie, listen to the commentary and read reviews and writings on the topic. It's been the richest year of my cinematic life and a source of great joy and a sense of wonderment and awe. I hope I make it all the way on my journey. However, I know I will die as a richer person. It was your writings in your Great Movies book that inspired me. And for that I thank you.

Travel well
Rob

When I was in college I had what I thought at the time was an impressive epiphany, although it is probably what a lot of people come up with in college when bs-ing with your buds.

I imagine the after-death (note: NOT after-life) as that same feeling you felt before you were born. I try to remember back and back and back, as far back as I can, and then ultimately I try to imagine what I was thinking/feeling before I was born. That is what it is like 'be-ing' after death. Perhaps.

As I said, I thought myself profound at the time. Hadn't read anyone also expressing that idea since then, so I assumed I was just being either stupid or simple, but I am encouraged by your statement: "I was perfectly content before I was born, and I think of death as the same state." Thats how I have thought of the after-death for years, even as I have revised how original I thought that thought was.

As always, your friend in astronomy,

Miles Blanton

Hi Mr. Ebert,
It was a pleasure seeing you at Ebertfest during Baraka. I'm glad to see you bring movies of quality to Champaign-Urbana, as well to the Virginia theater. I treasure my memories of each year I've been able to attend, and I'm thankful that you are able to bring such an event here. One comment, though: they must not have had a South-side Chicago accent setting on your laptop, but the english one gives you a certain respectability.

Regards,
Dan

Ebert: Curiously enough, my accent sounds a lot like what you would hear in Urbana.

But we arent just `matter`. If one honestly believed this then they would be an orthodox materialist. There would be no such thing as mind, simply the flotsam jetsam phenomena peculiar to a certain organ - the brain. Anyone who has lost someone never mourns their loved ones brain - matter; the mind, and thus the heart, the spirit, is what is mourned. Anyone who seriously contemplates such things is not a materialist - who sees all life simply as passing from one stage of matter to another.

There is no escaping the pain of death (actually there is one way -- to never have loved). And how can one claim to love without suffering when contemplating the separation from that love. Realizing this is what may lead to courage (having loved perhaps provides courage). But this depends on the individual.

What a beautiful entry. I sloppily cried at my desk.

I'm 32, and for a long time I was bad at living. Not physically - I am hearty and strong. I am very good at being alive, so far.
But living... well, I tended to be a malcontent. Hating change, fighting it always, and always losing.

It was only when I was pregnant that I learned. I celebrated the changes in my body. It was thrilling. Each day, my 18 month old son does something new and different - I can see him change in his sleep - and it is joy.

I had my son at home, with midwives and family and no buffer between me and birth. After my fast and fairly painless delivery, I was shaken, because birth and death are the same thing... I felt it, I was part of it. For a few moments I was myself, but also not myself - I was here and there. "There" wasn't some other world, it was just everything. Like how white is all colors of light, and a prism can split it into colors - I felt like the prism. Everything came through me and out came my son.

It was awesome in every sense. Terrifying, and empowering. I fear death, only because I am greedy and want to enjoy life for a long time... but I don't fear the "what happens after?" part anymore. I think I know. And I'm really glad that it was not Heaven or Hell, or even consciousness.

"that from the heart touches the heart" (i can't remember who i heard say this, it sums up most eloquently the impact your blogs have had on me)

thank you for sharing so much and for your beautiful and interesting words. thanks for the memes!

personally i love the idea that beneath our separateness and individual identities, we are all connected at some fundamental level to everyone and everything else. i find it a completely amazing and comforting thought

On another day I will explain to you the meaningful kindness of conservatives.

Ebert: You refer to the one sentence I should have taken out of this entry. I didn't, and although I go back to correct errors of spelling or facts, I think I have to live with my errors of judgment.


Ebert: Somehow the word Irish put me in mind of these lyrics, sung by the Clancy Brothers

The Bells of Hell go ting-a-ling-a-ling
For you but not for me:
For me the angels sing-a-ling-a-ling,
They've got the goods for me.

Oh! Death, where is thy sting-a-ling-a-ling
Oh! Grave, thy victory?
The Bells of Hell go ting-a-ling-a-ling
For you but not for me.

And the above put me in mind of these:

Tim Finnegan lived in Walkin' Street
A gentleman, Irish, mighty odd;
He had a brogue both rich and sweet
And to rise in the world he carried a hod.
Now Tim had a sort of the tipplin' way
With a love of the whiskey he was born
And to help him on with his work each day
He'd a "drop of the cray-thur" every morn.

Whack fol the darn O, dance to your partner
Whirl the floor, your trotters shake;
Wasn't it the truth I told you
Lots of fun at Finnegan's wake!

One mornin' Tim was feelin' full
His head was heavy which made him shake;
He fell from the ladder and broke his skull
And they carried him home his corpse to wake.
They rolled him up in a nice clean sheet
And laid him out upon the bed,
A gallon of whiskey at his feet
And a barrel of porter at his head.

Whack fol the darn O, dance to your partner
Whirl the floor, your trotters shake;
Wasn't it the truth I told you
Lots of fun at Finnegan's wake!

His friends assembled at the wake
And Mrs. Finnegan called for lunch,
First they brought in tay and cake
Then pipes, tobacco and whiskey punch.
Biddy O'Brien began to bawl
"Such a nice clean corpse, did you ever see?
"O Tim, mavourneen, why did you die?"
Arragh, hold your gob said Paddy McGhee!

Whack fol the darn O, dance to your partner
Whirl the floor, your trotters shake;
Wasn't it the truth I told you
Lots of fun at Finnegan's wake!

Then Maggie O'Connor took up the job
"O Biddy," says she, "You're wrong, I'm sure"
Biddy she gave her a belt in the gob
And left her sprawlin' on the floor.
And then the war did soon engage
'Twas woman to woman and man to man,
Shillelagh law was all the rage
And a row and a ruction soon began.

Whack fol the darn O, dance to your partner
Whirl the floor, your trotters shake;
Wasn't it the truth I told you
Lots of fun at Finnegan's wake!

Then Mickey Maloney ducked his head
When a noggin of whiskey flew at him,
It missed, and falling on the bed
The liquor scattered over Tim!
The corpse revives! See how he raises!
Timothy rising from the bed,
Says,"Whirl your whiskey around like blazes
Thanum an Dhul! Do you thunk I'm dead?"

"I know it is coming, and I do not fear it...."

I have achieved the one, single goal I ever truly set for myself and my life -- I was around for my 23rd birthday.

At some point while I was in Viet-Nam, when it became crystal clear that my continued existence seemed to owe more to the poor marksmanship of the NVA and VC than any tactical brilliance on my part, through living with death as something that could happen the next moment, I lost my fear of Death.

Oh, I am not too sure what to think the dying part at times, but, well So It Goes.

I think that the summation of your political philosophy, "Kindness," is one that many of us share with you. I will admit to never quite thinking about it that way, but now that I have given it some thought, it fits.

I am only a few years behind you and have been on Borrowed Time for decades now. I looked Death in the eye more than once, and for some reason, he winked. It has been a great life, a wonderful adventure, and it was not boring. Nope, I don't fear Death.

"the goal of human life is not death but resurrection" - Karl Barth

"There’s no time to lose. Easter is about running when you thought you’d still be sleeping. It’s about believing what you thought you’d never imagine. It’s about living in a way you’d never have dreamed possible. It’s about Jesus returning from the dead and launching the new creation in which all is forgiven, all is remade, all is reborn." - N.T. Wright

Death is nothing. The question of what happens when we die or the profundities and weight of this time are not really in the long run all that important. What is important is understanding the reality of resurrection. Jesus has risen and therefore we also will. This is neither "fact" in the sense that I have some sort of unstoppable proof to lay before you, but it is neither a simple opinion or one way of getting through life with hope. Rather, resurrection is the future and goal of humanity. The question also of what will happen in this life after life after death is utterly important. "From thence he will come to judge the quick and the dead." Jesus is Lord.

1. Secular Humanism (100%)
2. Unitarian Universalism (91%)
3. Liberal Quakers (84%)
4. Theravada Buddhism (76%)

i think they might just call that "a liberal"... (yeah, ANOTHER label...)

Ebert: One I accept.

When I go, I hope I'll have the wisdom to, as you say to go gentle into that good night. I don't want to have to rage against the dying of the light. I try to remind myself that I'll be alive until I'm dead either way, and one instant left of life is just as good as infinity, since I can't live in the future at the same time as the present.

Roger,

Considering what you would do if you died in the next 30 seconds, my question is what I would do if you died in the next 30 seconds. You were one of my teachers (literally in your Film Study course), and you are one of my teachers far beyond that.

I can face my death if it's in 30 seconds, but I've always struggled with the deaths of my teachers. They are a special class of those people in our lives, along with our parents, family, intimate friends.

I was greatly saddened when Robert Altman and Marlon Brando died, and they were teachers from a distance. You're much closer in proximity and consciousness.

Be well.

Omer M

Ebert: You were so nice to sit up there in the back row with me and never complain when I munched on those potato chips. In a sense, I feel the class is reunited here in this blog. I was not the teacher. For years, I taught mostly what I needed to learn about. The class taught me.

Roger, your imprint in my mind, the influence of your perspective in mine, will (barring catastrophe on my part) carry on well beyond your death -- as it will, I'm sure, in at least most of your readers here and elsewhere. My good friend Scott, with whom I share the office in which I am neglecting my work at this moment, opines that one is not definitively dead until one has no more effect on others. Indeed, Shakespeare is no closer to death than when he was still scratching a quill on paper.

Your genes may not propagate; fine. They're trivially different from anyone else's. But your memes have spawned like crazy, and I, for one, can happily consider myself your memetic progeny. As such, and since we're on the topic of death, let me tell you while there's time: Thanks for being an awesome writer dad.

When you die, I'll curse and I'll reminisce, but I won't for a moment consider you gone.

But if they don't include you in the memorial montage at the Oscars, there will be blood.

If you have time, read Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy. The first book is The Golden Compass, which was a so-so movie but a dynamite book. Pullman says he is an atheist, yet some of his beliefs are down-right mystical. I think he is against organized religion, which, for a lot of people, seems like a box that you're supposed to fit your beliefs/dreams/mysteries into, rather than a place for seekers to come together to share ideas, beliefs, doubts & fears. Pullman posits that, when we die, that which holds our atoms together as a physical body ceases to be, and our atoms float out to join all the other atoms, the cosmic "Dust" which is infinitely creative and exists in all living things. (and what about the little stones? Mary Oliver would ask).

I hope that there is a God or Beloved or heart that beats at the center of the Universe, "Something out there that is beautiful, and loves us" as Kevin Spacey says at the end of American Beauty. Or, as you yourself wrote at the end of your review on Dogma: "God is Canadian. And loves us."

Blessings,

Julie Davis
Durham, NC

I have anticipated this entry for a long time because all of your previous posts have led to it. But I didn't anticipate it being so... diverse. I was going to use the word "complete", but then again, such a topic is by nature always incomplete. There's always another relevant point, and we can never understand everything. Perhaps that's why it's so fascinating to contemplate.

I must admit I think about this subject often, and have for most of my life. I'm rather aligned with your belief system, Roger. The people you come in contact with are the surest way to pass something of yourself on once you're gone. Of course, as you say, eventually they will all be gone and you and I and everyone else will be long forgotten. So we might as well enjoy ourselves as much as possible while we're here.

This conversation could go on forever and never come to a real conclusion. However, the topic's lack of a resolution is not unfulfilling because there's really only one way to find out. And I'm not ready yet...

Thanks. Probably your best post yet!

I have nothing unique or insightful to say.

I have enjoyed your work/criticism since your early work on PBS and the Sun-Times. Listening to you talk and reading your reviews have given me many hours of pleasure. In the last few years though, your writings have impacted my thoughts quite a bit (like few others have). Thank you.

And if it ends for one of us tomorrow, that is OK, but I do look forward to reading your reflections for many more years.

Buonan otte e sogni d'oro!

Death.

What's next? How are you going to top...death?

Ebert: I think I can! I think I can!

Ebert: Can you tell me something about the storm?

Certainly not in a hurry. Nor would it serve much purpose. Perhaps the strangest aspect is that as though by synchronicity ( the term is used only for its convenience as available terminology) I discovered the way out which I continue to follow to my best capability.

Re: Kindness. So conservatives are not kind. Conservatives are meanies. So it is "kind" when poor black kids are sentenced to a life of misery in government section 8 housing , horrible government run schools, generational poverty promoted by the crushing soul killing welfare state.
You are a typical liberal. You did not have kids cause it would have interfered with YOU. You aren't an atheist because like most libs you worship yourself. It is all about YOU. Reproduction how bourgeouis!
Children-heavens no. Why kids would have interfered with your next super important EberFest or that self congratulatory "me fest " conference you attended in Boulder Colorado...
Pull your head out your ass Ebert.

Ebert: Thanks for your kind suggestion.

Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself,
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)

Indeed. That was a lesson I learned in my 40s - that I could hold two completely contradictory beliefs, and it was OK. It made no sense, but there it was. To some questions, there are no answers. Accept that, and life gets a lot more peaceful.

There have been two times when I thought I was going to die. One involved so much pain that I didn't have much sensibility left to consider death. But the other time was different. I was jumping my horse, and I fell off, landing under her feet. I lay on my back watching as her back hooves descended towards my chest, and I knew I was going to die. There wasn't enough time for me to roll out of the way (and it was a very good thing there wasn't).

I was terribly sad - but for my friends and family and pets, not myself. I knew how hard this was going to be for them. My life did not flash in front of my eyes (as they say). Except for the sadness, it was quite peaceful. There was nothing I could do to change the outcome. It was a very personal experience, very inward.

I didn't die, of course. Horses are amazing creatures, and she moved her feet just before they crushed my chest. They landed safely off to my side. Good thing I hadn't moved. Sometimes nothing is the best thing to do. Like the time I was bitten by a dolphin at Sea World. (But that's another story.)

Beautiful essay...

I wonder, however, if your optimism may have been a bit more muted if you had penned this essay after sitting through "North" or "I Spit on Your Grave".

Having lost my father when I was 17 (ALS), my mother at 29 (lung cancer) and my wife at 35 (breast cancer), and while being an only child myself now at 41, I find I'm at life's crossroads much earlier than my peers. 'Stuff' that seems so popular to possess amongst my age group eludes me, and I frequently get lost trying to figure out how to 'experience' rather than 'collect.' At this time in my life when I'm entering my peak earning years (as I've been told), I find myself not caring about the path I 'ought to take' and search for a way to really live while potentially unshackling myself from society's economic expectations. Perhaps I'll succeed before my time expires.

I like this remark by Wittgenstein regarding death:

"Death is not an event in life . . . our life has no end in just the same way that our visual field has no limits."

Mr. Ebert I really appreciate reading a essay so eloquently written on the subject of dying. I'll be 25 at the end of the month and am certainly not ready for an end. There is so much I'd still like to do, see, and accomplish. I think a lot of young people (older people?) say they know they are going to die, but I don't think they really believe it. I can say right now that someday I will die and it doesn't affect me one bit. However twice in my life (one time while in high school, the other just last week while taking a shower) have I fully realized the consequences that would entail. I was so frightened in those two instances. I felt a crawling sensation all over my body. I just wanted to leap out of my skin to get it off me. After ten seconds or so it subsided and I went back to business as usual. You sounds like a man at peace with this realization. This is very comforting to me. It give me hope that one day I will be at peace as well

Mr. Ebert,

I've been a reader and watcher for 25 years, ever since the "thumbs up" days. Your essay, like all your writing, touched and enriched me.

I've never read your journal before, but found myself here today. And as happenstance would have it, I have been going through something horrible, dreadful, demeaning to my personal dignity. I have truth and justice to console me but it has been so hard.

I'm a mother, so suicide could never be an option, but here's a secret: when this swine flu thing hit, I prayed on some level for it to come and take us all, like the narrator in Fight Club praying for a mid-air collision.

As I read your essay I realized that you probably have had many horrendous times in your life - but you came through them. And it helped me to see the forest for the trees. I'd rather put up with the pain now so that, "Causer willing" (which is going to become a new Phrase That I Utter), I will reach the age of you, an older guy, and be able to look back on a long and rich journey, as well as forward to a next step that feels natural and right.

I will make it through this. We have to. As GKeillor wrote in his younger years, describing (I believe) his lonely old aunt...

"You prepare yourself for grief and loss, arrange your ballast and then the wave swamps the boat... Every tear she wept, that foolish woman, I will weep every one before I am done and so will you. We're not so smart we can figure out how to avoid pain, and we cannot walk away from the death we owe."

So,
* I guess I'm glad we probably won't all die of swine flu after all.
* I see how lucky I am that I will hug my son in three hours.
and...
* DUH [forehead smack]

Side note: ever read any William Stafford? I have an autographed collection of his called "Allegiances". I hesitate to reprint copyrighted work but google "So Long".

And thanks for the Yeats. It was one of our wedding readings :)

The Vermont mountains are just losing the snow on the ski trails. New leaves, dog returning muddy, Little League games like 3-hour Zazen mediation... life's looking better.

Ebert: There are so many posts on this entry that I can't comment as much as I'd like--but let me say this is the kind of comment that stays with me.

Ebert: Kindness is why I vote liberal and not conservative--but let's not go there, not today.

I tried to abide by this edict, but I want to share a little story (absolutely true):

I was driving on the Pennsylvania Turnpike, alone, in my mom's Ford Escort station wagon on a very hot day in July. It was so hot in fact that the Ford's air conditioning was straining to even blow warm air. I saw a Volvo station wagon on the side of the road, flashers on, and a young man with long black hair and scraggly beard standing outside. Clearly he was broken down, and I thought to do a kind thing and pick this guy up. It turns out that he ran out of gas and needed to find a gas station. It was obvious that this gentleman was a college student, and fell on the side of the liberal persuasion. The "Impeach Bush" bumper sticker and other less polite missives were plastered all over the rear of the Volvo's hatchback.

I tried to keep the conversation as light as possible, but the "Passion of the Student" bloomed every turn about how Bush and his Christian conservative cronies were terrorists, the American Military is filled with homicidal maniacs, and capitalism is evil and the only way society could be free was through socialism and communism. It was a long drive.

I, being youngish and passionate too, decided to allow this kid to ramble on about whatever he "learned" from his Political Science teacher. There are A LOT of Liberal Arts colleges and universities in Pennsylvania. You know as well as anyone there is no persuading a "true believer". We passed a gas station and he asked me not to pull in because the company was full of criminals that contributed to polluting the planet. Ok. So I politely drove to the next station a mile up the road. I pulled over to let him out. He said thank you, and I told him "This ride was sponsored by a Conservative Christian, son of a former Sergeant in the U.S. Army and a small business owner. Good luck to you and have a nice weekend!" I often wonder if this guy would have turned me away from helping him if I was driving an Escalade, or had a Bush/Cheney bumper sticker on my car.

Roger, as you don't want to be labeled by your views, you should also avoid labeling others. Because I am conservative doesn't make me unkind. Because I believe in Christ as my Lord and Savior does not make me ignorant and naive. Because I am a lawyer doesn't make me an ambulance chaser.

I will, however, label you a brilliant writer and thank you for sharing your personal truth with us.

Ebert: What can I say? You're right.

I think we all think about death but rarely admit it. I used to think of it as something to fear, then to feel confident about as a good Catholic boy. Now as a man, I'm more troubled by the responsibilities I will leave behind when I pass, that will have to be shouldered by another, than any fear of death.

I hope that we both stick around for a good long while.

What little comfort I find in the prospect of death comes from the works of the stoics, who, like you, say there is no more to fear of death than to fear of the time before our births.

But it isn't always a comfort. I wish I could say I could be content with all I have experienced and may yet experience, and rest in the knowledge that I was able to live at all. I wish I could share an ease at the prospect of death, but I don't.

When I think about it, I can only think of one word: horrible. That my existence will cease and all I perceive will be gone is the ultimate horror, and one that brings a distinct and unique breed of fear.

I often think of Werner Herzog's words form "Grizzly Man":
"And what haunts me, is that in all the faces of all the bears that Treadwell ever filmed, I discover no kinship, no understanding, no mercy. I see only the overwhelming indifference of nature."

I too see only indifference in the face of the natural world, and find no solace in the affirmations of those proclaiming a supernatural one.

However, the realization of the finite nature of life does offer some solace. In "The Bushido Shoshinsu of Taira Shigesuke", the text given to young samurai to be in the 16th century, one of the first lessons imparted to them is this: to keep death in mind at all time. Only when they can learn to do this can they live life in the fullest, for only in the realization that their life will end will they understand how to live fully.

I think that is sage advice.

Very grateful that Marshall Rosenthal posted a link to this essay on Facebook...beautiful and thoughtful and resonant and revelatory. Bravo and thank you, Roger and Chaz. Yesterday marked 16 years since my mother's death - her final words were, "I am full of hope." A good exit strategy and attitude.

Ebert: Marshall Rosenthal has his nerve, posting a link to this blog and not leaving a comment here. He is an old friend, but he should know from the old days that you don't pass out invitations to someone else's BYO party and then not BYO, and you can tell him so.

Wonderful post.
If you haven't read it already, I highly recommend Wright Morris's novel "A Life." You may have to scour online used book stores for it, but it is well worth the effort. I think you would find it enlightening.

The myth of the soul. It all starts and ends there.

Never mind all the distant searches for a mystical eternal creator. If humans do not have an immortal soul, then it does not matter if there is a divine creator or not. Without a soul, there will be no after life, and therefore no need to be afraid of incurring the wrath of any divinity.

The soul; where is there a shred of actual proof that there is any such a thing? I know of none. I do know of evidence that indicates that there is no such thing as the eternal soul.

For example: Life support machines; they keep people alive, who would not live if unplugged. Does the machine trap the soul, and thereby thwart the will of the creator who has decided it is time for the person to die?

What about the ability of fertility researchers to split a fertilized egg into two or more embryos? Does that mean that the lab technician has then the ability to order "God" to deliver additional souls? Think about that that; the Creator forced to do the bidding of the lowly creature it created!

What about Brain tumors and Alzheimer's disease. Notice how those changes in the tissues of the brain, also causes the so called "soul" to become dysfunctional. Of course they really do not, because there is no such thing as an eternal human soul.

Flesh is life, and life is flesh; for all living creatures, including humans.
The soul is a self deluding mind trick that humanity has played on itself, to avoid having to cope with the truth. Birth is the beginning, and Death is the end.


You make me happy every time I read you (okay, almost every time).

I know you weren't fishing for a pre-eulogy, but like a few commenters I've seen above, I'm grateful we get to tell you that while you're still around.

If you don't believe in eternity, try downloading Windows 7 Release Candidate.

But I don't think eternity has anything to do with time. Time is thought, basically--memory, and projection of the future from the store of the past. It's like infinity, which essentially means "not measurable," not finite. What is not measurable does not depend on what is measurable. Measurement is again, basically thought. One takes a stick and lays it against another stick and says "that other stick is two sticks long." Science is nothing more than this at its root, and it amounts to squat, although it enables you to cobble together a square hut and other assorted gewgaws.

One thing that the idea of there being nothing beyond physical death does is to offend the sense of justice. Some criminals (mostly politicians and bureaucrats) have been so vile that it boggles the imagination to think a comfy death is all that awaits.

But, in the same way that you can get so lost in a film and its plot that you forget the outside world for a time, we get so lost in this so-called life that we perhaps forget that consciousness has other loci than the human body/mind/personality. Waking up to that "other" upon completion of the current story, you may well be surprised.

I thought the other day that Divinity (the Source of light, which is perhaps a better term than "God" for the discussion) is like the sun. We cannot gaze directly at the sun without losing what we call our ordinary sense of sight. This prompts people to take reflected light, which is all we see with normal vision, as the reality, and to deny the Source.

But there are two occasions on which we can look directly at the sun without harm, dawn and sunset. To expand the metaphor, at birth and in infancy, and also near death, it is common to be or come into increased, and direct, rapport with Divinity. That is real happiness, and it is unfortunate when attitudes of denial and/or unrealistic complication adopted in midlife cannot be jettisoned to permit such an unsentimental and timeless joy.

"What if everything...just happened?" There's the nut. I don't think anyone really believes that. Not the devout, who ascribe all that has and will happen to a higher power beyond their control. Certainly not the scientists, who won't accept anything unless it can be quantified and repeated. Their whole schtick is that nothing can "just happen." Not even you, Roger,deep down inside us all is a sense of belonging, a knowledge that we are more than a random gathering of particles, a knowledge that our intellect blocks for one reason or another. Maybe because we can't name it, or maybe because we think we're not worthy, nonetheless it is there in us all and accepting it is what can bring us together as humankind. Thanks for all your work.

Ebert: I can't imagine that. I also can't imagine any other origin. If our universe was produced from another universe, where did that one come from, and on and on, turtles all the way down. Is there anyone here who can suggest an even halfway respected scientific explanation for the origin of matter? Energy? Everything?

What has always boggled me about death is the concept of it being eternal. Once you're dead, and regardless of what it is--oblivion, heaven, or whatever--it is FOREVER. What's it like, to be nonexistent for all eternity? Yes, yes, I know in our state of death there will be no perception of the passage of time, as there is no perception, period. But the objective reality is that we will be in that state for all eternity. I have always struggled with this.

On the flip side, what if he did live forever? What if there was an afterlife, where we existed eternally? To me that is particularly frightening: how could you exist forever? It's incomprehensible. Maybe I could find a way to occupy the time for several millenia, but by the quintillionth year I'm pretty sure I'd get tired of it.

At least the concept of reincarnation had some promise of escaping this paradox: living through endless cycles of lifetimes, except that each time feels like a brand new one, so you have no knowledge of previous or future lifetimes. In that case at least you would not be cognizant of the eternal cycle of your death and rebirth as something else.

Altogether, the business of death, at least in regards to the eternity that it covers, is a no-win situation.

But, obviously, something has to happen. Nature and reality is the way it is, and life has evolved to be born and then to die. As many others have stated, I'm not bothered by the idea of being dead (aside from the eternal aspect of it) nearly as much as I am by the act of dying. Even then, perhaps the act won't be as bad as we expect. Even a traumatic death is temporary and should be over with quickly. In the act of dying, it won't be like we're thinking "Oh no, here I am, I'm dying...now I *am* dead! Stuck in the void forever!" Kind of like falling asleep at night: we don't rest our head on the pillow and think "Soon I will be asleep...aha, now I am sleeping." That second part doesn't register, because the nature of it doesn't allow us to. Well, that's how I always thought of it.

I suppose we can try to imagine what death or nonexistence is like. It's easy to ponder the basic concept of 'nothing' but *what is it actually like?* It's a paradox. I'm reminded of the Jean-Paul Sartre's short story "The Wall," where a prisoner is set to be executed. Before the execution, he imagines his body, lifeless on the ground, bullets having torn through it. But it's a third person view. It's him alive, seeing his dead body. So he is incapable of taking on a first-person view of being dead. And it's the same with us all.

And I like how you made reference to people who died before you and will die after you, to reflect on your position in the lineage of things. This too is addressed in "The Wall." The prisoner faces his executioner with laughter, for he knows that they will both die, maybe one sooner than the other--insignificantly sooner.

Anyway, Mr. Ebert, I dread the prospect of your death. Not for the (as anyone would hope) obvious reason of compassion for another human being, but because I have always been a huge fan of your reviews. Each week I look forward to reading your latest reviews on a Friday morning. I regard your reviews much like a connoisseur regards wine; savoring in the delights of each bottle (or in this case, review.) I wish you many more vibrant years, and to keep fighting the good fight.

Ebert: You ask: "Once you're dead, and regardless of what it is--oblivion, heaven, or whatever--it is FOREVER. What's it like, to be nonexistent for all eternity?"

A wise editor, Bob Zonka, once told me, "Ebert, someday you will realize that some things may be very important, but they are not your problem."

I, too, am terrified of the prospect of eternal life. How can something continue perpetually with no end? It is impossible to understand. Religion cannot possibly explain these things.

Thus, I also agree with you when you acknowledge the social values of Catholocism. I resonate with your acknowledgment that Catholicism is that: a set of social ideologies rather than purely theological ones. It provides answers for now, and supplements speculation for the afterwards. Many have speculated on this encouragement. Milton is one, Dante another. Some modern Catholics (and indeed, Protestants) have accepted their words as scripture. They are not. They are conjecture.

In your article about how you believe in God, you also touch upon the question of Catholic social values, saying that you reject the 20th Century popes. I understand why you have reached this conclusion. You, like myself, are likely an audience of the American press. According to the mainstream newspapers and television, Benedict and John Paul are authoritarians. They talk a lot about condoms. In reality, this is not the case. Benedict is the author of three books, on Faith, Hope, and Love. John Paul II was a former career playwright whose works are still performed in many places today. Love and art don't sell American papers. Unfortunately, condoms do. John Paul and Benedict's political philosophies of nonaggression, non violence, and human rights are one of few examples of genuine leadership in the modern world. European, Arab, and other world news sources will reveal this. The American ones are still fixated on the condoms.

Ebert: While an advocate of Choice, I understand the theological reasoning behind opposition to abortion, and wish more of the opponents of abortion, unlike the Church, would apply the same reasoning in such areas as torture, war and ecology. A recent poll showed that more frequent churchgoers are more likely to support torture. If they are Catholics, they haven't been listening. One thing you have to give the Church is its consistency.

My favorite euphemism for the dead – the silent majority.

Your choice of illustration (so poignant), and the themes of which all have spoken here, reminded me of this poem. I do not necessarily agree with the worldview he expresses, nor may you, but I like the way he theorizes and especially how he closes the ending.

Rudyard Kipling
L'Envoi (from The Seven Seas)

When Earth's last picture is painted and the tubes are twisted and dried,
When the oldest colours have faded, and the youngest critic has died,
We shall rest, and, faith, we shall need it -- lie down for an aeon or two,
Till the Master of All Good Workmen shall put us to work anew!

And those that were good shall be happy: they shall sit in a golden chair;
They shall splash at a ten-league canvas with brushes of comets' hair;
They shall find real saints to draw from -- Magdalene, Peter, and Paul;
They shall work for an age at a sitting and never be tired at all!

And only the Master shall praise us, and only the Master shall blame;
And no one shall work for money, and no one shall work for fame,
But each for the joy of the working, and each, in his separate star,
Shall draw the Thing as he sees It for the God of Things as They Are!

I think many of us can relate to Anne in Champaign.
I too will cry.
Maybe not until coming here for a new post filled with thoughts about the Important Things, finding none. Maybe wondering what you would think of the latest greatest film. Maybe wondering how to find interesting independent films without your knowing recommendations.

May the day be yet far off.

so delicate it seems.. the ear of a dying man
what words to say of some portent.. when echo chamber resonates

of death and them ye are not yet
please chance to stay and dine once more

Roger, you've stated twice that you don't want immortality. I hate to tell you this but you gained your immortality decades ago. One hundred years after you have shuffled off this mortal coil, your name will still be known, admittedly always followed by the words "film critic" and in some publications "legendary film critic".

I am aware that one hundred years after I am gone my name will not mean anything more than just an aged stone tended to by a cemetery groundskeeper. Most people will not have immortality and those who earn it, get it without ever realizing it. William Shakespeare, Bob Hope, Jack the Ripper, Sappho, Gene Siskel, Groucho Marx, Ramses II, Jesus Christ, Walt Whitman, all of these people will live on because they've done things both famous and infamous. The backlash of this is that they weren't alive to be able to appreciate it. That's the problem with immortality: you have to be dead to get it.

The reward of immortality is the lives it touches. There are people who gained a greater appreciation for film and started to take film seriously because of what you wrote and the show you helped to create. Strange isn't it? One man's life touches so many other lives. Atta boy, Roger.

I enjoyed this blog immensely. Profound.

I know very little of quantum mechanics, but I think it's the general consensus among physicists that entanglement cannot be used to communicate instantaneously. Apparently this is the conclusion of the aptly titled "No-communication theorem", given some reasonable assumptions.

A wonderful piece, thoughts, poems and idea ticklers. With the impending doom of Swine Flu and other tragedies de jour, perhaps a laugh will suit you. Kindly give a read @ http://www.thelintscreen.com
Thanks for a lifetime of pleasing others. A life certainly worth living.

The video jacket for the 1986 film by Ann and Jeanette Petrie, "Mother Teresa," has a quote at the top of the back cover: "Two thumbs Up! Wonderful...Absolutely Fascinating." The quote is attributed to "Siskel & Ebert & The Movies." I've never seen your full review other than this brief endoursment. When you were writing about 'elevation' I had posted about Richard Attenborough's film "Gandhi," about the two presentations of Gandhi's death in the film (which I find cinematically similar in "Milk", in terms of the massive human tribute scene that is not CGI). Attenborough narrates "Mother Teresa," and there is a profoundly elevating sequence dealing with Mother Teresa in Beirut, where she and those helping her negotiatesd with the PLO to rescue a number of special needs children from the war zone. I do not think Mother Teresa was afraid of death in this instance, or of being harmed, but we can assume she knew full well the danger and risk. Maslow would say she had gone beyond self-actualization and entered into the higher level of transcendance. Being a poor excuse for a Buddhist (reincarnation does not pass the evolution test for me), I would say that for all practical purposes, whatever contextual enlightenment is possible for Christians, she was as enlightened as any Christian in that she generated the altruistic motivation of infinite compassion. In watching all of Fellini's films last year, I eventually went back to when Fellini was working with Rossellini in 1950 on "Flowers of St. Francis." The story of St. Francis has been dealt with in a number of other films, many of which introduce elements to the main story line that reveal a great deal of his journey to an elevated state of self-transcendance. These half-dozen films about St. Francis led me to watch a great film about St. Vincent DePaul, another about Saint Teresa of Lisieux, and two other films about Father Damien, who died of leporsy, all wathced in a quest for understanding self-transcendance as a means to elevation, as depicted in cinema. Thank you for the insight in drawing the connection between a recent scientific discovery and why certain films trigger deep emotional responses. It would be sad to have lived and not understood that enlightenment and self-transcendance is possible.

Ebert: Was Zeffirelli's one of them?

http://rogerebert.suntimes.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/19730419/REVIEWS/304190301/1023

*sigh*

I sense a long thread.. filled sincere attempts.. to encapsulate the meaning of life and death. Experience teaches that the most profound themes spurn exhaltations; they are beyond description. Music comes closest, but all else are rendered banal. There are simple truths. And thats that. What I dont get, is how so many seem to take it personally.

Over the last few years, I've gradually lost my belief in God and an afterlife. There was no terrible personal experience for this, it just kind of happened. The universe is so expansive, and we as humans so insignificant, if there is a God, it cares nothing of us.

It brings me no comfort to have these beliefs, and I envy those who naturally have faith in a higher power. It actually scares the hell out of me to think I will one day simply stop, loose all my experiences and memories. In fact, I would rather burn in hell as apposed to nothing.

So what's my point in saying all this? Life is an incredibly precious gift. I know this sounds like some cheep cliche, but if you have beliefs like mine it becomes pretty important.

My heroes in life are those like Mr. Ebert. People who despite their ailments, carry on and make the most of it. Thank you for giving us so much Mr. Ebert.

Dear Roger,
I find your column here deeply comforting. Death is something I've thought about at great length since I was diagnosed with Wegener's Granulomatosis and underwent kidney transplantation when I was a teenager. Your discussion with Toback about the possibility of death coming imminently is something I'm all too aware of everyday. I could relapse, my kidney could fail again, I could get into a car accident etc, etc. I admit that it's created a real anxiety in me, like I'm racing against the clock. I'm not so much afraid of death, as of not living well, or purposefully. Yet, that's where I get stuck, because I'm not sure what that purpose is. I'm 27 now, and I'm coming up on my 10 year anniversary of my transplant. I'm grateful to have been given all of those years, but I still always have a small voice in the back of my head telling me that time is running out, and I always get the feeling that I should be doing something else at that moment, but I don't know what it is.

Ebert: Tell the small voice in the back of your head: "Give me a break. I'm working on it!"

Not something abstruse, maybe even a wee bit so. But happens to be just not very personal, which would not be a problem, but interpersonal, which can be.

On the richter scale comparable if not superceding what you probably underwent in the last few years. But it came to me much earlier, 31 to be precise, and set me on what seems to me the right course, as may yours, since time and age are of little relevance.

Traveler,
From whence do you come?
And where do you go?

The moon has set,
But the Sun has not yet risen.
In the chaos of darkness before the dawn
Seeking the light,
I advance
To dispel the dark clouds from my mind
To find a great tree unbowed by the tempest
I emerge from the earth

Roger,

You say that you vote liberal over conservative because of kindness. A government bureaucracy taking from one and giving to another is not kindness. It's like the Good Samaritan encountering the naked, beaten man and wanting to help him. So he waits for the next man to happen down the road and rips the man's coat off his back and gives it to the beaten man to keep him warm. If your looking for kindness in a voting booth, your not likely to find it.

Ebert: The way I heard it, he takes the coat off his own back.

I'm only 21, but I already know I would want to have the grace and happiness that the old man had in Ikiru. Whenever I read about death and dying, I always think about that old man, singing in the snow. It brings tears to my eyes, to have someone die so happy and fulfilled, humanely.

My results pretty much mirrored yours, Roger:
1. Secular Humanism (100%)
2. Unitarian Universalism (91%)
3. Nontheist (77%)
4. Liberal Quakers (74%)
5. Theravada Buddhism (68%)

I just want to thank you for these blog entries. They are uplifting, in a humanistic sense.

A couple of years ago there was a traveling exhibit called BodyWorks, available for view at our Arizona Science Center. Human and animal remains were presented with an amazing preservation technique employed, enabling exploded views, viscera balanced on a foot, Luciting of a rooster's circulatory system, etc.

They anticipated some crowd queasiness over the oddly lifelike cadavers. By way of reassurance they had a Seneca quote much to the effect of what you've said about returning upon death to whatever state obtained pre-birth. Tried Googling 'Seneca quotations,' but the thing was much longer than a sound bite so I didn't find it.

But I did find this: "Men do not care how nobly they live, but only how long, although it is within the reach of every man to live nobly, but within no man's power to live long."

My URL above is my modest addition to the death-musings posted here.
And here's my Belief-O-Meter Top Five: 1. Secular Humanism (100%) 2. Unitarian Universalism (97%) 3. Liberal Quakers (92%) 4. Theravada Buddhism (90%) 5. Taoism (76%)

Roger, over the last few months you've covered all of the Big Issues I can imagine; this one in particular had a valedictory "And In Conclusion . . ." feel to it. But it's a dynamic Universe, and who knows, the shock of some newness may inspire thoughtpaths I CAN'T imagine. Hope you'll Keep Us Posted!

On the title of this:

Don't go too gently into that good night, Roger. Try to preserve a little "rage." I don't think we can spare you.

Dave

Ebert: Maybe I should. I find I have exercised admirable restraint in my review of Jarmusch's new film, which will be published shortly.

Thanks, Roger. I've been a big fan of your opinions for over 30 years now, and I love having the chance to read more of your writing beyond the movies.

I think there's a fine line between being aware of death and being fixated on it to the point that you stop living. The living is the important thing. The dying will take care of itself.

How can i create something memorable here? How can i tell you something that maybe you'll think about for a couple minutes after you read it? It depresses me that no matter what i do or how i do it, how many compliments and how much praise i receive, if i change the world or not change the world, that i am not getting anything fulfilling from it. I am not getting anything real or everlasting, and when i die i get to be remembered a lot but i don't get anything from memories. All memories do is fade away over time anyways. I have been searching for something meaningful i could do with my life, you said that all we could do is make people happy and that doesn't do anything for me. I cant help but want to be the absolute best at everything and i honestly do care what people think no matter how much i say i don't, yet then i think how everything is impermanent.

Ebert: It is indeed impermanent. How depressing if it were not. The Japanese have a phrase, mono no aware, which brings together the word for "things" and a word carrying the meanings "poignancy" and "pathos." Thus, I have heard it translated as "the bittersweet transience of things." Ozu is the filmmaker above all whose work it describes.

Roger, as strange as it might feel, at this second -- as the planet bucks and shudders from environmental, social, and political struggles which seemingly have no end -- we are finally on the verge of a movement toward the light, and that at any moment now.

For your consideration (and anyone else who is reading this):


http://www.share-international.org/


Share International is a world-wide, totally volunteer, not for profit organization.

I have very little to add to this subject and this discussion that isn't being said already. I just wanted to say that your blog is one of the best things on the Internet, and that the discussions here on topics as complex and controversial as faith and death and evolution are remarkable for their overall intelligence and maturity. Bravo to you, Roger, for your honesty and courage and skill, and bravo to everyone who makes the discussion better.

Thank you for writing this piece--like many of the other readers above, it gave me a feeling of peace. Every single one of your entries makes me feel a little bit better about the world, simply because you remind me of the questions and dilemmas that we all have in common as human beings.

Have you ever thought about starting a forum in connection with your blog? I think your readers would enjoy having dialogues with one another.

I actually AM a practicing, liberal Quaker of many years, but... I've been reading and thinking a lot about what I believe lately, and it looks like I'm evolving in a more orthodox direction:

1. Mainline to Liberal Christian Protestants (100%)
2. Liberal Quakers (89%)
3. Orthodox Quaker (84%)

Lovely piece as always, Roger.

Ebert blog: I drank for many years in a tavern that had a photograph of Brendan Behan on the wall, and under it this quotation, which I memorized:

I respect kindness in human beings first of all, and kindness to animals. I don't respect the law; I have a total irreverence for anything connected with society except that which makes the roads safer, the beer stronger, the food cheaper and the old men and old women warmer in the winter and happier in the summer.

To My Coy Blogster, Roger (yes, I caught the Marvell lift): Was that the place on the east side of Halsted, just south and across the street from Steppenwolf's current location?

Ebert: After it moved. In my years, it was at 319 W. North. The Behan photo moved.

By S M Rana on May 5, 2009 1:08 AM

..... but the doctrine it contains is profound, for it probes directly into life and death, the ultimate question of Buddhist philosophy. It is that question to which Shakyamuni Buddha and all the others who lived for Buddhism devoted their wisdom and passion in the search for a solution. All of the so-called eighty-four thousand teachings -- Daisaku Ikeda

'Twould seem that Shawn Colvin is familiar with Buddhism.

I have been down and out for some time now, since a break-up, and the overall sadness that I don't have a relationship anymore, and overall sadness over that - the yearning and hope that I will find someone again... I know we should all be grateful for what we do have, but someone told me this recently, when I asked them "how can I always make sure I'm happy no matter what - what am I gonna do no matter what happens?"

and they responded:

"Happiness is not wanting what you don't have, it's wanting what you do have..."

I'm also one of the "Knowing fans" from your other forum, and I just wanted to let you know that it made me very happy when I read your Knowing review...

Ebert: Now read my blog about Blackie. Happiness is a warm puppy.

Dear Roger
I am glad you have found your peace with death, I can't claim the same for myself. I still think about it more frequently than I should at the age of 24. I think I'm having a mini existential crisis, having just finished college with no clue what I'm going to do with my life. Which makes me wonder does having a rich and fulfilling life (like I assume you had) make a difference. I mean will the concept of death be a little less frightening? My biggest fear is that I will be on my death bed regretting the choices I made and wishing for a do-over, for not having been brave enough to take the road less travelled.
I also couldn't agree more with you on the issue of kindness. I think all our political or moral dilemmas should be approached with kindness in mind, not right vs wrong but kind vs unkind.
Again Roger great article, very inspiring as usual. And knowing that there's one person in this world who isn't afraid of death (especially one that i like so much) makes me a little bit happier.

Ebert: My "rich and fulfilling life" has included many days that were anything but. Someday I will write about those days.

Our church is having a sermon series on "30 days to live," specifically, what would you do differently if you knew you had just 30 days left.

I've had a great life, my wife knows I'm devoted to her, all of our legal papers are in order, so there isn't much for me to do differently. I'd probably hike the Grand Canyon one more time (the Kaibab trail is a great place to ponder life, alone with a landscape that is billions of years old).

So, Roger, what would you do differently if you knew the 30 days starts now.

Ebert: Stop counting.

Yet another fantastic blog Roger, thanks!

Questioning is one of mankinds great abilities yet some people choose to deliberately ignore this ability out of fear and fear seems to be what religion is all about. The fear of dying, or even worse being condemned to an eternity of hell, all for asking a simple and logical question. More people should preach "I don't know" and less of "Let me tell you". I am 22 years old and I am not afraid. I beleive in hope and love and that's faith enough for me. That is actually a line from the band Rush; personal favorite.

I find that as I've gotten older, all the questions about death, religion and faith are increasingly irrelevant compared to just trying to make the existing world a better place.

Having stopped breathing and started turning blue a few years ago from, shall we say, an overindulgence in unfamiliar recreational analgesic (which is to say, narcotic) pharmaceuticals -- and subsequently received an apology from the one who revived me and called the ambulance (!) -- and having been baptized twice, once in the hospital 'cuz they thought I was an early goner and once the normal Catholic way in church, and having had numerous other brushes with the Reaper (Don't Fear him), I have no fear of death, either, just the potential pain of the transition.

My first thoughts of wishing for my own non-existence date back to about the age of 6 or 7 when I wrote of that preference in a note I left on my father's dresser after some childhood injustice inflicted upon me. I never expected to live to 20, was surprised to make 30, and appalled to hit 40. But in the meantime, I choose to live as I define a life worth living, on my terms. I believe in one creed, quasi-religious, and that is the Golden Rule; the quote from Behan above seems to be a paraphrase thereof.

First of all excellent entry, I hesitate to call it my favorite of yours having not read every one but it would definitely be top five if I had to rank them.

As for the question of what happens when you die. I would like to think that I will live on is some form but the bottom line is I don't know for sure and no one else really does. One thing I think religion does an excellent job of expressing is this idea that we are separate from our bodies. Whether literally separate in that we have a consciousness a soul if you will that will go on for an eternity when our physical bodies pass away or figuratively separate in that we control and create realization beyond physical experience with our intellect, we all experience a sort of mental separation from our bodies that I would like to think goes on beyond physical life.

Physicist Douglas Hofstadter tried to explain this phenomenon through a sort of combination of science and philosophy in his book I am Strange Loop. Though I must admit I haven't read the book, from what I understand of it; it was at best unsatisfactory though I think also very important in that it broadened science into an area of inquiry that it has generally not considered.

As for Belief-o-matic I'll post my top five since it seems to be the trendy thing to do. Though I find the idea that you should choose a religion that validates all your personal beliefs to be somewhat insulting and find these types of quizzes to be too limiting.
1. Sikhism (100%)
2. Hinduism (93%)
3. Baha'i Faith (92%)
4. Orthodox Judaism (92%)
5. Liberal Quakers (90%)

I read the Blog often. Downtime at work is usually my time to read and I play music for some extra white noise. From someone who has seen a lot of death in his life, this is a great insight into something so scary and confusing to a lot of people. "Ride Captain Ride" by The Blues Image was playing when I was reading this entry, and I thought it was somewhat appropriate!

You've reminded me of Larkin again, Roger, which I suppose is easy when on the subject of death.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RTSMH36tIQc

I'm only 19 and I can sympathise with that exactly. I like to think that death somehow liberates us, that limiting life means that we have to make of it what we can, but at the same time I can't help but think this might just be a massive rationalisation on my part.

(On and I also liked the nod to Slaughterhouse 5)

Twenty years ago, I had an MRI of the brain. The next morning I got a call telling me to go to the hospital NOW. I was rushed to a private room and masked medical folks came in to run tests. Clearly something was wrong.

Later that day I thought about what it might mean to die, and came up with four possibilities:

I would go to nothing. I don't remember life before my birth, and death would also be a blank.

I would join the souls of all the other deceased and feel at peace. Hello, Grandpa, I've missed you!

My favorite: I would join the souls of all other deceased and would learn answers to millions and millions of questions, from how earth came to be to why evil exists to where Jimmy Hoffa is buried.

I would go to hell. Or maybe,if God were kindly, to heaven. This did not resonate with me at all,unless heaven would be a place like option #3.

As it turned out, I did not have encephalitis but an inflamed lesion. And all is well.

Since then, I do not have a terrible fear of death. Oh,I do not seek it out. But when it happens -- and I also know it can happen in an instant -- I hope it will be like Door #3.

By Michael Ellis on May 5, 2009 1:32 PM

It brings me no comfort to have these beliefs.


Then there must be some masochism at work because beliefs are designed solely for the purpose of comfort. If comfort is all you desire, take your pick, the woods are full of them (beliefs). Perhaps you seek something more than an IV drip of fantasies and fairytales.

I just want to thank you, Mr. Ebert. Your writing never ceases to amaze me, and this entry was especially fantastic. At such an early stage in my life, it comforts me to know that there are people like you in the world who have finally come to some kind of understanding about death. It isn't based on fact, but on the acceptance that whatever comes will come will come, and there's nothing to do about it besides become emotionally prepared. I can't even comprehend that acceptance now. Your wisdom over the years has helped me through alot, and when you DO die, you should die knowing that you have helped so many people like myself. You've made them laugh, made them think, and made them a little happier. It's odd when I tell my friends that one of my favorite writers is a "movie critic." You transcend that term completely.


I'm pretty much right there with you, philosophically speaking. I love your writing, although you've been so introspective lately I was afraid you were dying. Glad to hear that is not the case. I hope to be reading you for a long time. You recent musings take me back to my own childhood and old neighborhood on the south side of the city. I remember sparring with the Catholic nuns about my dad eating liver and onions on Fridays when it was still a Mortal sin to do so and wondering why he would have to go to the same bad place as Hitler. Take care Roger, and be well. Regards, Joe

By BWeaves on May 5, 2009 8:11 AM

I'm not afraid of death. I'm afraid of getting dead. That's the bit that sounds like it hurts.


Maybe youll be lucky and die instantly in a horrible accident. Or have an aneurysm while you sleep. Look on the bright side!

I know you're not looking for a label, but that quiz has left out (or absorbed) a biggie: patheism. Worth five minutes: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Naturalistic_pantheism

What I fear is not dying. The longer I live, the longer I have to feed myself, shelter myself, and find some way to keep myself feeling useful. If I live longer than I can work, I have to hope I saved the right amount of money to keep paying the bills. If I should fall ill with some sickness that doesn't kill me but leaves me incapacitated, I could face years of pain, suffering, and indignity before I check out. By contrast, an unfortunate meeting with a moving bus while I'm still in my 40s would solve a lot of problems. Maybe Logan should have thought twice about running.

Hi Roger,

I am glad that you lived long enough to write this post. What insight! And joy and peace, even on a topic such as death.

I've learned a great deal from your blog. Mostly from you, and the deep insight and stirring prose in each post. But also from the long comment threads. I haven't read every comment since I've found it, but it is worth spending time and lingering in the threads. It is a community of insight and ideas and learning, brought together by you! I have marvelled at how interactive it is. Not just that you read each comment and answer many, but that they affect you and shape threads forward.

When is our time? Most of us do not know. I am reminded of a day that I spent with my father, who was untypically sad. He had just renewed his driver's license at 65 and was holding it in his hand as we talked. "This will be the last renewal I will ever make", he said. He was clearly contemplating the end. He's 85 now, and still works one day a week as a security guard!

Personally, I've always felt it in me that I won't make it much past 50, which I'm staring directly at. Nothing dramatic. It's just what I've long felt. I'm okay with that. I've lived enough - a grander adventure than I expected to have. It will be okay if I'm right. So it goes.

If I'm wrong, like my Dad was, what will propel me forward is more of the same - living, working, learning, giving. Mostly for me now it's about influencing the two little guys who live under my care. That's a strong motive.

I was impressed last year by a thought in a sermon: your entire life is just a dash between two dates on a tombstone. Deep, actually. What do I want to have filled that dash?

Kindness. That's what. That's a good takeaway from your post today.

I'm going to head home tonight and practice that. Every day, until whenever...

Be well.

Randy

In terms of death, I sit before a door and I think of that age-old philosophy of motion being an illusion: In order for me to get to that door I must go halfway and then another halfway and another, so on, and so on...for eternity.

In terms of temporary life, I sit before a television showing "My Fair Lady" and see Audrey Hepburn. How young and vibrant she was. My brain can not wrap around the concept of her body no longer looking like that or her voice no longer sounding like that -- regardless of her having passed away in 1993.

In terms of permanent life, I think of a flower. Any one you like. They are the best framing for scenics. Love letters to the senses. No pretense. The antithesis of us. All that hackneyed, sentimental stuff. Whether it is a nose smelling a rose, a mouth tasting rosemary, eyes looking at an orchid, ears hearing a field of irises blow in th wind, etc.

Flowers are there when you are born (begonias in the delivery room)...and when you die (a forget-me-not on the coffin lid). Take one into your hand. Maybe a red tulip, with its bud closed. Does it look alive? No. Not yet. But. When that bloom takes hold and splays out and says, "Yes I am," then you know. It's always been there. It'll always be.

There was a seed that grew it. And before that was another. And another. Not even that. Asexual had to come from somewhere. Continuing endlessly into the fog of history. And you're there, holding it. Knowing through some form or fashion, we made it. My ancestors and theirs. All filtering from the dawning of the beginning. We exist and so do those before us.

Yeah, at least that's the way I see it....

Your Blog gave me an idea for a movie. I would call it “Where are you Going?” It would be a collection of short stories about people that are about to die either in few days or even within minutes. The protagonists strive to find closure before they die in their own way through their belief. Each story would have men or women coming from all different kind of backgrounds such as Catholicism, Protestants, Buddhism, atheist, agnostic, etc. I would have one of the stories be about someone who hasn’t yet classified themselves as spiritual or non-spiritual, but seeks each way in a jester-style manner. I haven’t decided who would be in the each specific short story, but I would have Bill Murray play the one trying each method to see where he fit in. In the end, Bill would find his own way before he died. It would be up to the audience to see if he was happy with his decision or not. The genre would be dark humor.

I would avoid making the Bucket List II.

Dear Roger,

I've been a film critic for, oh, 15 years now (I'm 34) and a student of Films for my whole life. You were (and are, I admit) a huge influence on my carreer on those formative years, when I was struggling to find my own voice and, some time later, to decide if I really should drop from Medicine college in order to pursue my love of writing.

(Another huge influence on me regarding this "quitting-Medicine-thing" was Scorsese's films. I had the chance of meeting him a couple years ago, when I took part on a seminar sponsored by the Museum of the Moving Image and the NY Times and I told him that. He answered: "Your mom must really hate me!". But I digress.)

Now I'm a established professional in my country, Brazil, and the editor and film critic of a respected website. I'm not a "Brazilian Roger Ebert" or anything like that (still working on that), but I have a good following. And you helped me getting here.

But there's more: I have a six-year-old son, whom I love more than anything in this world (well, it's a tie: I also have a 9 months baby girl). Last week, his school decided to put on a little play and asked the children to choose a profession they would like to portray.

My son chose to be a "film critic".

And if you're following this little (and, yes, egocentric) autobiography, Roger, you already know that... well, you played an important part on leading a 6-year-old Brazilian child on deciding to "play" a film critic on his school play.

Talk about memes, huh?

Thank you, Roger. And I do hope that you keep influencing people for a long, long time.

Ebert: Your son is ahead of the curve. At his age I wanted to drive a red truck.

Roger, have you read the Tibetan Book of the Dead? Contains some incredibly profound insights on life, death, reality and our place within it.

Thank you for your eloquence, and your intelligence.

I expressed it differently, and in a different context (and, frankly, not as well)--I will excerpt here, but there is a bit more at http://digitalcuttlefish.blogspot.com/2009/01/worms-go-in.html if you like.

[...]

Should we die young, or old and gray,
The laws of nature we’ll obey
And spend our heat in mere decay,
Replenishing the Earth;
“Three score and twelve” may be our years
For love and laughter, hope and fears
And then—mere smoke—life disappears;
No heaven, no rebirth.

And with no heaven up above
Nor hell we ought be frightened of
It’s best we fill our lives with love,
With learning, and with fun!
Don’t waste a lifetime while you wait
For halo, wings, and pearly gate—
This is your life, so get it straight:
You only get the one!

I’ll have no moment lost to prayer,
To cleanse my soul and thus prepare
For passage to… THERE’S NOTHING THERE!
Those moments, all, are wasted!
I’m only here a little time
Before it’s bugs and worms and slime;
I’ll eat and drink my life so I’m
Delicious when I’m tasted!

When I was 43, happily married for 16 years and the father of an 11 year old daughter and a 6 year old son, I was diagnosed with Multiple Myeloma. A cancer with a dark future.

I've described it for friends like this.. I was rolling along on the express train which has great service and spectacular views. Lots of folks here.Where's my stop? You just know when you get there.

Suddenly, I'm informed I have to get on the other train which stops a lot. People getting off. Where's my stop? You just know when you get there.

Now it's 6 years of chemotherapy and a bone marrow transplant later.. it is still in there dillydallying around, and we watch it regularly. I'm watching my daughter go to her high school prom and graduate here in the next few weeks. A milestone I worried about in the beginning. Yay!

Like you Roger, chances are I'm getting off early. In my case I am a husband and dad first and foremost. While circumstances of middle class life do not allow a total bucket list life change, time is precious and the responsibilities that I've accepted (and love) as a husband and a dad drive life. Treatment provides a regular and sober reminder of what's going on, but I won't give it the satisfaction of much attention beyond that.

ps I have been a fan for a long, long time. And we agree on just about everything on the quiz.

Ebert: My entry was admittedly self-centric. I accept death for myself, but am far less philosophical about the deaths of my loved ones, and have an urgent desire to never attend their funerals. You survived to see your daughter start her entry into adulthood and are still her loving dad, two things that are far more important than your theories about death.

Thank you Mr. Ebert.

I have read your reviews and columns since I was a teenager in highschool, and now, as a twenty-seven year old "adult," I continue to wait for your Movie Answer Man with bated breath. You have never ceased to intrigue me, challenge me, or make me laugh. After reading this blog, for the very first time, I was compelled to make a reply and just say thank you. You have been such an inspiration to me as a critic, writer, and overall, as a person.
Whatever the beyond may encompass, I hope to one day see you there and give you a high five.


People spend so much energy trying to do "great things", when simply existing should be sufficient; time spent penning a symphony is no more valuable than time spent enjoying a summer night's breeze.

I've always found your movie reviews helpful and fun, but this is the post that is getting printed off. And possibly read to the family next time they start screeching at me to consider my "immortal soul"! I don't know about any immortal bits and chunks of me, and I surely don't think that there's an invisible me-ghost trailing my body around - all I know is that the me that lives here, in my body, on this earth,is certainly having a nice run of it.

No, I don't think there's anything that comes after this, and so what? "This" is pretty damn nice to me, and if I can make it a little nicer for the rest, before I close the doors and turn out the lights, then that's good too.

As a better writer than me put it: "If nothing we do matters, then all that matters is what we do."

There is nothing, nowhere, that is nearly as comforting to me as this plain and simple and irrefutable fact: that life remains, largely, a mystery. And death an even bigger one.

My father used to tell me death would be simply like if you were a lamp and someone shut you off. Nothing sad about a lamp getting a little rest.

I spent one night, when I was young in my grandparents house, crying and worrying about the fact that one day I would die. I seem to have gotten most of it out of my system that night.

I have lost loved ones, pets and parents, to Mr. Reaper.

There is no evidence in nature indicates that there would be any possible reason that death would be anything worse than simple nothingness. Maybe, if we're lucky, our brain grows cosmos-ready wings and we go flying, tasting everything we ever wanted to taste and never could, tasting again those things that we tasted before and loved... maybe we float along, hand-in-hand with the best version of our best beloved ones, a daisy chain of huzzahs and wonderment and time enough at last...

And let's face it: what is the worst possible after-death outcome? (Putting aside ridiculous notions of brimstone and hellfire.) The worst thing I can imagine is to wake up in my grave, my mind awake (like Joseph Cotten in that old ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS, after he's had his car crash)... The worst possible thing would be that consciousness somehow survives while the body remains immobile. But even THAT would be gotten used to in, what, ten days? After ten days, you mind would grow those celestial wings and you'd be off...

As my father lay dying, he told me that I was the best thing that ever happened to him, that he loved our dog more than he ever loved my mother, and that I would never have to work a day in my life. That last one didn't turn out to be true, and who knows if the first two were, either. But I told him, at 19, that he was going on an adventure, and he was just the first of us to go, and that since he had spent that summer with Alan Watts years ago, he should know that death is most probably nothing to be afraid of.

And when I get scared, I always tell myself "If death is good enough for John Lennon and Buster Keaton, it's good enough for me..."

Maybe we just need a new name for the experience. "Death" is just so... deathly. Maybe if we called it The Final BBQ or Elevator To Mystery! it would have more appeal.

In either case, I am fully expecting you, Roger, to continue running this wonderful blog for a lot while longer, so while you may be feeling wistful and ruminative today, I expect you back to the usual shit-stirring by the next post. I've never met you, but I love you.

This post made me think of a couple things immediately: the first was a poem that came into my life recently, it is by a Mexican poet named Jaime Sabines, and is called Me Encanta Dios (I Love God), here is a bit of it:

...Y por eso inventó la muerte: para que la vida -no tú ni yo- la vida sea para siempre.

I haven't found a good English translation yet, but heres my best crack at it.

...And that's why he invented death: so life - no tú or I - but life itself may be forever

It also made me think about my traditional answers to two questions, one that people my age (College) get a lot 1. (From parents, teachers, professors, coaches, etc.) What do you want to be when you're older? and 2. (From peers during playfully morbid conversations) If you could choose how you die, how would it be?

My answer to 1: Happy
My answer to 2: Gracefully

Thank you for giving voice to your thoughts, and helping me find the voice for my own. I have loved your blog posts, your reviews, and the obvious love of movies and life that infuse all your writing, in my opinion, this is your best blog post yet, and that really is saying a lot.

I forgot to mention in my previous note to you. I have had one strange incident that gives me pause about the life-after-death-thing. My son died in 2000. He was a week short of 28 and we were very close. A few years ago, on my birthday I said a whimsical prayer to him and asked that he let me know he was ok. My wife and I were standing by the microwave and I had just gotten done telling her about my little prayer to our son. Just at that moment (it was 10:30 am) the microwave lost power and came back on all by itself. Now you know when this happens to an electronic device you get either flashing zeros or 24:00 blinks at you until you reset the time. Our microwave said it was 05:28 and it just sat there blinking that at us. We both burst into tears. My birthday is May 28.

Ebert: Some things are simply wondrous.

I am confused by those who say they do not believe in God, but consider life a "precious gift." If it's a gift, who gave it to you?

If there is no God, your life is not a gift. It is an accident, like the lives of your parents and friends and everyone you've ever met and everyone you've ever loved, respected and admired.

The subjects of religion, philosophy and theology are just too big to explore in this venue or any other, but I will make this contribution. When all other options are exhausted, one is left with only two possibilities for the big question of life, the universe and everything ($1 to Douglas Adams): Order, or Chaos. Either there is some purpose or consciousness behind the existence of everything that exists, or it all just happened.

As a believer I find many of the details of my faith rather awkward and fanciful, but I am confident these are just details and there is a greater truth behind our best efforts at understanding a cosmic plan far beyond our reckoning. As many "leaps of faith" as one must take to be open to the idea of God, or a creator, it seems to me it takes just as great a leap to believe that we came from random chaos.

Ebert: I prefer to think of life as less of an accident, more of a happy chance.

Mortality is like family. Mine is absurd, yours is sacred!

Some years ago my beloved brother-in-law suddenly died of a heat attack. Various members of my family were gathered in a cold sterile hospital hall grieving and trying to console my sister. After about thirty minutes of this my mother, who was eighty seven, abruptly stood up and said, "what the hell are we hanging around here for?" It seemed callous at the time, but knowing full well how little time she had left she knew you did not waste a moment.

I am at the age now where I find mind being drawn to the thought of my own death, and then what....
I see myself, my suit case opened on the bed, empty, contemplating what i should pack for this last trip. Traveling very light seems to make the most sense. After I ponder this awhile I hear my mother's voice scolding he, "What the hell are we hanging around here for?"

This a timely contemplation for me. Death has been around me so much in recent years, most closely when I took my mother in during her final months, making sure she didn't end her life, as she dreaded for years, in a nursing home. As those around me wondered at how I could do it, painted me as some kind of saint, I scratched my head and wondered how the hell they were going to be ready to die if they weren't willing to experience the end of life, experience the privilege of bearing witness to a loved one's passing. We've become so hermetically sealed in our cocoons filled with modern conveniences - our plug-in "room fresheners" - to keep the stink of real life at bay. Even in our entertainments, we prefer thinking that death comes like a sexually confused torture killer who drinks venom for breakfast and slashes hundreds of photos of his intended victims by noon. I've been working my way through "Homicide" Life on the Street" just to remind myself that some creative people can imagine death as it really happens - randomly, untidily, angrily, despairingly, peacefully.

Today, I went to the doctor with a complaint that seemed to me to a first overt step in a gradual decline I have been noting with some interest and not a little dread. Nothing too serious, it seems, though we won't know for sure. Even if it's just normal menopause, that itself is the signal that there's more time behind me than ahead (assuming I don't live to be 109). I thought of this speech, delivered by Billy Crystal in City Slickers, which I've always liked and always stayed with me:

Value this time in your life, kids, because this is the time in your life when you still have your choices, and it goes by so quickly. When you're a teenager you think you can do anything, and you do. Your twenties are a blur. Your thirties, you raise your family, you make a little money and you think to yourself, "What happened to my twenties?" Your forties, you grow a little pot belly you grow another chin. The music starts to get too loud and one of your old girlfriends from high school becomes a grandmother. Your fifties you have a minor surgery. You'll call it a procedure, but it's a surgery. Your sixties you have a major surgery, the music is still loud but it doesn't matter because you can't hear it anyway. Seventies, you and the wife retire to Fort Lauderdale, you start eating dinner at two, lunch around ten, breakfast the night before. And you spend most of your time wandering around malls looking for the ultimate in soft yogurt and muttering "how come the kids don't call?" By your eighties, you've had a major stroke, and you end up babbling to some Jamaican nurse who your wife can't stand but who you call mama. Any questions?

Ebert: Truth. But if you make it to 90, they hold a birthday party for you at Madison Square Garden, and Chaz attends it.

I'm keeping a list of the little happenings in my life which feel, to me, like more than coincidence. More than mere physics and matter crashing around. And I'm trying to convince myself, with some success, that these happenings are reminders from some benevolent being who is telling me everything's ok.

Here's just one example off my list. A few months ago, as I was lying in bed worried about wasting my life, feeling extremely hopeless, saying to myself, "I'm not a huge Jesse Jackson fan, but that 'keep hope alive' thing he used to repeat, ad nauseum, is pretty right on." And I went from there to thinking about dying some long away day, and the drag somebody will have getting rid of my stuff, and would photographs of me in loved ones' scrapbooks make them too sad. And who would have such photographs. And thinking this one beloved Aunt would surely have such photographs. And the next day in the mail, an envelope arrived from that beloved Aunt, and in it was a nice little note along with an old black and white photograph of me and my cousin as little kids, playing at the farm. She never writes to me, and we rarely speak, although she is beloved, and I know I am too. Anyway, I needed a lift, and it came. I can't do the math on this, and I know a can of Spam is as big a miracle as parting the Red Sea. But I needed a lift. Needed. And it came. "OK," the hinter says, "now she has one less photograph to make her sad!" Har-D-har. Love it.

I'm way inarticulate, and there's more to it than this simple-minded, childish deal I'm taking a chance on offering here. But this list of happenings is real and true, and this hint deal is working for me. I'm just moving ahead -- simply; humbly -- taking these happenings as gentle clues about something big and good.

Come on! We don't know jack! Infinity? What's infinity?! How 'bout, "How does a dang FLOOR work?" Beats us. WE don't know what's out there. But aren't there clues that we might take, with a little mustard seed of faith, that there might be something wonderful? Humor as a clue, for instance. Mothers' love. And when that's not enough, my little list keeps growing.

Work it! Maybe get humbler. Mantra: "We. Don't. Know. Jack." Maybe take a drink, get just a little numb, and jump on in -- the water's fine and turning to wine over here.

Oh, and I'm saying friend; not God.

A friend of mine died less than two hours ago. Your thoughts on death, and life, and the interstitial spaces between them, made me smile. Thank you for the timeliness of this post.

Roger,

I read your wonderful musings on mortality this morning before work, and didn't have time to comment, but your words stuck with me through most of the morning. At age 38, I certainly think more about my own death than I did at even age 28, but I still feel like I have a few good years ahead of me. I always figured I'd start seriously worrying about death when I hit 40.

Nonetheless, around noon this afternoon, I was struck with a sharp pain high up in my chest, almost near my neck. For 15 seconds or so, I broke out in a sweat, and sharp pains radiated through me. I immediately reflected on your quote of "Oh my God, I don't really exist and I might be gone at any given second." It shook me for a moment, and when the pain passed, whatever it was, I breathed a comfortable sigh of relief to be alive, and (currently) ok again.

Not once during my little attack, whatever it was, did I reflect on god or gods, an afterlife, or anything along those lines. I thought of my wife, my parents (both still alive) and my dogs, even! I knew, with great certainty, that if I were to die at that moment, there was nothing beyond this world for me. However, I also knew that a few people who knew and loved me would be saddened by my passing.

A little while later, after blaming my odd pains on indigestion,I remembered seeing a wonderful interview with poet Leonard Cohen (here : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ugh8Xe6hX7U ) where he reflects quite a bit on death.

Cohen repeats a quote from fellow poet Irving Layton, several times during the interview, and I think we can all relate :

"It's not death that worries me; it's the preliminaries. "

Randy Masters: "Personally, I've always felt it in me that I won't make it much past 50"

I hate when people make statements like that. It's just about the most narcissistic thing anyone can say. Dying young is a sign of tragic romanticism. Narcissists like to fantasize their tragic demise as if it was important or significant. Everyone dies, at different ages, ranging from one day to one hundred and twenty years. There is no reason behind predicting when you are going to die.

I'm sorry Randy, I don't mean to pick on you, but by fifty you have not lived enough. You have indeed lived a lifetime worth of experience, but now is when that old adage wisdom begins to take effect. Since this is Ebert's blog I'll use the example of Ingmar Bergman. It was only in his old age that possibly the greatest of all filmmakers had become wise enough, and observed enough to retreat back to his childhood to make a film like Fanny and Alexander (in his youth he was looking ahead, making films about the elderly and death, such as Wild Strawberries). And then only in his eighties could he have made Saraband, which is quiet and patient and observant, and uses the full knowledge of his accumulated wisdom to express his portrait of the human condition.

Sorry to disappoint you Randy, but death comes whenever and to whomever, no one is fated, and no one should uphold the mantle of the romantic egoists, believing in their own fatalist idealism that they could not possibly live past fifty.

My suggestion: Watch Synecdoche, New York. Caden Cotard too believes he is going to die too soon, and spends his life trying to make something of his life. He lives until he is ninety, past everone else, coming to his realizations only at the very end. Or perhaps not.

Mr Ebert,

There have been a handful of writers I have admired over my lifetime, whom I felt I somehow knew personally. As I grew up some of them passed away and I always felt it would have been special -- and important to me -- to have taken the time to have written them a letter showing my appreciation.

I finally took the time a few years ago to write one of them: Arthur C. Clarke.

I was surprised and thrilled when a letter came from Sri Lanka penned by the man himself! We corresponded many times since, via e-mail, and we became friends. I know he had countless friends of this ilk around the globe, but it meant a great deal.

It was so valuable to have conversations with a writer and a person I had admired for so long, but in the end it meant so much more that I was able to tell him of his worth in my life, and how much I appreciated him.

Our connection was a small one, but special to me.

Since the era of the website began there has been another writer who has become a must-read for me: Roger Ebert.

I have been a journalist for 20+ years and since I am in Canada I never regularly read your film reviews until you appeared online. I must admit they took me by surprise. I enjoyed them most for the depth and cleverness of the writing. I have enjoyed your reviews more than many movies!

I have been reading your essays posted here since you started, and after enjoying this one, I knew I needed to let you know how much your writing style is appreciated, notably your diplomatic directness in the way you have been tackling the big issues, somehow creating an atmosphere here of respect and reason within these complicated subject.

I have enjoyed your film reviews immensely, but here is where I feel I have met the writer.

Thank you very much; Keep writing.

Roger:
Timing is everything; I no sooner finished reading Julian Barnes' treatise on this very subject, Nothing to Be Frightened Of, than I chanced upon your talk with James Toback on the site, quickly followed by your latest thoughtful post. Wrestling with the questions of existence has been a long slog for me, starting with my father's death when I was 21 (I'm 35 now), and I still have bouts of what might be best called "existential terror." Barnes discusses this feeling quite well; I'd advise you to read it, but although his prose is witty and occasionally profound, it seems like you've reached a happy medium all on your own without his erudite musings.

However, I do feel fortunate to have achieved some philosophical victory: instead of the occasional fear of nonexistence post-mortem, I now experience the occasional fear that I will continue to exist post-mortem. Eternity is a long damn time.

Oh, and not to be left out on the quiz results, let me throw mine in the mix:

1. Secular Humanism (100%)
2. Unitarian Universalism (95%)
3. Liberal Quakers (78%)
4. Theravada Buddhism (76%)
5. Neo-Pagan (72%)
6. Nontheist (72%)

How neo-paganism and nontheism ended up tied will be the subject of some introspection, I suspect. Thanks again for sharing your gifts with the ineffable electronic masses, Roger.

Ebert: The Toback transcript is amazing.


“Fred”, whispered an elderly woman, her voice raspy, dry, agonized, and half like that of a parrot’s, “You understood me when I told you that some of us couldn’t be trusted.”

The elderly lady’s eyes were brown and set low. The skin on her cheeks and under her chin hung down. Her hair was thin and curled over her forehead under her black cap.

I sat in the first row of seats behind her. I wondered why she was talking to someone no longer alive, and then wondered why anyone says anything when they are kneeling at a casket. I suppose they think that the deceased is listening from heaven.

I rolled my eyes at that thought, and then proceeded to leave the room. Many more families to visit, many more wakes and funerals to plan and go to.

Later that night, we watched Fred lye into the fire. His old, round face turned to dust in an instant. The old woman who spoke to Fred earlier stood in front of the crowd watching. Her lips moved wordlessly, and I wondered if Fred was listening.

ten years ago i had a website with all my columns on it; i received an email from a visitor from fort macmurray, alberta, near the arctic circle. he had a 6 year old son, Kieran. with cerebral palsy, like me. we became fast friends emailing each other weekly .

one day he told me that Kieran 's doctors had suggested a operation where they would cut the tendons behind his knees. This would let his legs straighten out but he would lose some control of the limbs. I wrote and told him of the bad results that some CP patients had. Pain and more spasticity than before. He ultimately decided against the surgery. All of the other CP children went ahead with the operation.

About a year later when he wrote he thanked me so much for telling him what I knew about CP. He told me how the other children were suffering with pain, and kieran was happy, very active and so happy.

I'll never forget how many times he wrote to say how thankful he was.

The point of this story is, here I am, sitting in front of my computer, and I prevented a child from years of pain. What could i do in my life that could possibly be more important than that?

Ebert: This is a way for people to find each other. People everywhere. I've been online since I started on CompuServe with a Tandy 100, and only gradually are the full implications of that sinking in.

Every once in a while, usually about half a dozen beers in, someone will ask the table:

"If you could choose how you die, how would you like to go?"

There's always at least one skydiving wish, and a couple "in my sleep"s.

How do I want to go? Biting and swearing at the hand trying to disconnect life support from my 300 year old severed head.

They say that if the universe keeps on expanding, without ever contracting into a big crunch, then in billions of billions of years entropy will eventually win right down to the atomic level, and electrons will ultimately cease their orbits and all atomic processes will just slowly wind down and stop. No energy, no life, no light, no heat, no nothing, just cold motionless matter for eternity, all over the universe, doing nothing, and with no one to look at it. It's called Heat Death.

I think I'd like to die of Heath Death.

Ebert: You sent a correction that you mis-typed "Heath Death," but actually, dying on Hampstead Heath during the Perfect London Walk would be a great satisfaction, if only I could look back on it.

I took the Beliefnet quiz about a year ago, and wound up with results that kind of baffled me. (100% Liberal Quaker ? Hmmm ... ) Since then, I've done a lot of reading and have realized that there really is an organized religious group whose beliefs and practices actually conform to my own most strongly felt spiritual and social beliefs and experiences. Who knew?

Kind of neat.

Hi Roger.

Congratulations on your newfound awareness of your imminent death. Spiritual seekers and mystics of many traditions emphasize that state of mind as a requirement for spiritual growth. I sincerely hope that you hang in long enough to post your review of Star Trek before you discorporate.

It's a pity you did not have the near death experience, but then, not everyone who has been declared dead and revived has an NDE. Reading studies about them is quite fascinating, it seems a new language is being developed for the experience that does not rely on ancient traditional concepts but is derived from empirical observation.

The same can be said about all varieties of mystical experience. This is really nothing new, ever since mathematicians became aware of higher dimensions the dimensional model been used to explain out of body experiences (Flatland, Edwin A. Abbott, 1884). Likewise other mystical concepts have been translated into scientific language for well over a century (The Holy Science, Sri Yukteswar Giri, 1894, etc). Nowadays it is generally accepted that the chakras of Hindu lore "are" actually the endocrine glands in humans, or the brain's method of perceiving them.

For those who have never had any kind of mystical experience technology is progressing on a grassroots, underground level to induce them. The inventors who create these methods have to be careful - the reactionary nature of feedback from the establishment towards new thinking can get them ostracized, thrown in prison or forced to weaponise their work (Léon Theremin, Willhelm Reich, George Van Tassel to name a few). Still there is much evidence of a paradigm shift. Research into therapeutic applications of psychedelic drugs is becoming legal again, and therapists that use machines that transmit chi or prana or induce an OBE are less likely to be dismissed as quacks or snake oil salesmen. (If they invent a "God" machine, perhaps we would be better off if it was suppressed or controlled).

Regarding longevity, I doubt that most would want to live forever as what or who they are now, but a breakthrough in rejuvenation or life extension may be just around the corner. Discovery channel recently aired 'The Real Superhumans' which profiled Raymond Kurzweil, a brilliant inventor and all-around tech geek who just happens to have a genetic history of short lifespans due to heart disease. He recently turned 61, a longevity record among his immediate family, owing to a strict regimen of diet, exercise and supplements (his doctor said he had the body of a typical 40 year old). His goal is to live another 10 to 15 years when he anticipates major breakthroughs in life extension science may make it possible to reach physical immortality. I'm no transhumanist, but with my 40th birthday looming I have come to realize human lifespans are far too short. I wouldn't mind going back to 18 again a few times before I get bored and take the high dive into the infinite.

I've been ruminating upon death as my 93 year-old mother recently fell down her stairs. She is now recovering in a nursing home. Luckily she is mentally okay for the most part.

She is rereading for the umpteenth time some of the favorite romance novels. This is the genre she prefers to read. Anyhow, she sent me to the library about a year ago to get some of the novels.

"You've read these; haven't you?" I asked.

"Yes," she replied, "But they're like old friends."

This is what many who've had a long enough life can do. We can look to our "old friends" to sustain us. Some are human friends we've with whom we've enjoyed many a conversation. And some maybe books, plays, movies or great works of art that give us insight or sustain us in our lives.

You, Roger, have introduced us to many of the great movies that have become "old friends." I can't rewatch "Cinema Paradiso" without remembering Siskel & Ebert's review. I currently long to get a copy of "Shall We Dance" (the Japanese original) to watch with my mother as she enjoyed it very much years ago and would enjoy it again.

So, enjoy your "old friends" for as long as you have life and thanks for the introductions to some movies that have become my "old friends."

Any adult should be ashamed to be afraid of something little kids do all the time.

Your first paragraph frightened me, Roger. Please don't ever do that again.

I have been reading this blog since you first started writing it and it keeps getting better. The only thing that I regret is that I read your reviews somewhat less hungrily. I guess I a bit less intrigued. I intuited this mix of a Catholic moral vision and an openness about the ultimate questions from reading your reviews. I think it is what drew me to them. I love reading your posts, but I love reading your response to comments even more I have seen this sensibility you call "kindness' on display countless time. Like a good teacher you seem to know when to encourage and when to challenge. I have learned a lot from reading this blog and from its dialogue with its readers. You really should write a novel. All good novels are written by people that either love people or at least know what kind of level of empathy it might take to love them. If you haven't read Gilead by Marilynn Robinson you should. I think that you would revel in her capaciousness.

She has her old preacher say regarding death:

In eternity this world will be Troy, I believe, and all that has passed here will be the epic of the universe, the ballad they sing in the streets


While we're quoting the world's great faith traditions, here are two of my favorite verses from the Tao Te Ching. This is the Ursula K LeGuin translation, which is my favorite.

Dim Brightness

Heaven will last,
earth will endure.
How can they last for so long?
They don't exist for themselves,
and so can go on and on.

So wise souls
leaving self behind
move forward,
and setting self aside
stay centered.
Why let the self go?
To keep what the soul needs.

Returning to the Root

Be completely empty.
Be perfectly serene.
The ten thousand things[1] arise together;
in their arising is their return.
Now they flower,
and flowering
sink homeward,
returning to the root.

The return to the root
is peace.
Peace: to accept what must be,
to know what endures.
In that knowledge is wisdom.
Without it: ruin, disorder.

To know what endures
is to be openhearted,
magnanimous,
regal,
blessed,
following the Tao,
the way that endures forever.
The body comes to its ending,
but there is nothing to fear.

[1] In Asian philosophy, "the ten thousand things" refers to all of phenomenal reality.

- Yellow Cat

I'm a bit older than you, Roger (68), and have had some health problems (heart attack, blocked carotids). I'm the longest-lived male in four generations of my paternal line and am running on borrowed time.

But (like you) I'm not living in fear of death. I know I'm made of atoms that were born in stars and that temporarily are me. When my body is cremated and the ashes are scattered somewhere, those atoms will go back into the earth's cycle. Someday when the sun becomes a red giant in seven billion years or so, those same atoms will be boiled off the earth and will return to space, going back where they came from nearly five billion years ago.

And I know when I walk my two big dogs I'm walking with family. They're my kin, my distant cousins. I'm related by common descent to every living thing on earth.

So I'm an integral part of the universe, made from raw materials that came from stars and that will eventually go back to the stars. And while I live I'm a part of all of life, cousin to all living things. So I don't need the consolation of false hope or the dubious reassurance of a resurrection. I'm content with things as they are, with the stars and my dogs.

Roger,

I just found out a few hours ago that an old friend is likely dying, and there's nothing she or I can do about it. With no god out there, there's no one to entreat, to finagle or bargain with. She's at peace with this, and so am I.

What a welcome emotional respite to find your beautiful thoughts on the subjects of life and death here today, on this day of riding the emotional roller coaster. I will share your words with her in the hopes they lift her spirits (sorry) as they have mine.

Thank you, friend.

Dear Mr. Ebert,

if you die now, your last movie review will have been "X-Men Origins: Wolverine". I hope thinking about this depressing fact will provide you with the will and the energy to carry on a few... many years, until you have reviewed all the great movies you deserve.

Sincerely,

Jan (who likes what you write a lot!)

Ebert: Fearing such a fate, I have just reviewed Steven Soderbergh's "The Girlfriend Experience" to spoil "Wolverine's" chances.

I've followed your movie reviews for 25+ years. There were times when I disagreed with you, but even then I don't recall ever thinking that your position was unreasonable.

There's a delicate balancing act one must follow when he has firm convictions of his own, but is also able to empathize with and understand the perspectives of other people, with different values and different contexts than his own. This is an essential skill for a movie critic, and I can't honestly say that I have ever read any other reviewer who could do this as consistently and as often as you do. I think this is a great quality to have in general, quite aside from movie reviews. It's a mark of intelligence and of a fundamental decency of character.

I was directed to your blog by my daughter, and I am glad I got to read this post. Nothing you've said here came as a surprise to me; this blog was very much written by the man I'd come to know through those hundreds of reviews.

I have two daughters who are now old enough to be interested in these things (one of whom has ambitions to "write about movies and music" herself), who also enjoy reading your reviews. I expect the reviews will be around somewhere on the internet long after we are gone.

Woody Allen's line: "Life is full of misery, loneliness, and suffering - and it's all over much too soon." puts a comical twist on the Buddah's explanation that all life is sorrowful. But the Buddah also went to to say that life is the experience of the pain of being alive. Where your pain is, that's where your life is. The best we can do is to participate joyfully in the sorrows of the world.

I take solace from the writings of Joseph Cambell. He recommended using death as an advisor to break out of our ego pride. He further went to say that "we do not know what awaits us after death, but we know that we will die. Cleary, it must be possible to live ethically with a genuine concern for the happiness of other sentient beings. Consider: every person you have ever met, every person you will pass in street today, is going to die. Living long enough, each will suffer the loss of friends and family. All are going to lose everything they love in this world. Why would one want to be anything but kind to them in the moment? The only angels we need invoke are those of our better nature: reason, honesty, love. The only demons we must fear are those that lurk inside every human mind: ignorance, hatred, greed and faith."

Roger,

The reason why you should not fear death is because you had a great life and made an enormous difference in the world. You did popularize film criticism and along with Gene, changed film and the movie industry as much as the filmmakers themselves. Plus, you changed the way people view films. Those are only small things.

I think you helped better people by incorporating all the lessons you learned about life into your film reviews. As a result, it helped people think more seriously about their lives and the world, and they became a little wiser. Maybe I should not speak for everyone, but at least that is what your writings did for me.

"Ah, but I am told, the afterlife does not involve time at all. In that case, how can it be eternal?"
But what if we just can't fathom a world without time and, by default, call that unknowing "eternity?" Even if you don't think faith in an eternal afterlife is necessary, don't you think it is helpful to hope for a reward for good deeds? For all those times you held your tongue or sacrificed your time for benevolent reasons? If there is no afterlife, what point is there to keep from becoming completely self absorbed? We may be able to do it, but for what point? That is, unless hoping for a reward is in itself self absorbed. Oh dear...

Nothing that is can pause or stay.

No wonder a person has to turn to poetry when the subject is death. Maybe that's why poets are feared and called crazy--dealing with infinity and such.

How I should wish others to think of me and my departings:

No longer mourn for me when I am dead
Than you shall hear the surly sullen bell
Give warning to the world that I am fled
From this vile world, with vilest worms to dwell.
Nay, if you read this line, remember not
The hand that writ it; for I love you so
That I in your sweet thoughts would be forgot
If thinking on me then should make you woe.
O, if, I say, you look upon this verse
When I, perhaps, compounded am with clay,
Do not so much as my poor name rehearse,
But let your love even with my life decay,
Lest the wise world look into your moan
And mock you with me, after I am gone.


How I selfishly wish a few people will actually feel:

Your absence goes through me
Like thread through a needle.
Everything I do is stitched with its color.


One of my favorite lines of Anne Lamott's is how she adores God, she really does, but it drives her crazy that He has no taste, and no standards. Why does everyone get a chance at death and whatever may come after, even evil, scummy people who treated their girlfreinds like shit and never recycled?

What I hope happens is that in our afterlife we don't have the Judgement Day we've been fearing (religious or not) but are granted understanding of our lives. After all, we can't really regret our sins if we don't understand why they caused pain. Hell cannot be a place of nothing but torture, because that wouldn't be punishment. Heaven can't be a place of unrealizing bliss, because it wouldn't be a reward. Understanding is the only thing that leads to the pale thread out of oblivion.

And on the subject of the perhaps horrors of eternal earthly life, here's a last poem, one of my own. Hope you like it.


The Lazarus Interview

What was it like, on the bed?

I remember twisted sheets
So hot I could not tell them from my body
The sun came in in a dazzling spear
And pierced my right eye blind.


What was it like, on the bier?


I remember a cancophany of smells
And a wailing circling high above my head
A kiss came down upon my body
And pierced my right hand numb.


What was it like, in the cave?


I remember a cool napkin round my head
Darkness, a great kind of sighing out
And a great something was approaching
And pierced my right mind wide.


What was it like, when He called?


I remember light flooding existence
And brushing from a thousand wings
And than a voice shot through, and through,
And pierced my whole heart dead.


What is it like, for you now?

I remember that I am not supposed to remember
I remember His eyes, and then fear
I remember He fastened His love to my heart
It pierces my body like nails.

Nothing that is can pause or stay.

No wonder a person has to turn to poetry when the subject is death. Maybe that's why poets are feared and called crazy--dealing with infinity and such.

How I should wish others to think of me and my departings:

No longer mourn for me when I am dead
Than you shall hear the surly sullen bell
Give warning to the world that I am fled
From this vile world, with vilest worms to dwell.
Nay, if you read this line, remember not
The hand that writ it; for I love you so
That I in your sweet thoughts would be forgot
If thinking on me then should make you woe.
O, if, I say, you look upon this verse
When I, perhaps, compounded am with clay,
Do not so much as my poor name rehearse,
But let your love even with my life decay,
Lest the wise world look into your moan
And mock you with me, after I am gone.


How I selfishly wish a few people will actually feel:

Your absence goes through me
Like thread through a needle.
Everything I do is stitched with its color.


One of my favorite lines of Anne Lamott's is how she adores God, she really does, but it drives her crazy that He has no taste, and no standards. Why does everyone get a chance at death and whatever may come after, even evil, scummy people who treated their girlfreinds like shit and never recycled?

What I hope happens is that in our afterlife we don't have the Judgement Day we've been fearing (religious or not) but are granted understanding of our lives. After all, we can't really regret our sins if we don't understand why they caused pain. Hell cannot be a place of nothing but torture, because that wouldn't be punishment. Heaven can't be a place of unrealizing bliss, because it wouldn't be a reward. Understanding is the only thing that leads to the pale thread out of oblivion.

And on the subject of the perhaps horrors of eternal earthly life, here's a last poem, one of my own. Hope you like it.


The Lazarus Interview

What was it like, on the bed?

I remember twisted sheets
So hot I could not tell them from my body
The sun came in in a dazzling spear
And pierced my right eye blind.


What was it like, on the bier?


I remember a cancophany of smells
And a wailing circling high above my head
A kiss came down upon my body
And pierced my right hand numb.


What was it like, in the cave?


I remember a cool napkin round my head
Darkness, a great kind of sighing out
And a great something was approaching
And pierced my right mind wide.


What was it like, when He called?


I remember light flooding existence
And brushing from a thousand wings
And than a voice shot through, and through,
And pierced my whole heart dead.


What is it like, for you now?

I remember that I am not supposed to remember
I remember His eyes, and then fear
I remember He fastened His love to my heart
It pierces my body like nails.

Roger, I'm sorry, I forgot to include my name and email with my submission. It's the one that begins with Nothing that is can pause or stay, ends with my poem The Lazarus Interview.

Sorry about that!

Ebert:

What a pleasant discovery! I had seen excerpts from your blog posted various other places in the past but never sought out the source. This particular essay attracted me enough to seek it in toto and I was not let down. I will make it a point in future to read you with regularity and to delve into the archives.

I must say that I am impressed with the diligence with which you read your commenters. There is much to comment on and your audience is quite loquacious which I think of as no small compliment to you. Perhaps the greatest form of kindness is making people think.

One of your most erudite and stimulating phrases herein was,

..."evolution, that most consoling of all the sciences"...

that as a scientist, I would like to expand upon slightly.

Your careful wording may be a bit too subtle for some who read it "evolution, the only consoling science" and miss its inclusiveness. My field is exploration geology of a very specific type, so one might readily presume it is arcane, parochial and peripheral. They would be right, but only partly right. Despite the fact of specialization, it is also necessary to stay informed of myriad other aspects of everything one does. Paleontology is a sub-field of geology that is intimately related to evolution. I hardly have a thorough grasp of any of the field's present standing or the research going on, but when I break open an xenolith of sandstone and recognize clam-like shells fossilized therein, it tells me the rock was formed in the Ordovician. By other methods, using the work of other people, published, reliable, repeatable work. I can also integrate knowledge from multiple other fields. Science is a web of knowledge laid over another web of knowledge, ad infinitum.

To me it is consoling just to have discovered that fact, but to also be able to live modestly by the practice of a small part of the overall discipline. I have a kinship with multitudes of those who at least in principle and part, are devoted to winkling out just a bit more understanding of how things work.

Lest anyone infer from this view some arrogance or that dreaded elitism, that in everything except immense wealth, is to be feared, I have to say, this stuff is not all that complicated.

But it is compelling. Once you learn how to discover things that were never known before, it is compelling. Once you reconcile yourself to the fact that you can't necessarily get it right on the first go, you have learnt how to learn. And you give it a second go. And that is life so far as I can see. And I have no regret that it will end. All I can do is keep doing what I am doing.

Emily Dickenson...

Conrad Aiken...

Wallace Stevens...

Ebert: What a lucid comment. Science is the justification for intelligence, in the sense that even such fields as literature are applied science. By that I mean so much that I may have to write another time about it. Evolution consoles me because it reveals a process that is natural and ongoing, and produced me and all living things, and in various ways other things, and will improve me, and is utterly without discrimination.

dude, you said it. I love your thoughtful movie reviews, but your reviews on life and death are even better.

I work all day, and get half drunk at night.
Waking at four to soundless dark, I stare.
In time the curtain edges will grow light.
Till then I see what's really always there:
Unresting death, a whole day nearer now,
Making all thought impossible but how
And where and when I shall myself die.
Arid interrogation: yet the dread
Of dying, and being dead,
Flashes afresh to hold and horrify.

The mind blanks at the glare. Not in remorse
- The good not used, the love not given, time
Torn off unused - nor wretchedly because
An only life can take so long to climb
Clear of its wrong beginnings, and may never:
But at the total emptiness forever,
The sure extinction that we travel to
And shall be lost in always. Not to be here,
Not to be anywhere,
And soon; nothing more terrible, nothing more true.

This is a special way of being afraid
No trick dispels. Religion used to try,
That vast moth-eaten musical brocade
Created to pretend we never die,
And specious stuff that says no rational being
Can fear a thing it cannot feel, not seeing
that this is what we fear - no sight, no sound,
No touch or taste or smell, nothing to think with,
Nothing to love or link with,
The anaesthetic from which none come round.

And so it stays just on the edge of vision,
A small unfocused blur, a standing chill
That slows each impulse down to indecision
Most things may never happen: this one will,
And realisation of it rages out
In furnace fear when we are caught without
People or drink. Courage is no good:
It means not scaring others. Being brave
Lets no-one off the grave.
Death is no different whined at than withstood.

Slowly light strengthens, and the room takes shape.
It stands plain as a wardrobe, what we know,
Have always known, know that we can't escape
Yet can't accept. One side will have to go.
Meanwhile telephones crouch, getting ready to ring
In locked-up offices, and all the uncaring
Intricate rented world begins to rouse.
The sky is white as clay, with no sun.
Work has to be done.
Postmen like doctors go from house to house.

Aubade
Philip Larkin

Ebert: You know, that man is a great, great poet. Not a nice man, but he knows that.

I find that when I tell people I don't believe in any kind of conscious life after death they see me as cynical and cold. They also usually assume that I dread death. Nothing could be further from the truth. I can't think of anything that is more beautiful than my body completing the circle of life, and going back into the earth, the very place from where all life came. In the end we all have to pay something back for the life we had, our bodies. Sounds like a fair deal to me.

Allow me, if I may, to add another poem, this one inspired by van Gogh's quote: http://plagiarist.com/poetry/?wid=3012

But surely it would have been a pity
not to have seen the trees along this road,
really exaggerated in their beauty,
not to have seen them gesturing
like noble pantomimists, robed in pink.

Reading this again with thoughts of life and death, it takes on a surprising new meaning. Perhaps that stanza reflects my feelings on existence as completely as anything could: Utterly ridiculous, and a real shame to have never experienced.

dear huge boobs,

when i started reading your post, i thought maybe you were an idiot. but by the time i finished, i was sure of it.

Ebert: Dear Huge Boobs: When I started reading your post, i thought maybe you were a woman, but now I see you are simply an illustration of an alternative meaning of the word boob.

This is the first time I've read something from your blog, Roger (got it from a Tweet by @Richard_Dawkins), and I'd just like to say that I wish I could come across the following sequence more often:

"My opinions have been challenged. I had to defend what I believed. I did some more reading."

This is not an admission one sees often. Thank you for setting a great example!

Hey Roger,

I'm a big fan of your work (even when i disagree with you)

The universe is fascinating, wonderful, awe inspiring and (despite our deepest yearnings to anthropomorphizise it) coldly indifferent to the plight of homosapiens. When my dad died, i didn't need to beseech the cosmos "WHY"? We are bound to the laws of our biology and cosmology and as such, we all will die. Some sooner than others. That's just how it is. This, to me is comforting as well as humbling.

I don't find the cry for Meaning to be a very interesting question anymore. There is no objective meaning for our lives (other than perhaps, to reproduce and pass our genes on). If there was, we could only be slaves to it anyway. We each must create our own meaning with how we choose to live our lives. There are as many different answers to the Meaning of life as there are people to hold them. This, to me is comforting. Comforting and challenging.

I am often surprised at how meaningful the most banal, routine moments of the day can be. I'm happy to be here and can't wait to see what new discoveries might unfold in my lifetime. It's a very exciting time to be alive. And I'm glad you're here Roger. You've added something good to my life. Kudos!


I refer to The Paradox of the Stone.
Some of the various arguments for atheism claim that the concept of God is incoherent, that there are logical problems with the existence of such a being. Perhaps the best known of these is the paradox of the stone: Can God create a stone so heavy that he cannot lift it?

Either God can create such a stone or he can’t.

If he can’t, the argument goes, then there is something that he cannot do, namely create the stone, and therefore he is not omnipotent.

If he can, it continues, then there is also something that he cannot do, namely lift the stone, and therefore he is not omnipotent.

Either way, then, God is not omnipotent. A being that is not omnipotent, though, is not God. God, therefore, does not exist.

and to all the believers,
get with the program , we're not doing it to take your guns, guts and crosses. It simply gives us more to work with.

as for the quiz..

100% Randian
100% Cartesian
100% Getterian
100% platonic
100% Aristotelian
100% Blu-rayian
100% Deckardian
100% citizenkanian
100% scorcesian
14% ebertian ( nothing against you , you're on the list and that's awesome!)


Gray

In between heaven and hell,
In between miracles and no miracles,
In between enemies' wounds and self-inflictions,
In between getting what you want and not getting it,
In between a slow revealing and a truth withholding,
In between a beautiful lie and a lonely truth,
In between being a rock and being a boulder,
In between getting a cold shoulder and a warm hold,
In between having friends and having no friends,
In between a perfect solitude and a hellish acceptance,
In between thinking and not thinking,
In between feeling and not feeling,
In between living and not living,
In between a hopeless romantic and a grotesque gesturer,
In between a love as last thought and a thought as last love,
In between a flaming fade and a burn out,
In between caressing grays and graying caresses,
a journey awaits for thee.

i've learned an important rule as a public school teacher over the past 22 years. there are three things you do NOT discuss in the faculty room because of the possible repercussions of a disagreement: religion, politics, and howard stern.

sex, however, is greatly encouraged. as a topic.

Roger,

That was beautiful. Thank you. I don't know why, but I am grateful for your words right now.

I am scared of death. Really, really scared. I find myself laying awake at night thinking about it.

I don't know why I'm so afraid. Like you, the concept of immortality makes me feel even worse.

Since I left my religion, I've still been working through all of this. I'm 23. I may live for a while longer. Not sure what it all means.

Anyways, I'm grateful.

I have to say those poems are really depressing, but I think for many it is like that. My grandmother passed away recently and I could tell that, for her, life was something that she had outgrown. She suffered so many tragedies; the death of two sons and her husband.

I was there when she died on the bed. I saw her shake and quiver and have one last gasp of air before she froze forever. It was not pretty how she died, but I suppose most deaths are not. It is not like it is in the movies where the character dies gracefully on his or her deathbed. Most of us are unlucky and we never get the chance to utter meaningful last words. She died lonely and in pain.

Where did she go? I do not believe in an afterlife or a God. I often times wish I did, but in my heart I feel that there is no afterlife. But despite my beliefs I have to admit that there were very peculiar things that happened before and after her death that made me raise an eyebrow.

After the funeral my cousin, who is a minister, was telling me that months ago he was praying for my grandmother. He said that while he was praying he had a vision of her playing in a field with his wife's mother (who died weeks before). This struck me as very peculiar. You see the day before my grandmother died she was drifting in and out of sleep. At one point she woke up and asked me "Is Julie (my cousin's wife) still alive?". I thought it was a very strange question so I asked her "why?". She told me she was having a dream about her but did not elaborate. I wish I would have asked her more questions but at the time I thought it was merely an irrelevant dream. It was so strange my cousin told me that, because I never told him a thing about what she told me.


That, however, was not the only strange occurrence. Days after she died we were having dinner at her house and all of a sudden we hear the sound of music coming from one of her sculptures with chimes inside of it (one of those old fashioned ones that you have to wind up). What was strange was that the chime sculpture was programed to play "My Way" by Frank Sinatra (her favorite song) and no one had wound it up or anything.

I know that this was probably all just a coincidence but it goes to show that there are some things that puzzle even nonbelievers like myself.



i'm glad that this blog serves as such a civil forum for controversial topics. as a public school teacher over the past 22 years, i've learned that there are three things you do NOT discuss in the faculty room because of the possible repercussions of a disagreement: religion, politics, and howard stern.

sex is greatly encouraged. sometimes it's even a topic.

I thoroughly enjoyed your blog entry. I have had many, many debates with my friends online that sound very similar to what you have facilitated here. I think you're right on with your analysis of the prime mover argument.

Thank you for the lovely thoughts. I too, do not consider science a "meaning destroyer". Perhaps what we call "spiritual" is a personal, anthropomorphized interface for the physical reality we found ourselves in? Perhaps it's something else.

I thought you might enjoy two short poems by my great-great uncle G.A. Compton on the subject.

Preoccupied

He speculated long about
The space that antedates
A birth, and one that follows death;
He trod between their gates,
Pondering, grim, preoccupied.
He saw the West-gate give!
He saw then, too, he was a man
Who had forgot to live.


Two Sermons

I went to hear a preacher.
How his lusty voice did ring!
He nomenclatured nameless Love
Just like a mundane thing.

One part of Love was vengeance,
To ablate an heired sin!
(Then, I hoped Love would be cheated
And feel a deep chagrin!)

I went to hear a robin
Help to mauve the ashy dawn,
And thought he’d burn the new leaves of
The twig he salaamed on.

Aurora flung her curtains
At the throbbing reveille,
And hallooed thru the windows,
That the preacher lied to me!

Roger, have you ever considered Cryonics? As it stands today, the chances of cryonics working are pretty slim. Still, I think even the slightest chance is better than no chance.
Please see these in your spare time:
http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=1598612092045110436
AND
http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=6581761732541483047

Ebert: Absolutely never. A horror.

Roger,

I really enjoyed reading your thoughts. I've read almost ever one of your reviews since I was 12. I'm 21 years old now and I feel burnt out on life. Not in a depressed way, or anything, but I'm slowly but surely starting to loose that connection with the real world. Everything seems distant; friends, family, work. Maybe I'm still holding on to my teenage angst. On paper everything seems to be fine. I'm graduating from college with a good job lined up, I have plenty of good friends and a amazing girlfriend, and yet I feel like I'm all alone in a crowded room.
So... what is my point?Like everyone I don't plan on dying anytime soon, but I have been giving the concept of life, death, and God a lot of thought recently. I was raised catholic and used to always feel a strong connection to the concept of God with which I was presented. I can appreciate religion, in the sense that I have no problem with people's personal beliefs. Now, I'm finally coming to the conclusion that life is utterly meaningless. No heaven, no hell, no god. Am I a pessimist? Have I just been given too much? My father and 16 year old sister died due to carbon monoxide since when I was 14. I've been working 30 hours a week since then. I've never really held a grudge about any of it. Things happen. Am I sad that they are gone? Every moment of every day. The futility of it all brings me a little comfort. I'm just tired of feeling like a hamster on a wheel. I'm sorry if I just wasted space on your blog, because I feel like I really haven't written anything meaningful. I'm sure there was someone who had something real insightful to write. I just needed to say something.

Ebert: It is better to give life meaning than to have meaning given to it. We are all alone in a crowded room. That gives us all something in common.

Belief o matic result:
1. Neo-Pagan (100%)
2. New Age (97%)
3. Unitarian Universalism (91%)
4. Liberal Quakers (89%)
5. Mahayana Buddhism (88%)

Roger,

This is from a children's book written by Linda Smith, a young woman battling breast cancer. She lost that battle before the book was published. I happened to read it to my daughter tonight and thought of your blog post. (The illustrations by Marla Frazee are great, too.)

Mrs. Biddlebox

On a knotty little hill,
In a dreary little funk,
Mrs. Biddlebox rolled over
On the wrong side of her bunk.

The birds gave her a headache.
There were creakies in her chair.
A breeze blew dank and dreary
And mussied up her hair.

So she slammed the door on morning!
And sat thinking what to do.
Her tea was dark and bitter,
Her crumpets hard to chew.

With her belly full of grumblies
And her hands upon her hips,
An idea burst inside her
And whizzled from her lips!

I will cook this rotten morning!
I will turn it into cake!
I will fire up my oven!
I will set the day to bake!

Mrs. Biddlebox got busy.
She grabbed a pot and broom.
She tromped out into morning
To gather up the gloom.

She snatched a patch of grubby lawn.
She scuffled with the dirt.
She plucked a filthy shadow
From the folds of her old skirt.

When the fog gave her the whiffles
She held her broomstick steady,
Stabbed the dreary lot of it,
And twirled it like spaghetti!

Mrs. Biddlebox reached up
And hooked a ray of sun,
Then yanked it like a ball of yarn
Until it came undone.

She rolled the sky like carpeting
(The birdies flew away).
Now the pot was overflowing
with that DESPICABLE bad day.

So she whipped and whisked and beat it.
She rolled the day out flat.
Mrs. Biddlebox laughed gleefully;
Her hands went pat-pat-pat.

When the dough was finally finished,
When it rose up fat and light,
She stomped it down into a tin
With witchety delight!

And oh! The day baked merrily!
And oh! The spicy heat!
Mrs. Biddlebox could not deny
It was turning out quite sweet!

She poured a cup of lovely tea
She set a pretty plate.
She cut a merry slice of cake
And ate...

and ATE...

and ATE!

Now with her belly full of crumblies
And her nighty cap pulled tight,
She threw the door wide open
And welcomed in the night!

On a knotty little hill,
In a cozy little heap,
Mrs. Biddlebox rolled over,
Closed her eyes,
And went to sleep.

Yesterday my greatest friend died, his head dropping into my hands after the veterinarian eased him from a life where I can hold him in my hands to one where he lives within me and so many others. Once made of stars, he is now a thing of memes and dreams.

In ten years he magnified my heart and mind, teaching me more about living and dying than any human could.

howl.

You say you don't like labels, so you reject atheist. Atheist is not a label one can accept or reject, it is a fact. It is a descriptive term of which you are or aren't. You are a human for instance, whether you accept the label or not. In the same way, you lack belief in a supernatural deity, therefore you are an atheist by definition. Reject the label all you want, but don't be surprised when other refer to you as an atheist, because you are.

Another wondrous topic. Is there a movie that speaks to your feelings about death? For me, it is a scene from "I Remember Mama," where Irene Dunn's character is tending to a dying uncle. She has her teenage daughter Katrin come into the room because she wants her daughter to see that death is nothing to fear. It was a simple scene, yet powerful.

"I've always known that everyone must die, but I thought God would make an exception for me." [Don't remember who said it.]

That probably describes where I am, but I hope to be closer to where you are as I mature.

Roger, as yet another young secular humanist, your post on death here really touched me. It's a subject I already think about way too much for being only 23, but I'm really glad I got to think about it again today through your thoughts. You handled what could have been just another trite rumination beautifully. I hope, when your time comes, it'll be painless and, if possible, pleasant. (Here's to wishing that that isn't for a while to come.)

Have a good day and thank you!

Peace be with you brother, its all such a mess but I try to keep with the thought that the solutions are out there.

Roger,

I was among the peanut gallery who lobbed labels at your approach to spirituality, and for that I apologize. However, I can assure you that my intent was not to apply reductionist shackling to your mind's ability to wander. You are a complex man with varied and nuanced views on the nature of reality and those views should, of course, be allowed full reign over the intellectual land. Aside from that right, which should be afforded anyone with the ability to ponder their place in existence, your mind's freedom to wander has been the source of an incredible amount of joy (and elation!) in my life (and countless others). Such a beautiful mind, and heart, should not be cheapened by labels which sloppily lump disparate views into some catch-all category imposed from the outside. I have similar problems with how people approach race and ethnicity, so I am keenly aware of your suspicion of labels.

HOWEVER, when a minority group (minority in terms of lack of societal power and status, not racial minority) seeks to establish itself amidst a community of majority group members group definition and solidarity become important. This is why the ethnic labels of whites in America have largely fallen away while ehtnic identities of "racial minorities" remain so powerful as markers of identity. In much the same way, non-believers in America are plagued by the need to define themselves and their beliefs whether or not they have any desire to create a community of non-believers (as atheists famously have not).

So, as an agnostic, I pounced at the opportunity to expand our tent to include a well-respected, compassionate, empathetic, public intellectual such as yourself. Atheism gets all the headlines because of what some see as the sensationalism of its proponents (Dawkins, Hitchens, etc.) and because of its clear cut, and thus, easy to categorize, nature (NO GOD!). Agnosticism, characterized by complexity, uncertainty, and equivocation gets lost adrift the sea of public consciousness unable to distinguish itself from competing approaches to spirituality (deism, Buddhism, mysticism, etc.) and/or arcane ideologies and paradigms (phrenology, astrology, etc.).

The other day, a neighborhood kid asked me what religion I was and after fifteen minutes of me trying to explain what an agnostic was he walked away frustrated by his inability to categorize me. We're just not in the public mind.

And so, I identify with your frustration of labels, but I hope you can understand my desire to have you publicly carry the torch for us agnostics out there.

On a completely unrelated note, I've always wanted to tell you that your print review of 'Lost in Translation' is my single favorite piece of writing in any form, from any age, from any author, ever. Camus' The Stranger comes in a close second. You are so gifted at capturing the intricacies and truths of human relationships, and, especially, human attraction.

May death, whenever it comes, greet you with as much grace as you have lived your life.

Nik

I think the poem "Death be not Proud," deconstructed with such deliciousness in the film "Wit" also has a place here. The debate was whether in the last sentence Death, expressed as a living entity, deserved a semi-colon as an indicator of respect, or a simple comma because its place in life was so low and common.

Death be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadfull, for, thou art not so,
For, those, whom thou think'st, thou dost overthrow,
Die not, poore death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleepe, which but thy pictures bee,
Much pleasure, then from thee, much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee doe goe,
Rest of their bones, and soules deliverie.
Thou art slave to Fate, Chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poyson, warre, and sicknesse dwell,
And poppie, or charmes can make us sleepe as well,
And better then thy stroake; why swell'st thou then;
One short sleepe past, wee wake eternally,
And death shall be no more; death, thou shalt die.

Whatever one believe about the afterlife, Donne is right - death itself is a barely notable blip in between what is here and whatever comes after.

I believe there is something that comes after, because I cannot conceptualize an entire life force just winking away into nothing. Perhaps it is my smallness that I cannot believe in emptiness, but I believe we are reincarnated, even if our bits and emotions go a million different ways, and find themselves as far apart as a wave on an island beach and a hair on a yak. I have read about people receiving transplanted organs, and developing food likes and habits that their donors had had. Is there memory lodged even in our very cells, intact no matter how disintegrated the whole is, like some sort of quamtum holograph? Does it squirm out into the dirt to live on and alter other life and be altered by it? I believe nothing in the universe is wasted. It is a spiral of life consuming life and being consumed by it; a double helix on every level of being. It is a closed system.

I also no longer take life for granted. I am not as far along the path as you in learning to cultivate joy. I understand the importance, and am for the first time endeavoring to understand the full meaning of forgiveness and living in the here and now. I am learning to give up guilt and shame that serve no purpose and do not instruct. I do not think one can have peace without that.

My dog shows me many good lessons in these things, from his wanting my lap and pets and ear-scritches anyway after I've ignored his entreaties to play all day because I am feeling sick, to the way he flops somewhere for an impromptu nap. He lives in the moment, he forgives immediately, he is hopeful and he finds joy even in a little scrap of chicken that was dropped on the kitchen floor. Some wonder if animals have souls. I do know that we can make them neurotic. Animals cannot express seeming "shame" without a human to show them how it's done. But they do not understand shame for its own sake, which is a uniquely human concept.

I have not learned through my own difficult experience that "I will die soon" or that "I will go on another 40 years". What I have learned is that I am mortal, and that I don't know what will happen, and that I am in control of nothing. I make my little plans and see some of them them frustrated, but go on assuming I'll live because what's the point in going on assuming I'll die? Despite the crazy leaders and fanatics, my little spot on this sweet old world (as Lucinda Williams called it) is a good place. Life, for all its sadness and failure, is intriguing and mystical and yeah, fun. But for the first time, I hear the ticking, incessantly.


I wonder why you muse so often about how one day nothing will be left of you; your words and wisdom ebbed away from humanity. Do not sell yourself short, Roger. You may not have created movies like the masters you admire, but you have influenced many in what to see and why. You have had a hand in forming the opinions of people who have gone on to lead. If you doubt me, go take a look at your trophy case – they don't usually notice people who have no influence. Such things change the course of civilizations, of humanity itself. The link may be lost over time, but the change reverberates on.

I was telling my mother a couple of weeks ago about how I relished your blog and the themes you write about here; childhood burger joints and fast cars, notable films, the nature of being and quantum physics and religion. So many things we never knew about you, or that you thought about. I paused and added, "It sounds like he's saying goodbye."

Well, I certainly hope it's a long goodbye.

Roger and assorted lovers of film and poetry (as the two seem to coincide),
You may either already know or be interested to find that Yeats's "When You Are Old" is a translation of a lovely French sonnet by Ronsard. You don't have to speak French; it will be worth your time if you can piece together the sounds and read the translations.
"Quand vous serez bien vieille," by Pierre de Ronsard:
http://www.bewilderingstories.com/issue177/Ronsard_Helene.html


I'm 15, and honestly I'm more often intimidated than inspired by these commands to live it up when you're young. Within the past year or so, whenever I've been having a good time-- reading in the park in spring, going grocery shopping with my dad, or enjoying any of life's simpler pleasures-- I'm plagued by the thought that time is terrifyingly relative. Typing this comment right now is as present and alive as is my experience reading Louise Gluck in Grant Park, or eating at a Steak & Shake for the first time in Urbana last weekend with Dad. "Is," not "was."

The first time I remember thinking along these lines, I was hiking a mountain in Yellowstone with my brother, uncle, and dad. It was slightly hellish -- I'm not the most athletic person, and we were carrying heavy packs up steep inclines -- but I do remember feeling "My calves are on fire, but I won't remember this when I'm at the camp site!" I've come to regret feeling that way immensely. On a mountain in some of the most beautiful territory in the US, I was too internal and selfish to see it. At least, when we reached the summit, I put down my pack and saw a true jewel, a stunning turquoise lake lit up by the sun. I saw clumps of indigo flowers that were so uniquely altitude-specific that by the time you looked back at them, they had three more petals and were bright red, and when you looked back again they were gone.

I suppose that I couldn't have gone and seen those things so easily if I weren't my age or in my youth or whatever you'd like to call it, but at the moment, my advice isn't to appreciate life when you're young; just appreciate life. Look and hear and experience, and when you are very old, even if you can't carry your memories with you to the next plane, you will have more than enough material to keep yourself occupied.

Lovely piece of writing, Roger, but you've already heard that. Thanks for inspiring me.

My dad was telling a story the other day about a piece of music. He said at the end "it was so beautiful you want to go and hang yourself, know what I mean?". We all guffawed at this. What a strange and typical thing for him to say, but he sorta meant it, and I know what he means. When you've experienced the bittersweetness in life you feel a sort of gratefullness at even having the chance to live it. Mortality no longer frightens you. Death is revealed to us by degrees, the death of a pet, a cousin, a grandparent, a parent, and I would imagine the worst of all, a child. We are somewhat sheltered by death when we are children. We attend the ceremonies that mark each passing but funerals are so much prettier than deaths and no child can really understand what is going on. The farther you are from death the less you know and as we age we became more and more expert in the matter. Cornel West says that we confront death really for the first time when we stand over the coffins of our mothers. That's when the childlike idea of death switches fully over into the adult idea of mortality. I find the difference profound. Pet rabbits die, trees die, the summers die one by one. It can shake the foundations of a young mind that wants to hold onto things that make it happy. Death becomes a thief.

But mortality is a mature view on death. A view that says yes, everything you have will one day be gone but it was a gift to be able to have it even for a little while. As Dawkins said 'we are all going to die, and that means we're the lucky ones, because we managed to be born in the first place'. Some will die today, some tomorrow. In a hundred years almost everyone on the planet that's alive today will be died, think of that! A complete change over in the blink of the cosmic eye. So fragile is life, so impermanent. Haven't we all died and been reborn a thousand times already? We shed the cells of our body every day, we take on food so that our bodies can replace these cells. How long does it take for the fingers of my hand to be completely changed over? The fingers that began these words will have died and been reborn a tiny fraction with every letter I type as will the eyes that are watching them appear on the screen. You could make the case that the person that was you a year ago has long died and been replaced by the person you are today. Or more accurately, the body that was you has been replaced. But that begs the question, what is the person? What is the thing that stays constant and growing through the years of a life? You can't really tap your chest and say 'this is me' because it isn't. It's just a collection of cells comprised of atoms swirling around in their orbits, temporarily held in place by Newtonian forces. If you were to lop off an arm would there be less of you? No, not really. Your body would be reduced but what you are as a person remains the same.

I don't like the Christian concept of soul. The idea that each individual has a unique soul, created by god, mostly because I'm an atheist and against the idea of gods. I much prefer the concept that all living things share one giant soul. We are all expressions of that universal thing. I believe we are happiest when we realize this oneness with everything else. Don't you feel that with the ones you love the most? When you were in the hospital bed, didn't Chaz temporarily suspend the idea that You were laying there dieing and She was standing there watching? I suspect that in those moments there was no Roger and there was no Chaz but instead there was One being. I'm speaking on a spiritual level not a physical one. I think the greatest among us are able to feel this connection with everyone around them, not just the ones they marry. I'm talking about Jesus and the Buddha's of the world. 'Who is not my brother' is what he said. Profound!

The best of life is when we're experiencing this oneness. Whether it be sitting in a theatre sharing the emotions of a movie, or reading a book and knowing we are not alone, or being with our families and laughing over Christmas dinners. Reading your thoughts in this article is a sort of oneness between author and reader, temporary and tenuous, but still for a moment, connected. I believe that when we talk about the fear of death we are talking about the fear of severing this connection. The more we feel we haven't expressed our love the greater is the fear of losing the connection. But when you can open your heart to those around you, and revel in your shared souls, you can sort of relax about the whole idea. We've said our piece to the world, they know were we stand, we've realized our deep and profound connections with those close around us and enjoyed the shallower, yet happy connections with those farther away. Yes, you are going to die Roger, and Karl is going to miss you. May it be years and years away! You have much still to write, and I to read!

WOW! It seems that quality of life questions tend to be a little ethnocentric, (...an american leading a fulfilled life, attending University...vs an African). There are a heck of alot of assumptions goin on here. While there is perhaps nothing so trite as the notion that people are pretty much the same everywhere, there is also nothing that blows to pieces ones world view quite like the realization that it is completely and utterly true. We live, we love and we die and all the other stuff in between.

Everyone wants to live, that's why they call it life.
Now I get it.
Apologies to Mamet.

Ebert: People are indeed pretty much the same everywhere, and desire pretty much the same things. Good people know that. Bad people want to deny it.

Although our creators do not believe in the
same god we worship, revere and fear, their
understanding of the creator of our universe
(our galaxy), other galaxies, the whole universe, and
especially life after death (the afterlife) could
change the way we understand "God," the universe,
the reason for our existence on earth, the concept of
immortality, the fabricated organized religions we
follow, and most particularly what we expect to see,
have, and feel in the next life.
Their view of the afterlife gives great hope and an
immense relief to human beings.
According to the "Book of Ra-Dosh," the only Anunnaki
manuscript left on earth in the custody of the Ul'ma
(Ulema), humans should not be afraid to die nor
fear what is going to happen to them after they die.
Leader Marduk, an Anunnaki leader and scholar said
human life continues after death in the form of
"Intelligence" stronger than any form of energy known to
mankind...and because it is mental, the deceased human
will never suffer again; there are no more pain, financial
worries, punishment, hunger, violence or any of the
anxiety, stress, poverty, and serious daily concerns that
create confusion and unhappiness for the human beings.
After death the human body never leaves earth, nor
comes back to life by an act of god, Jesus, or any Biblical
prophet. This body is from dirt, and to dirt it shall
return. That's the end of the story. Inside our body
there is not what we call "Soul."
Soul is an invention of mankind. It does not exist any-
where inside us. Instead, there is a non-physical substance
called "Fik'r" that makes the brain function, and it is the
brain that keeps the body working, not the soul.
The Fik'r was created by the Anunnaki at the time they
created us. The Fik'r, although it is the primordial source
of life for our physical body, is not to be considered as
DNA, because DNA is a part of Fik'r; DNA is the physical
description of our genes, a sort of a series of formulas,
numbers and sequences of what there is in our body, the
data and history of our genes, genetic origin, ethnicity,
race, and so on.
Consider Fik'r as a cosmic-sub-atomic-intellectual-extra-
terrestrial depot of all that it constituted, constitutes,
and shall continue to constitute everything about you.
AND IT IS INFINITESIMALLY SMALL.
But it can expand to unimaginable dimensions, sizes and
proportions. It stays alive and continues to grow after
we pass away if it is still linked to the origin of its
creation, in our case the Anunnaki. The Fik'r is linked to
the Anunnaki, our creators, through a "Conduit" found in
the cells of the brain. ....consider Fik'r as a
SMALL MOLECULE, A BUBBLE. After death, this bubble
leaves the body. In fact, the body dies as soon as the
bubble leaves the body. And the body dies BECAUSE the
"bubble" leaves the body.
Immediately, within one tenth of one millionth of a second,
the molecule or the "bubble" frees itself from any and
everything physical, including the atmosphere, the air,
and the light....absolutely everything we can measure
and everything related to earth, including its orbit.
The molecule does not go before Saint Paul, Saint Peter,
or God to stand judgement and await the decision of god
whether you have to go to heaven or hell --- because there
is no hell and there is no heaven the way we understand
hall and heaven.
So it does not matter whether you are a Muslim, a Christian,
a Jew, a Buddhist or a believer in any other religion.
The molecule ("bubble") enters the original blueprint of
"YOU" meaning the first copy, the first sketch, the first
formula that created "YOU." Humans came from a blueprint.
Every human being has a double. Your double is a copy
stored in the "Rouh-Plasma," a compartment under the
control of the Anunnaki on Nibiru, and can be transported
to another star if Nibiru ceases to exist. And this
double is immortal. In this context, human is immortal
because its double never dies. Once the molecule re-enters
your original copy (WHICH IS THE ORIGINAL YOU), you
come back to life with all your faculties, including your
memory, but without physical, emotional, and sensorial
properties (the properties you had on earth), because they
are not perfect.
At that time, and only at that time, you will decide
whether to stay in your double or go somewhere else ... the
universe is yours. If your past life on earth accumulated
enough good deeds such as charity, generosity, compassion,
foregiveness, goodness, mercy, love for animals, respect
for nature, gratitude, fairness, honesty, loyalty ...
then your double will have all the wonderful opportunities
and reasons to decide and select what shape, format,
condition you will be in and where you will continue to live.

In other words, you will have everything, absolutely
everything, and you can have any shape you want including
a brand new corporeal form. You will be able to visit
the whole universe and live forever, as a mind, as an
indestructible presence, and also as non-physical earthy
body, but you can still re-manifest yourself in any
physical body you wish to choose. ...the molecule,
i.e, "bubble," (so-called "soul" in terrestrial terms)
enters a new dimension by the "BAB," a sort of
celestial stargate or entrance. If misguided, your
molecule (so-called soul) will be lost forever in the
infinity of time and space and what there is between.

....and this is the best part for you, Roger,
Yes, you can return to earth as a visitor, and see all the
shows and musicals on Broadway or hang out on Les Champs-
Elysees....

Quote above from pages 113 - 114, Vol. I,
Anunnaki Encyclopedia, Maximillien De Lafayette.

Yes, many of us believe the synthesis of Zecharia Sitchin,
discoverer of the Anunnaki. His 15 scholarly texts
circulate around the world, by word of mouth, in tones of awe,
in many languages. Start by reading his 1978 book
"The Twelfth Planet." His name, or De Lafayette's name,
at Amazon.com will show you a plethora of awesome discovery.

I hope to have you among us yet a while. I find I will miss you a great deal should you not be among us. You showed me much that helped me be a better film critic for the three years I did that. You write well in a world where that has become a rare thing. Most of all your writing has always had a gentle kindness beneath the surface. I regret that we never met. I suspect I would have enjoyed your company.

Be well and do not be offended if a middle-aged Pagan offers his blessings,

Blessed be.

Beautiful, thoughtful post, as always, Roger.

However, YOU must NEVER die.

If you did, how would we know what we think, what we feel, what the state of our society is, what is the nature of our dreams, beliefs and myths: all great themes that you've explored for us in the guise of your movie reviews.

I guess the appropriate thing would be to quote a movie line from a movie I'm not sure you would have reviewed favorably, the incomparable "Joe Dirt", who said:

"Keep on keepin' on"

I was perfectly content before I was born

Cant be sure....could be memory erasure......just as those of this life could be erased and wiped,starting a clean slate and a fresh hand of cards.....that takes care of your horror of everlastingness (eternity is a tired word anyhow).....the cards we are dealt next deal depend on how we play (not played ) the current deal....the game is not about the past....its all about the present moment......to quote an important scripture (paraphrase) "if you want to know the causes you made in the past observe the effects in the present and if you wish to know the effects you will experience in the future, see the causes you are making in the present"....a diagnosis without a prescription is mere theory....

Dear Roger,

Our bodies fail us due to time, age and infirmity but the mind, the spirit, the heart continues to reach out in new and profound forms. One moves beyond the boundaries of time and space drifting forward and backward into a huge embrace of unknown matter and substance. Brilliant beams of light and particles of fairy dust guide one beyond the here and now. Like the palette of an artist, the words of a poet, the notes of a musician one can soar beyond the pain and fear and bewilderment to another robust dimension where peace in not an illusion nor kindness a dream. Will we feel bliss at the moment of our demise? Oh, these are abstractions with no concrete answers.

Your gift to your audience is this blog which is a living testament to your journey thru life. You are our guide, our mentor, our truth teller, our historian to life in this American of ours. May a gentle breeze cool you as you sleep and may your imagination continue to take us to untraveled shores. Place your hand upon our shoulders as we keep you afloat. And if that desire is beyond our control, let us say loudly and with great passions that you will never leave our thoughts. Words and ideas and books and movies are a testament to record and remember one's time here on earth.. I hope that you will continue to share your reservoir of memories. Sleep well.

Judy Shuster

I always get angry whenever someone dies -- be it a famous person, an anonymous child, a close friend, etc. -- and people say, "Boy, that really puts things in perspective."
Really? Why does someone have to die to make people "appreciate" or "see" what they have?
Appreciate it now!!
Have perspective. . .now!!
Why wait for a tragic event to happen when you can be aware of where you are and what you have today. Now.
When people say death puts things in perspective it actually puts things in perspective for ME in that the person saying that does NOT have things in perspective.
At least. . . from my perspe -- oh, you know what I mean.

Dear Roger,
Thank you, first and foremost, for your honesty of word. I thought to write to share with you a couple of musings your essay reminded me of - of the image of the walk to the heavens you left us with, I recalled the story of the tribes of the northern plains and their image of the walk to the moon. While preparing for death, members of a tribe bead the souls of the moccasins to share the beauty with those left behind, and also because the feet will no longer touch the ground.
And on your writing about kindness as a word or perspective that defines your political beliefs, I'd like to share with you a poem by Naomi Shihab Ny, speaks of kindness in a way that some might find or define their faith.

Kindness - by Naomi Shihab Ny

Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.

Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness,
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.

Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.

Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to mail letters and
purchase bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
it is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you every where
like a shadow or a friend.

Roger,
I have never written on a blog, but I had to express my graditude today. You work has been very inspiring to me since I was young. At twenty-six now, I recall as a young child watching your show and being somehow enthralled. We never really went to the movies, but I gleamed what I could from TV. I used to make my little brothers debate the merits of films (which we we hadn't seen and were far too young to appriciate) because I was so thrilled by the idea that intelligent adults could talk about important entertainment...and disagree! It made me feel enlightened and engaged. As I grew, watched more and more movies, read more books on film, and took a few college classes,I came to appriciate your text reviews. Now, talking about movies is one of my favorite activities, and comes in handy in endless social settings.
What I appriciate most is how much I have learned: not trivia, but new ideas about entertainment, art, human consciousness and experience, history(of both the world and hollywood) and so on. Good reviews, of books, films, art, music, or even TV, can bring out so much complex truth about our lives, from the triumph of great expression to the banality of studio commerce. Criticism also teaches arguement, which is fundemental to our democracy.
I don't read many blogs, and was plesantly suprised by yours. I was intrigued to find how many things we agree about regarding politics and philosophy. Your entry on David Letterman's McCain interview, among many, many others, greatly resembled my own thoughts. I have laughed hard at your bad reviews. I even enjoy when I disagree. (Inevitably, you have panned a few of my favorites.) The only thing better than a deserved pan is a tribute to a real accoplishment. It's great to catch a little-aknowledged film, be entranced by, and be relieved to discover you are not the only one to appriciate it.
This has turned into a rambling, gushing fan letter, which I'm sure you tire of. I just wanted to remind you that genes are not the only way to pass down traits. There are too few public intellectuals anymore, and none that I know of who share of their knowledge, their conviction, and their personal experiences as generously and elequently as you have in your writting. Sorry for going a bit off topic and thank you very much for your thoughts throughout the years. Andrew

I think I can say with some certainty that most people would like to know exactly what they're talking about concerning whatever they're talking about. And when it comes to post-death experience, nobody knows what they're talking about, or else they wouldn't be talking. Isn't that cool? A debate that will go on forever without a definitive answer?

I like to imagine how the lives of many historically great people would end up if they had been born into the world of today. St. Augustine didn't have to deal with the theory of evolution when he interpreted Genesis' story of Creation; Plato wasn't hindered by NASA's research when he described a celestial hierarchy that began where Earth's atmosphere ended; when Jesus spoke out against divorce he was speaking to a percentage of listeners that paled in comparison to the fifty percent of Americans who will divorce after their first marriage.

Death (and the subjects of wonder that stem from it, like God and eternal reward/punishment) has held strong in its unsolvability throughout the scientific discoveries that fully realized many previous wonders of man (stars are just like a Sun, only much, much bigger, with even bigger solar systems surrounding them? Damn!).

If I suddenly found scientific proof of a soul and, likewise, an afterlife, nevermind the cosmically catastrophic consequences it may have, I would mourn the hours upon days upon years of useless thought I gave the subject. But is that thinking useless, even without an answer? Do you think that this theorizing and philosophizing that our inevitable death brings about is a necessary part of human life? For isn't this freethinking just hampering our productivity in other, more tangible things?

But how can we help ourselves when it's just so cool to think about? Not just "death," but our individual deaths: how will it take place?; will I suffer in Hell for lusting over Alexa Applebee's legs in ninth grade Social Studies?; will I be remembered?; will it feel like I am simply falling asleep?; will I go to heaven and meet other souls of people throughout history? I hope I get to meet the guy who invented the wheel, that'd be cool...; etc., etc.

Once again, I don't know what I'm trying to say here... maybe that life is boring compared to death.

Roger -
Firstly, stick around a while longer, we're not quite done with you.

Now then, let's see if I can write this without rambling too much:
Memes - hitting the nail on the head there. Since none or few of us will achieve the pervasive immortality of Shakespeare, being able to create anything that will have a staying power after we go, that touches people and makes them think, laugh, cry or shout is an achievement. You have certainly done that, and I know the relief there is in that.

I travel all over with two other guys, performing comic/genre-parody plays we've written - think the Marx Bros. doing the classics, and you'd have a good idea of what we do. We make people laugh, for a living, and I couldn't think of anything better in life to do - given I know how good it feels when someone else makes me laugh, it's a noble enough profession.

We've been touring for several years, and it was after we'd had some amount of critical success, and garnered an actual fan-base in several cities, that I was sitting on a plane about to take off, and for the first time thought, "Well, if the plane goes down, I've left a pretty good mark. Teenagers have memorized our shows the way I memorized Monty Python and Woody Allen and Groucho's songs, and that gives me an immortality I can be satisfied with." It was an odd moment, to say the least. To be able to relax from that time on about the idea that my life could end any time. Not that I'm looking forward to it, mind you, as I really want to see how "it all turns out" with planet Earth, but alas.

And lastly - a guy once stopped me in the middle of a crosswalk in Edmonton, Canada when we were doing shows there, and said he'd he'd been diagnosed with cancer a year before. He'd seen our show the night before, and it was the first time in that year that he'd been made to forget about his illness, and was able to laugh. Till then I just though we were goofs, having fun, making fun -- didn't realize you can touch people in such unexpected ways and have such profound effects upon them. Now every time we do a show, I think about that guy. I like knowing that the laughs from an audience can mean much more than just an outburst of air.

I'm glad that given the size of the Global Village, and the onslaught of so much information and data, that a few words and thoughts can actually still slip in and affect people. I'm glad your words continue to, and I consider it a privilege to be able to tell you what you've written, has affected me.
cheers!

Ebert: Your web link above leaves me with a great desire to see your show.

I think, therefor I am. But what am I? What is the nature of existence? I don't like the idea that I will cease to be. I try to wiggle my way out of it, and currently I'm looking at the mind-body problem and wondering in what sense I exist in the first place. From I of Persistence, I have started considering that perhaps the mind is duplicable and divisible, a radical notion. Can my mind be in two different places that are disconnected from one another? Is it not then two separate minds? Maybe not. Can this riddle be solved? Could our brains comprehend the actual solution?

I was on to you for a while. Your blogs would occasionally talk about one subject or another, and I'd have a strong feeling that your eventual death was what was really on your mind. I just hope you'll reconsider your choice to die, Mr. E. I feel that there can be no new movies when you are not there to review them.

Dear Roger,

I've enjoyed your writing for a very long time.My sister and I both admire the flow ,grace and wit you display in your reviews,and in your blog.It seems every couple of days or so ,one of us will ask the other "Have you seen Roger today?" We're both film lovers and read other reviews,but yours usually seem more insightful to us.We would be happy enough if that was all there was to it , but then there's your writing ...the best, most wonderful bonus.It's almost too much..but don't stop.

I've been very moved by this essay , there's been a lot of death around us in the past few years, and there are more people close to us who are in a very fragile state. You echo so many of my own thoughts and musings in such an elegant way,I don't know what to say. I'm sure you're just a lovely,lovely person.To top it off, you give me Van Gogh and e.e.cummings ,both of whom I've adored for 40 yrs. or more. You truly know how to speak to me.(Just when I thought you couldn't delight me more than your tale of the Chicago mouse.)

I read many of the comments and was really enjoying them , when up popped THE BOOB.I was horrified, and because you'd already planted e.e. cummimgs in my brain, it brought one of his poems instantly to mind. Actually, only the first two or three lines evoke the Boob ..the rest is what I feel about ( and hope ) for you and Chaz.

hate blows a bubble of despair into
hugeness world system universe and bang
- fear buries a tomorrow under woe
and up comes yesterday most green and young

pleasure and pain are merely surfaces
( one itself showing, itself hiding one )
life's only and true value neither is
love makes the little thickness of the coin

comes here a man would have from madame death
neverless now and without winter spring?
she'll spin that spirit her own fingers with
and give him nothing (if he should not sing)

how much more than enough for both of us
darling. And if i sing you are my voice,

Thank you so much , Roger. I can't wait to see what you'll have for us next.

Ebert: I knw what you mean about cummings. Here is his poem that came to my mind:

mr youse needn't be so spry
concernin questions arty

each has his tastes but as for i
i likes a certain party

gimme the he-man's solid bliss
for youse ideas i'll match youse

a pretty girl who naked is
is worth a million statues

Ebert: "What about the awesome possibility that there was no Cause? What if everything...just happened?"

What I find more awesome about this is that it means that it is knowledge attainable by man--that the human brain can comprehend it. This is what excites me in life, although, I don't actually do any reading on this. I live a life of "laziness" with a purpose (I didn't say by choice or not), which means that I don't want to fill my brain up with anything other than that which is most compelling, which also means I want to know the best books etc. out on the subjects. I think of my mind as a sacred place where every bit of knowledge is sacred, or as "Fellini" says in "8 1/2" : "Thoughts are sacred". I hope in my lifetime that we understand the universe. It's kind of my dream job. You mentioned that science is utterly without discrimination. That seems to pose the question: Can the ultimate scientific fact of our existence--knowing the mind of God, as Stephen Hawking would say--unite us? I'd say yes. "You might say I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one".

Julie Davis wrote on May 5, 2009 10:13 AM - "Or, as you yourself wrote at the end of your review on Dogma: "God is Canadian. And loves us."

And a WOMAN. Don't forget the important part. :)

I'm not afraid of dying, myself. I've often dreamt of it as this BIG Pee-wee Hermin-esque adventure! There's massive amounts of narcotics involved, and then this floaty feeling followed by an out-of-body experience and then suddenly, you're at the party and there's an open bar! And ice cream and cookies and gummy bears!

Other times, I imagine it as a BIG BLACK VOID OF NOTHINGLESS. And for half-a nanosecond you actually get to see it - the cosmic in-joke - and then lights out; but you go out laughing. :)

I have no intention of dying inch by inch if I should get some terminal illness; quality of life is more important to me than adding another 2 or 3 weeks to it. So pull the plug. And I've already expressed my wishes: no church, no coffin (ie: cremation) and then throw yourselves a party with balloons and alcohol, tell jokes and make fun of all my faults & failings and annoying idiosyncrasies and afterward, a friend will go to Venice and take my Urn for a gondola ride; before covertly dumping my ashes into Bacino San Marco. (Ssshhh; don't tell anyone.) And I don't want flowers tossed in after me - I want gelato! Vanilla, Hazelnut & chocolate scoops.

Yup, I've got it all planned. An after Death in Venice. :)

And if there's no God, okay dokie. And if I come back as a bug or a bird or whatever, I won't know what I used to be so that's okay too. Basically, I just want to avoid prolonged pain. Otherwise, it's all copacetic. The Universe can do whatever it wants and will as you don't dictate anything to Death, so I'm resigned to it. Always have been. Surf the Zen.

If there's actually a Reaper, then I hope he's nice - you know, like in that Twilight Zone episode with Robert Redford "In the Dark"...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lmfgKJ1OBs4&feature=related

Or more recently in Meet Joe Black. Ie: Not creepy, like that dude in Monty Python's The Meaning of Life - Death by Salmon!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YoBTsMJ4jNk

Or all scary and decrepit like the "doctor of death" in The Adventures of Baron Munchausen...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NQx-ZrFBpeo

Who initially looks a lot like Lon Chaney in "London After Midnight" eh? It's the hat. Here's a production shot:

http://www.sosocinema.com/images/LONDON_AFTER-01.JPG

Note: London After Midnight is the Holy Grail of lost silent films! Chaney played a Vampire! A restoration exists as a compilation of 200 production still; so you can sort of watch it (it's on You Tube.) Of course, everyone would LOVE to find a copy of the actual film!

I think it would be cool if there's a special theater on the "other side" where lost films go when they die. And when you do, if you want to, you can find them playing at "The Theater of the Dead".

Doesn't that sound nice! Of course, if you some of guys prefer serious poetry and pondering the weightier mysteries, as you were. But it's going to make for a very serious and somber thread and Roger Ebert isn't dead. Yet. :)

Moreover, once this current mood passes, I predict he's going to jump on a bad film with a fork and a knife. Chuckle!

Ebert: That prediction is shortly to become true.

I would say I'm an atheist, but if there is a Creator I don't believe we could have any conception of it - inferring one from the quantum relationships of particles or from the perfection of the human eye to me is akin to seeing a ship's wake on the ocean and trying to decide what made it if you had never seen a boat before.

For that reason, I live my life by one rule: strive for your own happiness at all times above all else, unless it comes at the expense of others. I like to think that by doing this I've got all the bases covered.

Since memory is obviously obliterated even if one takes re-incarnation as a hypothesis, there is no burden of having to feel a million years old--one could hope to be young and handsome/beautiful next, even direct movies, or continue reviewing, which seems you like well enough. So "eternity"---mindboggling as it is----is a potent all inclusive thing which includes even its own opposite, the familiar human delusion of mortality. So on offer is actually a two in one package--think twice before you vote!

That was indeed very nice and moving. Gracious, in fact, as many people would describe Richard Dawkins's style of communication. As much as I appreciate your work -- and don't get me started on your movie reviews -- there is one thing that I'd like to bring up, not, I hope, because I need a nit to pick but because it grates with the overall message of your post:

I'm talking about her standing there and knowing something. Haven't many of us experienced that? Come on, haven't you? I admire Skeptic magazine, but I'm not interested in their explanation or debunking of this event. What goes on happens at a level not accessible to scientists, theologians, mystics, physicists, philosophers or psychiatrists. It's a human kind of a thing.

Really? The most mundane coincidence of hopefulness, confirmation bias, and dedication to a loved one must be more than can be explained by thinking rationally about it? While all the rest of your post seems to be saying that "I want to believe" is not even an argument?

Carl Sagan was always trying to make a point of emphasizing the fact that humans are the scientific species. And that that included, as an integral and ineluctable part, a sense of wonder and curiosity at things we do not (yet) understand. And then trying to figure them out -- not trying to hide behind the sort of conversation-stopper like saying that they are a "miracle".

Or in the words of Douglas Adams, who Richard Dawkins is fond of quoting: "Isn't it enough to see that a garden is beautiful without having to believe that there are fairies at the bottom of it too?"

Ebert: It may have been a coincidence, but it was anything but mundane. I am not so ferociously rationalist that I want to lose all wonder and mystery from my life. I'm not saying what the experience was. I'm simply saying I absolutely believe my wife, and do not require an "explanation."

I like this one, Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard, by Thomas Gray. Then again, it is a classic and a masterpiece.

The curfew tolls the knell of parting day,
The lowing herd wind slowly o'er the lea
The plowman homeward plods his weary way,
And leaves the world to darkness and to me.

Now fades the glimm'ring landscape on the sight,
And all the air a solemn stillness holds,
Save where the beetle wheels his droning flight,
And drowsy tinklings lull the distant folds;

Save that from yonder ivy-mantled tow'r
The moping owl does to the moon complain
Of such, as wand'ring near her secret bow'r,
Molest her ancient solitary reign.

Beneath those rugged elms, that yew-tree's shade,
Where heaves the turf in many a mould'ring heap,
Each in his narrow cell for ever laid,
The rude forefathers of the hamlet sleep.

The breezy call of incense-breathing Morn,
The swallow twitt'ring from the straw-built shed,
The cock's shrill clarion, or the echoing horn,
No more shall rouse them from their lowly bed.

For them no more the blazing hearth shall burn,
Or busy housewife ply her evening care:
No children run to lisp their sire's return,
Or climb his knees the envied kiss to share.

Oft did the harvest to their sickle yield,
Their furrow oft the stubborn glebe has broke;
How jocund did they drive their team afield!
How bow'd the woods beneath their sturdy stroke!

Let not Ambition mock their useful toil,
Their homely joys, and destiny obscure;
Nor Grandeur hear with a disdainful smile
The short and simple annals of the poor.

The boast of heraldry, the pomp of pow'r,
And all that beauty, all that wealth e'er gave,
Awaits alike th' inevitable hour.
The paths of glory lead but to the grave.

Nor you, ye proud, impute to these the fault,
If Mem'ry o'er their tomb no trophies raise,
Where thro' the long-drawn aisle and fretted vault
The pealing anthem swells the note of praise.

Can storied urn or animated bust
Back to its mansion call the fleeting breath?
Can Honour's voice provoke the silent dust,
Or Flatt'ry soothe the dull cold ear of Death?

Perhaps in this neglected spot is laid
Some heart once pregnant with celestial fire;
Hands, that the rod of empire might have sway'd,
Or wak'd to ecstasy the living lyre.

But Knowledge to their eyes her ample page
Rich with the spoils of time did ne'er unroll;
Chill Penury repress'd their noble rage,
And froze the genial current of the soul.

Full many a gem of purest ray serene,
The dark unfathom'd caves of ocean bear:
Full many a flow'r is born to blush unseen,
And waste its sweetness on the desert air.

Some village-Hampden, that with dauntless breast
The little tyrant of his fields withstood;
Some mute inglorious Milton here may rest,
Some Cromwell guiltless of his country's blood.

Th' applause of list'ning senates to command,
The threats of pain and ruin to despise,
To scatter plenty o'er a smiling land,
And read their hist'ry in a nation's eyes,

Their lot forbade: nor circumscrib'd alone
Their growing virtues, but their crimes confin'd;
Forbade to wade through slaughter to a throne,
And shut the gates of mercy on mankind,

The struggling pangs of conscious truth to hide,
To quench the blushes of ingenuous shame,
Or heap the shrine of Luxury and Pride
With incense kindled at the Muse's flame.

Far from the madding crowd's ignoble strife,
Their sober wishes never learn'd to stray;
Along the cool sequester'd vale of life
They kept the noiseless tenor of their way.

Yet ev'n these bones from insult to protect,
Some frail memorial still erected nigh,
With uncouth rhymes and shapeless sculpture deck'd,
Implores the passing tribute of a sigh.

Their name, their years, spelt by th' unletter'd muse,
The place of fame and elegy supply:
And many a holy text around she strews,
That teach the rustic moralist to die.

For who to dumb Forgetfulness a prey,
This pleasing anxious being e'er resign'd,
Left the warm precincts of the cheerful day,
Nor cast one longing, ling'ring look behind?

On some fond breast the parting soul relies,
Some pious drops the closing eye requires;
Ev'n from the tomb the voice of Nature cries,
Ev'n in our ashes live their wonted fires.

For thee, who mindful of th' unhonour'd Dead
Dost in these lines their artless tale relate;
If chance, by lonely contemplation led,
Some kindred spirit shall inquire thy fate,

Haply some hoary-headed swain may say,
"Oft have we seen him at the peep of dawn
Brushing with hasty steps the dews away
To meet the sun upon the upland lawn.

"There at the foot of yonder nodding beech
That wreathes its old fantastic roots so high,
His listless length at noontide would he stretch,
And pore upon the brook that babbles by.

"Hard by yon wood, now smiling as in scorn,
Mutt'ring his wayward fancies he would rove,
Now drooping, woeful wan, like one forlorn,
Or craz'd with care, or cross'd in hopeless love.

"One morn I miss'd him on the custom'd hill,
Along the heath and near his fav'rite tree;
Another came; nor yet beside the rill,
Nor up the lawn, nor at the wood was he;

"The next with dirges due in sad array
Slow thro' the church-way path we saw him borne.
Approach and read (for thou canst read) the lay,
Grav'd on the stone beneath yon aged thorn."

THE EPITAPH

Here rests his head upon the lap of Earth
A youth to Fortune and to Fame unknown.
Fair Science frown'd not on his humble birth,
And Melancholy mark'd him for her own.

Large was his bounty, and his soul sincere,
Heav'n did a recompense as largely send:
He gave to Mis'ry all he had, a tear,
He gain'd from Heav'n ('twas all he wish'd) a friend.

No farther seek his merits to disclose,
Or draw his frailties from their dread abode,
(There they alike in trembling hope repose)
The bosom of his Father and his God.

Ebert: Said by many to be the most beautiful lyric in the language. Here is Tom O'Bedlam's reading:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pr97KeBFNDY

Can death be sleep, when life is but a dream,
And scenes of bliss pass as a phantom by?
The transient pleasures as a vision seem,
And yet we think the greatest pain's to die.

How strange it is that man on earth should roam,
And lead a life of woe, but not forsake
His rugged path; nor dare he view alone
His future doom which is but to awake.


-Keats

I have nothing new to add.

I am awed by your readers' contributions to this blog. They are so heartfelt, reasoned and eloquent. Many of them are written as if the author's very life depended upon their merit. You couldn't elicit a more worthy response, in most cases, if you attached a job or a university degree as a prize. These people have clearly thought long and hard about the prospect of their own demise, and have come to some definitive conclusions which they are eager to share. I guess that shouldn't be too surprising since death is undeniably one of the two supposed constants of human existence, the other being taxes, which even conservatives have not been able to vanquish, at least not for those who have to work.

Some years ago I had a conversation with a beautiful brainy co-worker in the biotech/molecular genetics field about the prospect of developing technologies to defeat death, or at least hold it at bay for several centuries rather than the mere several decades we are currently given by nature. I know, Roger, that you feel an overly long life would become boring and you've decisively eschewed the prospect of immortality. My friend and colleague opted for death on the traditional time course for a different reason: she wants to share the same experience that every human, humble and exalted, has undergone since our species evolved on the African savannah some 150,000 years ago. She felt to cheat death would be to somehow cheat herself of something transcendent. The seeming disconnect is that she is not religious, she is a Lutheran turned Agnostic and would score 100% Secular Humanist on that test just like us.

I am willing to grant that, like you, I too in time might become tired of life and would reserve the option to end matters on my own terms at a time of my own choosing. However, at our stage of life (in our seventh decade), I think we are just beginning to gain the perspective that could make the next several hundred years even more satisfying and productive than the few years we've had to learn about life and the universe so far. Consider how many new things we never attempt to study or achieve because there is simply not the time in our proverbial three score and ten. So, I don't think we should ever stop trying to extend life as long as possible. Of course, I am implying a high quality intellectual and a healthy, active physical life, not just ongoing metabolism. Certainly, *human* lives are a product of both genes and memes, not just the requisite dissipation of free energy but an ongoing reduction in entropy through the constant acquisition and processing of information. Data, I need data... till I've mapped every point in the universe in my organic brain and its inorganic peripherals. Sadly, not possible, even theoretically. See Goedel's Incompleteness Theorum, which implies that the entirety of the universe can never be understood or described by any system of formal logic.

But, is it a "sin" (something antithetical to our nature) to want to assymptotically approach such knowledge? Is that coveting the role of "god?" Maybe "god" needs to be created in such a way. Maybe we (and whatever far more intelligent beings spring from us) are needed to create such an entity (however you choose to call it), which can figure out a way to surmount the "Entropic Doom" (heat death) of the universe that cosmologists tell us seems inevitable. In so doing, this "god" we create can effect a gravitational collapse (don't ask me how) precipitating the next Big Bang and producing the next incarnation of our universe. That would be ironic: a never-ending cycle in which an intelligent creator is destroyed (dissipated beyond any recognition) in the act of creation (the Big Bang) and must be slowly and stochastically reassembled through the natural selection of genes and memes to set the next cycle in motion... ad infinitum. We create "god," he creates us, over and over. Suits me.

Ebert: I am not tired of life, of course. Don't see that coming up, either. At the moment of death, I'll be negotiating for a look at tomorrow's newspaper. Bunuel specified he be buried with the latest edition.

Roger,
I commented yesterday but I felt compelled to share a passage from A Christmas Memory by Truman Capote-

The wind is blowing, and nothing will do till we've run to a pasture below the house where Queenie has scooted to bury her bone (and where, a winter hence, Queenie will be buried, too). There, plunging through the healthy waist-high grass, we unreel our kites, feel them twitching at the string like sky fish as they swim into the wind. Satisfied, sun-warmed, we sprawl in the grass and peel satsumas and watch our kites cavort. Soon I forget the socks and hand-me-down sweater. I'm as happy as if we'd already won the fifty-thousand-dollar Grand Prize in the coffe-naming contest.
"My, how foolish I am!" my friend cries, suddenly alert, like a woman remembering too late she has biscuits in the oven. "You know what I've always thought?" she asks in a tone of discovery, and not smiling at me but a point beyond. "I've always thought a body would have to be sick and dying before they saw the Lord. And I imagined that when He came it would be like looking at the Baptist window: pretty as colored glass with the sun pouring through, such a shine you don't know it's getting dark. And it's been a comfort: to think of that shine taking away all the spooky feeling. But I'll wager it never happens. I'll wager at the very end a body realizes the Lord has already shown Himself. That things as they are" -her hand circles in a gesture that gathers clouds and kites and grass and Queenie pawing earth over bone-"just what they've always seen, was seeing Him. As for me, I could leave the world with today in my eyes."



Ebert: The way I heard it, he takes the coat off his own back.

Roger,

To clarify, I was tweaking the Good Samaritan story to what it might look like filtered through the modern liberal worldview. I thought more about what you said about voting for "kindness", and I find it puzzling how both liberals and conservatives alike look for these human traits in a bureaucratic leviathan. Alot of emphasis is put on government, whether activist or not, as a cure for the ills of society. It seems no matter who controls the government, no matter how much money is spent, very few problems get solved and we end up in the same place. Maybe if we looked toward individuals, the smallest components of society, more often in time of trouble, the government would recede to it's correct place. I know this isn't what the thrust of the discussion is about, but your original comment offered an interesting perspective on the relationship between man and government. Thanks.

I began to fear death when I was 8 and watched the beginning of Ben Casey remember: Birth...Death...Infinity? I realized then that my mother was going to die and I was terrified....but I learned to live and deal with it and now both my mother and father have died. But death and near death have their benefits....August 28, 2008 in Baghdad, Iraq the Humvee my son was in was hit by an IED....my son survived barely he had been hit by a piece of shrapnel that went through his goggles and helmut andlodged in his skull he also suffered a severe lower back wrench. However his 20 year old gunner who had been transferred into my son's unit shortly before they were deployed to Iraq was killed. My son and I had kind of grown apart, I had divorced his father and he is almost 30 and was living his own life. Needless to say I found a new deep appreciation of te man he had become so brave...he is a SGT in the reserves. When the Army flew me down to Walter Reed Hospital I saw him bravely dealing with his wounds as well as his sadness at witnessing one of his soldiers dying and not being able to help him (he tried to get him from under the turret and could not, his own injuries prevented it) Three days later we all went to his gunners funeral at Arlington Cemetary, my son got out of his bedandput on his dress blues and honored his gunner,sadness is Section 60 where the Iraq and Afghanistan war dead are buried...The stones list birth dates.....from the 1980's and even 1990's! Very sad. But near death has brought out a close relationship between my son and I and has also brought his gunner's mother and I together. So in a way death can bring people together. Hopefully we all live on because of this.

Van Gogh, feeling devil-may-care,
Labelled one of his efforts 'The Chair'.
No-one knows if the bloke
Perpetrated a joke,
Or the furniture needed repair.

~ Pibwob

Ebert:
We thought we had known for years
How van Gogh lost one of his ears.
But the shit hit the can
When they blamed Paul Gaughin
After having one too many beers.

I empathize so with Michael Ellis's gradual loss of faith and, it would seem, of curiosity about the concepts of a higher power and an afterlife. At this point, I just want to finish this screenplay and get it sold and the movie made, and I'll perhaps continue my spiritual wandering at a later date. But what gives even a 29-year-old such as I the freedom to feel this way, to almost ignore the reality I've inherited as a human being? We are all, after all, surely almost everyday, fighting against the tide of individual extinction. Has anyone else sat down with a pen and paper (or a laptop computer) and taken a thorough inventory of all the things in his life/world that are working in favor of his continuing to live and those that are working to kill him off? I can only think that as one travels through life, he begins to have an intuition - and perhaps the mumblings of an internal dialogue - about these such helps and hindrances of life. In any event, I have a strong intuition about this: I'm going to have to shut off the valves of thinking that lead to nervousness and hopelessness about matters of life and death if I'm ever to get this damned script finished.

Re: Huge Boobs comment: At first the comment seemed odd, since, aside from the backaches, most of the people I know with huge boobs are pretty happy. I guess some guys are just naturally angry.

And speaking of death, I coincidentally wrote a little something on Citizen Kane (not a plug for my website!) just the day before you posted. There's the rub for me: The older I get, the heavier my Rosebud.

I am reminded of the Epicurus quote (or, at least, the quote attributed to Epicurus):

"Why should I fear death? If I am, death is not. If death is, I am not. Why should I fear that which cannot exist when I do?"

Hi Roger,

I really enjoyed this entry. I am 24, and have experienced death very close to me a number of times, and because of that I am usually someone people have come to when they need help with grief. Movies are something that I use to help people along, and give them someone else's point of view about death (and life).

My Favorites for this matter are:

- Driving Miss Daisy (friendship over the years)
- Wristcutters (a funny, albeit dark look at the afterlife)
- Wall-e suddenly came out of nowhere

Do you have any recommendations or favorites about the subject? I look forward to the next post.

Mike Naccarelli

Ebert: Truth. But if you make it to 90, they hold a birthday party for you at Madison Square Garden, and Chaz attends it.

Ain't that Pete Seeger amazing! Chaz is a lucky woman in more ways than one!

With its usual efficiency, Babel Fish translated "pas de pied, je l'espère!" into "no the foot, I l' hope!"

My guess is, "Not by foot, I hope!"

Ebert: You guess right.

"Ebert: I can't stand people who tell you what book to read, even if they don't know you."

I know you said "book" but this obviously could be applied to a lot more. I just want you to know that you SHOULD listen to recommendations because if I didn't listen to my friend I would have never discovered this wonderful little blog of yours!

Also, on the topic, I am 25 and have had quite a few close calls in life that have changed me. I had testicular cancer at 19 and had to have "righty" removed. Shortly after that I had an allergic reaction to an anti-biotic that closed my throat and had to be rushed to the hospital, unconcious, in an ambulance. I made the stupid mistake of not stopping at a train crossing once, because I drive through it all the time and have never seen a train, only to have that one time happen to actually have a train there and barely miss my car, and just recently I had another scare with my other testicle.

The first scare got me to open my eyes and appreciate life more. The others just sweetened it.

Just know that when you are gone, you will be sorely missed, not only by me but by everyone. I only hope the same can be said about me when my time finally comes.

I am not afraid of death, because I too think death is nothing.

What I am afraid of is dying painfully, violently, slowly, too early, or too late.

"But that is not the question. Why are we here, that is the question. And we are blessed in this, that we happen to know the answer. Yes, in this immense confusion one thing alone is clear. We are waiting for Godot to come."
- Samuel Beckett, Waiting for Godot

Alan Watts always said that "Belief clings; Faith lets go." I have come to BELIEVE this...oh, dear! Can I ever truly let go of the need to BELIEVE something???

Death is the ultimate letting go. Perhaps, our whole life is designed to teach us how to do that peacefully.

Loved your article with one exception. One should not TRY to be kind...just DO it.

Nothing to be done.

If everything is burnt up in the inevitable collapse of the universe, what, in the end, are we contributing to? What does our "kindness" matter? As Bertrand Russell famously wrote in 1903:

"That man is the product of causes that had no prevision of the end they were achieving; that his origin, his growth, his hopes and fears, his loves and his beliefs, are but the outcome of accidental collocations of atoms; that no fire, no heroism, no intensity of thought and feeling, can preserve individual life beyond the grave; that all the labors of the ages, all the devotion, all the inspiration, all the noonday brightness of human genius, are destined to extinction in the vast death of the solar system, and that the whole temple of Man's achievement must inevitably be buried beneath the debris of a universe in ruins - all these things, if not quite beyond dispute, are yet so nearly certain that no philosophy which rejects them can hope to stand. Only within the scaffolding of these truths, only on the firm foundation of unyielding despair, can the soul's habitation henceforth be safely built."

Henceforth? Safely? The impregnability of Russell's (and your?) position is superficial, momentarily tenable only if one ignores the stake of contradiction driven through its heart (and the untenability of the empiricism that cannot make sense of the science it depends on on). Russell may have written your credo, but how can it not drive you either to madness or despair? There may be, as you believe, nothing for us on the "other" side of our deaths. Unless, however, there is an everlasting divine life to which we contribute, a repository of experience that cherishes every worthwhile experience, then in the end nothing means anything, because a universe in ruins that began as an "accidental collocations of atoms" -- albeit ruins in a future distant enough for us to evade -- stamps an expiration date on all value.

To consider the case for a such a theistic ethical "contributionism" would, of course, require you to grapple with the arguments of a philosopher like Charles Hartshorne. It’s much easier to take the agnostic way out and suggest that that's the best human beings can do.

Ebert: A wonderful quotation. I believe Russell is correct, and he has not driven me to madness and despair. To the contrary, he helps me to understand.

Ok, so my previous post did not go through, for some reason.

Briefly -- I used to be quite afraid of death, when I was quite young and naive. I grew up. Now, I cannot imagine being afraid of one`s own death.

Death of the other -- for that there is no cure. There is no poem, no book, no author (not even a columnist) to explain to one the sting of death, though such things and others may exist to help one remember and celebrate and mourn a passing life. There is no way to `look at it`, to `consider it as`, to `deal with`. There is no way to `accept it`, to `come to terms with` - as though one were involved in negotiations (the negotiations are stictly with oneself)! There is mourning, followed perhaps by degrees of adjustment. Where-ever that leads depends on the individual. Of course, one is fortunate to ever experience such loss - that is, to experience death so fully, so completely.

But the only thing now I fear more than the humiliation of death are the trite perspectives invented to alleviate its suffering. Because I cannot help but respect my intelligence and to do otherwise would express severe cynicism and dishonesty.

Roger,
My daughter's description of heaven:
It's a place of no more good byes.

My motehr died in 1995. We had a funeral mass. My father stood beside me, his heart broken. I had pulled the music for the service, things I thought appropriate and would reflect on my mom and their love. Suddenly during the piece played for a meditation my father visibly reacts. I don't recognize the song,only that I know it not the piece I chose. Afterward I asked my friend the pianist, what happened. She placed her spiral bound songbook on the music stand over the keys. Suddenly it seemed to fly off the stand and break apart. A good thousand sheets of music scattered over the floor. One page continues to rest on the piano. The pianist glanced at it and decided it would probably do since there was no time to hnt up the music I had chosen. as it played my father turned to me and asked "How did I know"? I pleaded ignorance that this was not what I had chosen. My father said "This is your mother's favorite song. it was the only piece played at their wedding fifty years in the past.
Did the song book fall or was it pushed by an unseen force of love that connected one quantum space with another? The same force that plucked the one song that would bring my father peace out of all those scattered sheets of music.

After my father died, my youngest daughter, with whom he was extremely close, had a dream that a crow landed outside her window, passed through the glass and landed on her pillow, where it proceeded to drape its wing across her shoulder in a sheltering gesture.
I was struck by this dream when she recounted it for me in the morning, because my father loved crows, loved them for their inability to endure captivity, that they were quick and maligned and smart and beautiful. No one ever told my daughter about how much my dad loved those birds. When i told her she said then it had to be grandpa letting her know he was alright and that he loved her.
The explanation worked for me.

About death...well...I know I have been a fool, I have been selfish, I have been rude at times and clumsy and forgetful...the list goes on because it is a list of all too human traits. But in my own imperfect way, I have loved completely, I have brought three children into the world who know they were loved and who themselves are loving and kind and good. If I die in the next thirty seconds...well forgive me folks,forget this posting, I'm gonna go hug my wife,and tell her I love her, just in case...
kerry of inframan
tick tock tick tock tick tock

Roger,
I made it. I didn't die. And I hugged my wife. Funny, she asked why I said "Roger sent me."

I like to sit here amongst the smart kids. Listen and enjoy all the things they have to say. The church of Ebert where, hopefully, we're celebrating more than worshipping. I find the occassional caustic rejoinder curiously refreshing.

So I sit here (alone in the crowded room), a vague smile as I listen to people a lot smarter than me and sometimes shake my head at people a lot younger than me, recognizing parts of me in the stories of other people who are - without knowing it - shining little spotlights into my own memories. I think my own entirely unoriginal thoughts.

One of them is how this discussion of death and quantum physics reminds me of William Blatty's other Exorcist book that presents the "Theory of the Angel."

("There will be pain."
"I choose it.")

Everyone will know the hour of their own death - it was foretold by the oft-quoted priest George Carlin: "Two minutes! Get your shit together!"

I fear death while laughing at it.

Ebert: As the poet said, "I hasten to laugh at everything, for fear of being obliged to weep."

Thank you for such an amazing post.

My own feelings on life and death have evolved as I've gotten older, but ever since I saw "The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill" a few years ago, I often come back to Suzuki Roshi's metaphor of the waterfall (which was paraphrased by Bittner in the film):

I thought it must be very difficult for each drop of water to come down from the top of such a high mountain. It takes time, you know, a long time, for the water finally to reach the bottom of the waterfall. And it seems to me, that our human life may be like this. We have many difficult experiences in our life. But at the same time, I thought, the water was not originally separated, but was one whole river. Only when it is separated does it have some difficulty in falling. ... After we are separated by birth from this oneness, as the water falling form the waterfall is separated by the wind and rocks, then we have feeling. You have difficulty because you have feeling, you attach to the feeling you have without knowing just how this kind of feeling is created. When you do not realize that you are one with the river, or one with the universe, you have fear. Whether it is separated into drops or not, water is water. Our life and death are the same thing.

And in the end, we all rejoin the river.

I don't know what comes after life, but I hope it's something like this.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fy6JltOxLfo

I've always joked - and it really ain't no joke - that the thing I really don't like thinking about is that there will probably be a movie I REALLY wanna see coming out on the Friday after I die...

Yes, now I remember what else I was going to say. There have been a couple of thoughts posted about immortality. Did you know that Dr. David Suzuki has predicted that immortality might be an option for "our grandchildren's grandchildren," he said. It could happen one of two ways: The first way is that scientists find that tricky little aging gene, the one that kicks in at around age thirtysomething and triggers all the features of aging (skin elasticity, cell renewal, slowing metabolism with resultant waistline)... and turn it off.

The second way is via stem cells where organs are replaced as they age with pretty new young ones.

Of course there's no known cure yet for getting hit by a bus. But the idea that it's scientifically conceivable to be immortal shifts the playing field away from the merely speculative.

And I confess that maybe I fibbed a little higher up when I said I had no original thoughts: I like to describe my own belief system in god, religion, the universe, knowing as "Cogito Ergo Um", which I translate to mean, "I think, therefore I'm not sure...."

Ebert: I'd like to have a very long life, but immortality? I just don't have the time.

Also by Whitman, and appropriate, I think, "A Noiseless Patient Spider":

A noiseless, patient spider,
I mark'd, where, on a little promontory, it stood, isolated;
Mark'd how, to explore the vacant, vast surrounding,
It launch'd forth filament, filament, filament, out of itself;
Ever unreeling them--ever tirelessly speeding them.

And you, O my Soul, where you stand,
Surrounded, surrounded, in measureless oceans of space,
Ceaselessly musing, venturing, throwing,--seeking the spheres, to connect them;
Till the bridge you will need, be form’d--till the ductile anchor hold;
Till the gossamer thread you fling, catch somewhere, O my Soul.

Keep flinging your memes, my friend, for they still catch in unexpected places and bridge the gap of time and space, that impenetrable, inscrutable barrier which blocks us from completely and truly knowing another's mind.

Roger,

As you look back, do you have any regrets?

Ebert: You know what's coming:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kFRuLFR91e4

Dear Roger,

Thank you for the interesting read, but I disagree with you on:

"I grant you that if the universe was Caused, there might have been a Causer. But that entity, or force, must by definition be outside space and time; beyond all categories of thought, or non-thought; transcending existence, or non-existence."

First off, if you consider some quantum physics (which would have had a major effect at the Big Bang/when the universe was tiny), effects can sometimes precede causes, and there are some things that have no cause we can determine (eg. radioactive decay). So this means that there are other options eg. the universe caused itself, or that there was no "cause" (the search for such being like trying to walk to the horizon). The universe is stranger than we can imagine. Although I like Douglas Adam's approach: "Population density of the universe is zero, so anyone you happen to meet is the product of a deranged imagination."

Secondly, if there was a "cause", why would it have to be beyond space/time/etc? Are there any effects on matter/energy in this universe that you know of that aren't caused by similar forms of matter/energy? So why would something that caused the universe be dissimilar in properties from the universe.

Admittedly I don't know the answers any more than anyone else. However something to pause to think about is that our current understanding of the universe is that the negative energy of the expansion of the universe is perfectly balanced by the positive energy that makes up all the matter/normal forms of energy in the universe. In other words, the sum total of all types of matter and energy in the universe is zero...

I think I'll have to reread that part about population density of the universe in 'Hitchiker's guide to the galaxy' again.

This is the first time I read your blog and this piece touched me and I realized what a wise man you seem and I immediately thought of Alan Watts' take on life, how our existence is musical in nature, a play of all kinds of patterns, of how we must always define ourselves in terms of what we are doing now. It all starts rights now, every glorious day, until it's over.

I was immortal until my late twenties. A police officer was shot and killed at an apartment complex not far from where I lived. He was a few months younger than me. My heart fluttered. It was the first time I realized that I would die too. The officer was wearing a bullet-proof vest but the bullet hit him at the gap between the front and back of the vest.

Like some of the respondents above I hope death dosen't hurt. I hope my mind is clear. That if I get old I won't be scammed out of my house and savings needed to live on. That if I go before my husband he will be heartbroken but won't keel over from heartbreak.

My favorite death song is by Tony Toni Tone'. The chorus from Party Don't Cry (Dwayne Wiggins and Timothy Christian Riley):

Everybody wants to live, nobody wants to die
When I pass away, party, don't cry
Don't cry, dry your eyes

How are you supposed to live if you're afraid to die?
When I pass away, party, don't cry
Don't cry, dry your eyes

As a youth I believed in nothing I couldn't see, touch, taste, or feel. God was an abstraction in which I placed no faith.

But as I aged, things began to happen. Inexplicable things, fleeting things, most as evanescent as a spider web lightly brushing your cheek. It was sort of like in high school, when a prankster would reach around behind your back and tap you on the shoulder. You'd feel the tap, look around, and no one would be there. But the tap was real. You felt it, you remembered it. What did it mean?

A few years ago art and stationery stores started exhibiting these computer-generated images that at first glance looked like gibberish—a confused landscape of multicolored dots that added up to nothing. You'd stare and stare, trying to look into the image, and all you'd see was this sea of chaos.

But if you stared long enough, if you found a way to look not at, but through the image, all of a sudden this meaningless jumble would instantly resolve itself into a marvelous three-dimensional construct of unimagined beauty and complexity, with each and every dot contributing to the whole.

God's sort of like that. You look and look and He's nowhere. And then all of a sudden, you adjust your focus a little—and He's everywhere. If you can't see God, the problem lies not with God, but with your eyes...

The James Toback transcript really is a great read. I see where he's coming from when he talks about the instinct to "narcotize" someone who can't quite deal with the harsh realities of human life. I'm glad he mentioned food, because that's what I've narcotized myself with for so long, as have so many millions of Americans (right?). And I've noticed, the last few times I've gone on radical diets, in which I've completely rid myself of the sugars and starches that are my fix, within 72 hours or so I'm descending into a very frightening anxiety attack. And, if I'm not extremely careful, I'm descending into an even more frightening thing than narcotizing or anxiety attacks: The dependence on disorder--going around telling others, who no matter how well they know me and care about me probably don't care to know, about my "anxiety disorder," which very well may be as actual as cancer or cavities but nevertheless, I think, shouldn't be used as a crutch, and I've found myself limping along at times with this long slender thing nestled into my armpit.


Okay, I think I've reached my limit for number of times to post to any one blog, haven't I?

Ebert: Not even close.

The amazing thing is, Toback really talks like that. Whole paragraphs come out.

Ebert: Fearing such a fate, I have just reviewed Steven Soderbergh's "The Girlfriend Experience" to spoil "Wolverine's" chances.

Having just seen the rebooted Star Trek at a preview last night, I'm looking forward to your take on it, Roger.

this blog is quite insightful. as a person in their early twenties i've thought about death. we all know that we can't escape the inevitable: death, but would we live life differently if we were given a definite timeline? i mean if right when we were born, they knew the exact date we would die, would we live life differently? i mean I know there is a possibility of me dying tomorrow, but that doesn't dictate how i live today. i think to not believe in something bigger than yourself, a higher, very mysterious power is quite narcissistic. Sometimes I think love keeps me safe in this world, as in I have someone that loves me so much that if I were to die, they would die too and a higher power knows this and doesn’t want to take two lives….it doesn’t make sense, I know.

Sometimes I get this feeling in the depths of me, but somewhere past where it seems my body should be capable of feeling, if that makes any sense - like something impossibly heavy and cold is dropping right through my body, pulling me down as it plunges down my legs and into the ground. It's like that excruciatingly helpless moment that one gets just before reaching the peak of a roller coaster's first hill, that moment of, "Wait, I don't want to do this, I don't want to do this - why did I get on this thing", but of course it doesn't matter what you say or think at that point. Your panic is nothing but a racing heart. You're strapped in and moving relentlessly forward and before you know it you're up over the peak and you're hurtling downwards, that impossible-to-describe breathless ache ripping through your insides.

Sometimes I get that precise feeling when I'm just standing quietly in a bookstore, or walking down by the river by myself on a sunny day. There's no reason to feel it but it comes on out of nowhere. And it always frightens and confuses the hell out of me.

I know what it is - sometimes the fear of dying, of living, is so enormous and terrifying that I don't know what to do with myself. I feel trapped in the inexorable momentum of time, like a baby in a basket thrown into the rapids. I find myself feeling so unbearably sad and scared at the thought of leaving this world, of not being able to watch ducks float on the river ever again, of no longer being able to eat an avocado, or drink a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice; of no longer being able to listen to music or watch movies, or curl up with my cat, or kiss my girlfriend's beautiful face, or hear the laughter of my friends, or lie in the grass on a summer evening, the cicadas buzzing, the smell of the earth reaching into parts of me I'd forgotten about...of course, when I die I won't be aware that I'm missing out, and on top of that it seems so petty and selfish to feel those things, because so many of us don't have the luxury of even the thirty-seven years I've been alive so far. But the fact is that I can't imagine being 'ready' to die, unless my body breaks down so painfully that I am forced into submission. It breaks my heart, utterly, that we are forced to be 'ready' for death, that all of us are capable of so much more than what we actually accomplish in the blink of an eye that we are here. I can't even begin to imagine the loneliness of a terminal illness, of being on the ascent of that final roller coaster's only hill. How does one ever come to terms with knowing? Of being absolutely certain that the last ride has begun? It makes me positively wild with fear and a sort of sadness too terrifyingly profound to even consider.

All that said, I've finally started to understand something, as unwilling as I've been to accept it (unwilling only because it is somewhat of a non-answer, a wisp of smoke) - and that is that getting something 'done', achieving whatever concrete goal or goals one might set for oneself, is really the least satisfying part, the least important part. It's the process that has to matter. (I know that most people know this, I think I just caught on a bit later in life than most do.) I've read a few comments that address the fear of not getting enough 'done', of feeling like time is being wasted...I don't think that my clumsy insights will help much, but hopefully they're worth sharing.

I'm a musician finishing up a second album - I've been in professional bands all my life but dropped everything about ten years ago to start my own band, with my own music. I've written and released one album of my own thus far, which wonderfully seems to have connected with more people than I could ever have imagined. I'm terribly proud of the new album, as hard on myself as I tend to be, as convinced sometimes that what I'm doing is not very good at all...to me we've created something so beautiful and delicate and true. Anyway, in the context of this post, I often think of what would happen if I died this instant, in terms of the art I hold so dear. It would be unfinished, this four year project, all of my efforts not quite realized, and therefore, as pointless as if I'd never started. Essentially that four years of work would cease to matter at all; at the moment, the only people it matters to (and that have heard it) are the guys in my band. And even when the album is released, we're really just a small, independent band, and the music could conceivably be swallowed up, forgotten, ignored. And even if it connects to one person, that one person is the same as me, our existences as fleeting. And even if it connects to millions, I'm still getting into bed each night with myself in my tiny apartment on this tiny planet. Another tiny, racing heart. Even if I am with the woman I love, even if I play a show in front of thousands, I am still essentially alone. We all are. No one achievement will ever change that.

And on and on. The point is that last night as I sat in the studio (a creaky, hundred-year-old house filled with old pianos and buzzing amps), listening to the song we were in the midst of recording, I felt a glow that had nothing to do with the future, with what could be. It had to do with the moment, and what was right then. It had to do with sitting with my friends and enjoying a cold beer together. It was the thrill of knowing we had done something small but important to ourselves and each other, that night. While we do things, while we do nothing, even, we can be kind, and forgiving. And generous. And loving. And in the end, whatever form the end takes on, that is all there ever was anyway. The achievement itself is only as strong as the peripheral achievements and human connections that come along with it.

Funny how something that feels so powerful can be so difficult to express. I just read this over and it hasn't captured much except my own confusion and tendency to meander. Hahaha. Oh well. I think it strengthens us all to share, even if we don't fully know what it is that we're trying to express.

On that note, thank you so very much for this post, Roger Ebert.

Ebert: You experienced a moment of Elevation. It's not the payoff that counts, it's the doing. I suspect musicians are especially fortunate to feel that frequently.

Ebert (to "Huge Boobs"): Thanks for your kind suggestion.

Your heartfelt identification with those "poor black kids" is manifest in your use of ebonics in your closing line, Boob; it should be "Pull your head out of your ass..." By the way, and without reproducing any more of your Bushie screed than necessary, am I correct in deducing by your use of ebonics and your sloppy misspellings of bourgeois and Ebert that you are a product of those very same "horrible government run schools," and are you aware that there is a relatively high correlation coefficient between those with an affection for "Huge Boobs" and those with lower IQ's? Just askin'...

Ebert: Russ Meyer was once accused of using actresses so busty that "they keep their brains in their tits." Russ replied: "In the first place, that old story is a god-damned lie. In the second place, with my girls, they're safe there."

An Atheist is someone without any god(s) or goddess(es). If you live your life without believing that there is/are any god(s) or goddess(es) then by definition you are an Atheist. Buddhism does not require the belief in any god(s) or goddess(es), so you can be a Buddhist and an Atheist. Secular Humanists (or Humanists) do not believe in any god(s) or goddess(es), if you are a Secular Humanist (or Humanist) then you are an Atheist. Unitarian Universalists do not have to believe in any god(s) or goddess(es), so you can belong to U.U. and still be an Atheist.

Everyone is born an Atheist and then the unfortunate are indoctrinated into some organized (or disorganized) set of superstitious beliefs and become a theist. It sounds like you were born an Atheist, became a Catholic type of theist, and then mentally evolved back into an Atheist. It appears that you do not like having any labels. But, it definitely sounds like you live your life without any god(s) or goddess(es) and therefore are an Atheist. You are also a very good movie critic.

You only exist as long as your mind exists and is functional. When you die the mind and/or brain dies and therefore you cease to exist.

Assuming that I am still alive after you have died, I will mourn your passing as I have the passing of many stars and television personalities that have given me much pleasure without us having ever met.

Live long and prosper ;-)

When I was a young boy, my best friend's older brother was dying of Leukemia. He went from being a strapping young man with a heart of gold to a bedridden shell.

As he lay dying in the hospital, his Dad noticed he was smiling as he stared towards an empty corner of the room. "Son, what are you looking at over there?" his Dad asked.

"There are angels over there Daddy," was his reply.

That brings ME comfort.

Hi Roger,
After reading this statement:
To make ourselves unhappy is where all crime starts. We must try to contribute joy to the world. That is true no matter what our problems, our health, our circumstances. We must try.

I can't help but wonder what Charles Bukowski might have made of it. Here is a photo of his grave (and epitaph) http://farm1.static.flickr.com/154/350083982_225fdc48db.jpg

Ebert: Touche.

Roger, my late mother once told me a story from her youth. She was heading off to college, feeling her oats, and made some sort of snotty remark. Her father, a tremendously down-to-earth man, looked at her and said, "You take up space and you use up air. Now go justify it."

She did, in my non-humble opinion, and so have you. Please continue justifying. And take all the air you want.

Thanks. I'm nowhere near the movie fan that most people here are, but your reviews, especially the Great Movies, often reach transcendence. Don't stop.

"I built a ship this afternoon
I plan to sail it up to the moon..."

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yJYhesl9OMQ&fmt=18

You'll find the first 2:30 minutes of this awkward, uncomfortable and question why you've even made this hypertext "leap of faith". But, I've never heard anything that approaches what you've discussed in your article more closely than this. Please enjoy.

Can't we all dream?

"I'm not talking about telepathy, psychic phenomenon or a miracle. The only miracle is that she was there when it happened, as she was for many long days and nights."

I love those lines, Roger. Some of us think Jesus walking on water is a miracle...and then there are those of us that realize that water is a miracle all by itself. So is the sunset, rain, grass, having a loving person in your life and well, all of life. It's sad that we don't take the time to appreciate it.

I know I don't as I should - I have spent the better part of this week worried about the news that I may be losing my job, and how to make ends meet if I do, with a stay at home wife and two little kids. And yet, this post gave me peace and perspective. So - for probably the umpteenth time that your writing has brought that to me - thank you.

Though the stone muse may be unbridled of mind
Chiseled into forms unwittingly by her lover’s hand
Who breaks false promise so that she might stand,
Oh dishonest fool! Whose thoughts would bind
To the deceptive trappings of stone aligned
In illusion of human features, a chisel unmanned
Yields neither divinity nor credence toward your brand
Of hope without grounds, wanderings through darkness blind.
Suffice then aesthete workings of your shallowed muse
During a lover’s useless day of feeling awaste
Doth much to foster a true writer’s own distaste
Of those who treat the loved stone model as a ruse.
May truth, time, and heartbreak give you thought twice
About the human condition instilled in this device.

The great Brendan Behan twice in this essay!

The Bells of Hell ring out in his The Hostage which, along with Frank O'Connors Guest of the Nation, anticipates The Crying Game.

Here's what World Wide Words has to say about the song.

Oh, and it's The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem.

Hearaoi

Hello Again Roger… ss usual, so many fireflies, and me with such a tattered net. I’ll nab what my jar can hold, with apologies in advance for a lid with holes that are too big.

First off, I loved the Toback transcript. For a talk about death, it was so… well… ALIVE. Like watching a Bergman film while riding a Tilt-o-Whirl. Not hard to see why your latest blog-thoughts were running toward the “Last Exit”. I know mine were.

My Grandmother-In-Law was a formidable woman. She grew up hardscrabble on the plains of Saskatchewan during the Depression, and saw her ticket out of town as the wife of a local boy joining the navy to fight Hitler. She raised their two boys largely on her own at first, bouncing from coast to coast, naval base to naval base, while her husband was getting his destroyer u-boated from underneath him in the North Atlantic. (He survived… to this day, in fact. A story worthy of Studs Terkel, but we’ll save that one for another day).

Whenever my thoughts turn to matters of shuffling off this mortal coil, they turn inevitably to her. She did everything in her life energetically, thoroughly and impeccably. Right straight into her mid-eighties she could cook the most fabulous multi-course meal for 100 your taste buds and bloated gullet can imagine, complete with formal place settings that would have been more at home at Buckingham Palace. I know this because she did so even when it was just the four of us for lunch. She’s 10 years gone and I think I’m still full from that last Sunday dinner.

As a “younger woman” (in her sixties and seventies) she’d survived (with little visible difficulty, as was her way) a couple of nasty bouts with various cancers, but she’d been many years “clean” when some stomach trouble was diagnosed as an inoperable liver/bile duct tumor. She took the news so absolutely in stride that everyone wondered if she’d understood what the doctors had meant by “6 months to live”.

She had. You know the famous line from “The Shawshank Redemption” about how we can either get busy living or get busy dying? I’m pretty sure Steven King pilfered that from Nana, only in this case she opted for the latter…

She immediately set out touring retirement homes. Not for herself, you understand, but to insure the proper arrangements had been made for Papa’s impending life as a carefree octogenarian bachelor. That done, she completed an exhaustive written inventory of the whole house (right down to the fridge magnets, bottle openers, and corn cob holders) with careful notes as to which items would move with Papa to the bachelor pad, which should go to a particular relative/friend, and which were up for grabs/donation/dumpster. She’d always found dealing with the aftermath of other people’s deaths to be needlessly messy and unorganized work, and she wanted to make sure that her loose ends were as tidy in death as they were in life.

Once the arrangements for others were complete, she turned to her own needs, rearranging, decorating, and outfitting one bedroom of the house specifically for optimal efficiency and comfort during her final days. She’d had enough of hospitals, and reasoned that if there wasn’t anything else they could reasonably do to keep her alive, she’d just as soon save her money and stay at home where at least she knew things would be run right (of course they would - she’d be running them). She sewed a number of nightgowns from material she liked, complete with easy-access hospital flaps in the back so she could spend her last days in clothes of her own choosing. She shopped for home hospice care providers, and worked with all of us loved ones who were close by to coordinate a care schedule so one of us would be there round-the-clock during the “final weeks”. She said this was for her, but we all knew it was really for Papa. After 60+ years of unparalleled Five-Star service (up to and including the ironing of his underwear) she was worried about his ability to do for himself.

Ultimately her story ended according to her exacting specifications – she died in her own nightgown, in her own bed, in her own home, attended to by her own family. The funny thing is, all of those well-laid plans had to be put on hold a while: She was such a dynamo that she completed all of her preparations in about three months, way ahead of her six-month timetable. As if that wasn’t inconvenient enough, it took another year for the tough ol’ bird to finally go.

With everything already done, she got bored having all this extra time on her hands. She started knitting the potholders and slippers she’d kept the entire extended family alterantely cool or warm with in since some time during the Johnson administration. She wanted to make sure we’d all have enough to see us through for a while once she was gone. The result was truly scary. If she’d been an Indonesian child working for a Wal-Mart supplier there would have been an international labor rights outrage. We’re talking truckloads of production here. We use them every day, and a decade later I think we still have a case of each.

I’ve never been one for whom death carried much dread anyway, but watching her address it as if it were just one more thing on her busy to-do list was an inspiration. A real embodiment of the oft-quoted statement from your friend Werner Herzog about how if he found out he had 30 days to live he’d start making another film.

One of the things that has kept me coming back to this blog lo these many weeks is the way it’s developed into the sort of idealized off-campus coffeehouse conversation among literati that likely never occurrs (at least not at this level) in an actual coffeehouse. In particular the impromptu survey of poetry is a delight. I mean, seriously folks, Whitman, Larkin, Keats, Marvell, Hopkins, a half dozen others I don’t recall at the moment, all in the middle of the day, with Gray’s “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard” for delicious dessert? Wow. That's something you don't see every day.

Since I aspire to be one of the cool kids (though I’m even too slow to realize I’m not) I’ll toss in a bit of Robert Frost for good measure. “Death of the Hired Hand” is the obvious choice, but since you already hit on it in your homecoming post, maybe this one will do just as well:

----------

"Out, Out -"

The buzz saw snarled and rattled in the yard
And made dust and dropped stove-length sticks of wood,
Sweet-scented stuff when the breeze drew across it.
And from there those that lifted eyes could count
Five mountain ranges one behing the other
Under the sunset far into Vermont.
And the saw snarled and rattled, snarled and rattled,
As it ran light, or had to bear a load.
And nothing happened: day was all but done.
Call it a day, I wish they might have said
To please the boy by giving him the half hour
That a boy counts so much when saved from work.
His sister stood beside him in her apron
To tell them "Supper." At the word, the saw,
As if it meant to prove saws know what supper meant,
Leaped out at the boy's hand, or seemed to leap -
He must have given the hand. However it was,
Neither refused the meeting. But the hand!
The boy's first outcry was a rueful laugh,
As he swung toward them holding up the hand
Half in appeal, but half as if to keep
The life from spilling. Then the boy saw all -
Since he was old enough to know, big boy
Doing a man's work, though a child at heart -
He saw all was spoiled. "Don't let him cut my hand off -
The doctor, when he comes. Don't let him, sister!"
So. The hand was gone already.
The doctor put him in the dark of ether.
He lay and puffed his lips out with his breath.
And then - the watcher at his pulse took a fright.
No one believed. They listened to his heart.
Little - less - nothing! - and that ended it.
No more to build on there. And they, since they
Were not the one dead, turned to their affairs.

---------

I think those last couple of lines may be a key to how/why different people deal with the oncoming night so differently. Why was it just another load of laundry for Nana, while some people loose countless uncomfortable nights to the creeping horror of it?

There was a time (Nana was a child of that time, as was Frost) when we didn't have to go to the movies to see life an death dance before our eyes on a regular basis. We got to see the real deal for free every day. People entered and exited life at home, not sequestered away in an environment sterile in every sense of the word. You learned about the birds and the bees from watching the birds and the bees (and the flowers and the trees and the cows and the farm cats...) When your chicken dinner came on two legs (not a styrofoam tray) unwrapping it was an undertaking both more physical and more metaphysical.

In contrast, most of us modern urban hipsters have worked very hard not to see how the sausage of life gets made. In this effort to avoid life's soggier unpleasantries perhaps we've isolated ourselves to the point where life (let alone death...) often strikes us as frighteningly unfamiliar in ways it never could when we were immersed in it all day, every day, as a matter of course. I don't know... maybe we once understand death on a more intuitive, kinesthetic level that eludes us now that it's primarily an intellectual exercise with which we have little practical experience.

What I do know is that it doensn't have to be this matter of nightly angst. We, since we are not the ones dead, can turn to our own affairs. I wonder how often our fear of death is really more a fear of life. It's been my experience that those who are happy and satisfied with their own choices in life feel very little of the stressful urgency to cram more in (or the regret for what might have been missed) that seem to lie at the heart of death's daunting dread. There’s no more to build on there.

A few quick comments on a few of your quick comments:

“I accept death for myself, but am far less philosophical about the deaths of my loved ones, and have an urgent desire to never attend their funerals.”

- While I agree that it’s definitely easier to be the leaver than it is to be the one left behind, I’ve had some really great experiences at funerals. I loved your bit about memes, and it’s always amazed me how one individual can plant such a diverse set of memes in such divergent associations. We are ALL large, and contain multitudes, in that we leave a different version of ourselves with person we come in contact with. My experience with funerals is that there’s a real power that comes from gathering all of those different deceased “people” in one room, in the vessels of their loved ones and associates. Almost invariably I come away from such occasions feeling as though I’ve almost gotten to know someone better in death than I did in life because I got to experience all of their selves that were not my own.

“I am not so ferociously rationalist that I want to lose all wonder and mystery from my life. I'm not saying what the experience was. I'm simply saying I absolutely believe my wife, and do not require an ‘explanation.’ “

- Here again (for the umpteenth time) an appearance of my main beef with fundamentalists of all stripes (Atheists and Rationalists no less than Christians or Muslims). They just can’t stop themselves from telling others what said others should think. Thanks for sticking to your guns here. I was going to say “give ‘em hell!” but as it turns out, you’d already given them something so much better:

“People are indeed pretty much the same everywhere, and desire pretty much the same things. Good people know that. Bad people want to deny it.”

- This may be the most concise, connotative, and useful rule of thumb I’ve ever encountered when it comes to human relations. Seriously, these are real words to live by. Thank you for them.

Ebert: First of all, what a great woman.

Second, I'm really enjoying all the poems that have been posted, especially as this wasn't an entry about poetry, and no one was encouraged to post them. People just...felt like it. Which is the most excellent reason to write a poem.

Have you been reading any Joseph Campbell? The Van Gogh boots reminded me of a lecture he gave on aesthetic arrest, and the quote about how god is, "beyond all categories of thought" is a classic Joe Campbell line. (Also eternity being that aspect of reality that shuts out time, also classic Campbell).

In any case, man, what a fantastic essay. I wish I could write like that.

Ebert:
"We thought we had known for years
How van Gogh lost one of his ears.
But the shit hit the can
When they blamed Paul Gaughin"

Loved it! May I add: Van Gogh painted with one ear.

Ebert:

Stevie Wonder sings although blind
In a style that is joyously refined,
But Van Gogh paints with one ear,
(The other was sliced off quite sheer)
Dripping wax, which is rather a grind.

A great movie with an interesting take on death, time, and the afterlife is Portrait of Jennie. Although this isn't completely relevant to the topic of your blog, I've always been curious if you've ever had the opportunity to see this 1948 Joseph Cotten/Jennifer Jones film and if so, what your thoughts on it were?

Though I admit it has some minor flaws, the questions it asks about death and the mysterious, eerie quality that it has makes it a favorite of mine, but one I hardly ever see mentioned.

I almost feel like it's my own secret little gem, which is perfectly fine by me.

Isn't the fear of death, at least for the non-religious (and maybe some of them too), really the fear of non-existance? I know that's not terribly deep, but it's something I've thought about since I was at least 12 years old. I even remember having a conversation with a friend of mine at that age about it. And it's one of those chicken or the egg type questions... if you don't exist, what's there to worry about? And at the same time, it seems terribly depressing to imagine having no consciousness whatsoever. And I've never been able to reconcile the two thoughts/feelings to any sort of satisfactory resolution. So yes, I admit it, I am afraid of dying.

The only time I ever cried for someone's death without having met them personally was George Harrison. It seemed a very symbolic death, that the period of history I was born into had ended. I didn't grow up during the Beatles heyday, but I did grow up with them and I loved the Traveling Wilburys as a kid.

I'm pretty sure Clint Eastwood will outlive everyone here, of course.

Ebert: I'll lose it if Pete Seeger dies.

Ebert-"Is there anyone here who can suggest an even halfway respected scientific explanation for the origin of matter? Energy? Everything?" Not me, I doubt I could explain how a telephone works, but I do have an explanation for you wanting an explanation. It's called hope and I can hear it faintly in the background of your writing in this piece. I also get the feeling that you are trying to keep it in the background,pushed down, afraid to let it come to the front. I don't know why.

Ebert: It's hope, for sure. I hope the answer comes through science. Whatever it is, it's sure to be bleeping amazing.

My mother has survived World War II, a move to a new country where she was left alone to raise 3 children and later another 4 children in the hard streets of Chicago's Westside. She survived two abusive men and the death of her parents, brother and sister. Recently one of her children, my brother, has been diagnosed with a very aggressive form of cancer. My mom is heartbroken and expressing the thought that she has no interest in outliving any of her children. She says it is her time to die. I don't want to lose my mom. I want her to continue to be a part of the lives of her grandchildren. But I also know it has been her life to live and ultimately it is her death to die. If this is her time then I accept it with the love she has shown me over the so many years.

Hi Roger, Really enjoyed this post as always. This may be a little off topic, but since there has been a lot of poetry tossed around in this thread, I thought I should mention that Ethan Coen (yes, THAT Ethan Coen) has just published a volume of poetry titled "The Drunken Driver Has the Right of Way". I heard about it in an interview on NPR the other day, then promptly went out and found it at the bookstore. Here's a link to the NPR story: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=103175352

As you might guess, there is a definite Coen Brother's sensiblity to many of his poems which do often touch on death and the hearafter. (Though I wouldn't consider any of his poems to be sentimental.) There is a fairly long chapter of limericks, followed by a very short chapter titled "What Then is the Point? Clean Limericks". You might want to give it a look.

Leslie

Roger,

I didn't know what was coming, but it was a delight. I still haven't gotten to watch "La Vie in Rose", but you can bet I will now.

By the way, I was telling my mother about your blog and she related a story to me that I had never heard. She apparently met you at the Kentucky Derby and some journalist took a picture of you guys giving the thumbs up. It made the front page of "The Courier-Journal"

Small world!

And it makes me wonder: just what else is she hiding? :)

"Cycles of life and death can be likened to the alternating periods of sleep and wakefulness. Just as sleep prepares us for the next day's activity, death can be seen as a state in which we rest and replenish ourselves for new life. In this light, death should be acknowledged, along with life, as a blessing to be appreciated.".....Daisaku Ikeda

http://www.ikedaquotes.org/life-death.html

I was driving my friend home from school one day and suddenly posed the question, "Would you be happy with your life if you died today?" Immediatly he became puzzeled, asking me to pose a more specific question as in which part of life. To that I really didn't know what to respond. You see, I thought my question was as specific yet broad and understandable as you could possibly get. After all we all live, no matter time spent or waking days past, in a phenomenom that language perscribes to us as, Life. "This isn't a test," I finnaly said, "Your not in school anymore..." Then it dawned on me. Mostly all we know... is school. I'm seventeen and every faction of my life has culminated around this idea of school. No matter how much I listen in class, am sick, or on vacation, etc... I know that in a short period of time I could expect to be right back where I was. Sitting at one of my desks and listening to a teacher or a ghost preach there sermon. Still confused he asked me, "What about you, would you be happy?" Of course I said, "No". I could almost sense his mind ratteling around its cages with raw curiousity. He seemed dumbfounded and asked the all-mighty question... "why?". It is 'the' question that cultivates our curiousity and could possibly even expand one's mind and brain functions to the point of paranoia. Imagining the world far deeper then the smallest of atoms or electrons. Questioing just how and why things work. Within a time warped thought I responded, "Because my life has been based on and locked into only one main thing. At my age and even younger, people were being crowned as pharoahs in Egypt by now. Take it, they were hitting there mid-life crisis by that point, but even still. I doubt there level of brain development had been that much quicker." However, that point also raises an intresting question. Is development and maturity simply based on age, or on how society looks and treats those ages. For instance, it is an automatic stereotype that old age means slow and brittle, while young age means to be looked down upon and talked to as though less supirior. Does this have an effect upon us and how we treat the various stages of life? I don't know for sure or to what extent, but I'd have to say that our expactations for general age groups are genarally the same according to what society feels comfortable with. Yet still I find my self locked in the cage, dying to get out and witness culture and experience of what I imagine to be life. Recently I watched for the first time, Baraka, in my film crit. class. Which as I am well aware you know is all about the interconnectedness of life across vast distance. When asked by my teacher what I thought of film, though various thoughts scurried around in my head, such as its raw and powerful visual poetry and united lanuguage. All I said was, "I want to be there." Now, I'm not exactly sure if he he knew what I meant. How I want to witness the excentrities and various options a life may have to offer, yet I am stuck. What does death mean exactlly? Or at least, when does a full-life end? I want to be a filmmaker, a writer, talk, and photograph the photographs of everything I see and am drawn too. My Grandpa, experienced what I imagine to be an eventful life. Was it the most honest? No, but it was eventful nontheless.(Not to say I want to have this life) He grew up in Brooklyn as second generation Italian-American, smoked a ciggeratte by the young age of Ten, rarely went to class in high school, even one time he played tricks with his friends on a poor transvestite, and saw a beautiful blond ghost in a vacant apartment along with his brother. "I did everything in my day," he said at a family dinner one time. Of course when he said that statement he was living in a senior citezen condo with my grandma. You see, they had moved there from Howard Beach, right across the street from the house of John Gotti. Of course, my uncle is one of Jr.'s best friends, but that's another story. In that same diner convorsation, he told me, "I don't need to do anything else,,, I did everything in my day." I only hope that one day I can be there at that point, to which my life is fulfilled in the way that I please, if it all. But still now, I answer, "No", to the question I pose at seventeen.

Thank you for this very nice essay Roger. As an astronomer I've always appreciated your sensibility on matters of science in movies and your blog. I've always thought that either way, whether the universe was created or just is, it is far more than our minds can wrap around. I think spreading joy on this world is a fine philosophy.

This was...exactly what I needed. This is the first of your articles that I've read, and I'm glad that I did. I'm only sixteen, and yet, I am still worried that when I die, there will be no evidence that I ever existed. This article comforts me. It makes me want to live a life worth living.

Ebert: What matters is not so much what I wrote, but more that you had the curiosity to read it. That is a very good sign of a life ahead worth living. There is nothing here a 16 year old cannot understand as well as I do (we have a 12 year old as a regular contributor), but, sad to say, this is not exactly a destination site for 16 year olds.

The lights go down and the movie starts.

When the beam of light illuminates the screen, the story of life begins to unfold.

There are a myraid of stories that can be told, but each movie tells a story of it's own. It may be similar to other stories, or it may be unique. It may meander along ploddingly, or it may astound us in ways we couldn't have possibly imagined.

Nevertheless, when it all comes down to it, WE decide what the movie is going to be that we are going to watch, though we have no idea what surprises will be in store. With a little luck, the movie we choose will change us in some way.

Finally, when the end credits roll, the movie is over.

THE END

"Ebert: What a lucid comment. Science is the justification for intelligence, in the sense that even such fields as literature are applied science. By that I mean so much that I may have to write another time about it. Evolution consoles me because it reveals a process that is natural and ongoing, and produced me and all living things, and in various ways other things, and will improve me, and is utterly without discrimination."

Kind of you to reply so.

To me evolution is the realization on a level too profound to explain that we are all related. I don't know if you are familiar with Dawkin's recent book, "The Ancestor's Tale" but I recommend it.

It tries to explain it, but it doesn't quite achieve the awe that comes from revealing an organism that has not seen light of day for 300 million years.

Or strolling around among the 1.2 billion year old stromatolites on the edge of your encampment, in a pristine forest reserve... while some of your companions in the wilderness are occupied watching Fox News on their satellite systems in their trailers.

As good friend of mine once said, "life is perverse".

Ebert: I love that book. It is physically beautiful, on top of everything else. The illustrations!

Someone named "Cam" posted that a boy
dying in a hospital told his daddy
he saw "angels standing in the corner."
No one else could see them but the dying boy.

On the morning of the day on which my
husband died (in our home)in the midnight hour,
he pointed at our living room ceiling above his
hospital bed and said, "Oh! Oh!, Oh!" to me,
in tones of utter awe and reverence and
disbelief, that he was seeing beautiful angels flying
around the perimeter of the room. He was
his "normal self" describing this scene to me
and was frustrated that I wasn't "sharing" the
awesome sight with him. I happily shared life
with this athiest man for 28 years. He was a
scientist by profession. I can best describe
him to you as like Carl Sagan. This happened
13 years ago and I can still conjure up the
feeling of being completely disoriented that my
rational husband, who had been a skeptic about
the supernatural for the entire time I'd known
him, was enthusiastically sighing in profound
enchantment at the "beautiful angels" he swore
to me he was seeing and wanted to share with me.
"Oh, mama, can't you SEE them!!?? Look! Look!"
I'm a skeptic too, but this really happened
and I haven't a clue why. He died that night
and my life has never been the same.
Roger, don't be seeing any beautiful angels !

Hi Rojer.

Enjoyed your limericks. Here's one of my own, on topic.


Chico caused quite a calamity
Atempting to preach christianity
'Cause his mates, who weren't pigeons
Considered religions
A virulent form of insanity

My son goes to college about an hour's drive away, and when he comes home each weekend we often end up talking about this blog into the wee hours. The first time I brought it up, I was delighted to learn that he had been reading it on his own for some time. Delighted, but not surprised: This is a kid who bought his own copy of "The God Delusion" with a Christmas gift card. That he is out there with a hungry mind and a sense of humor is about the finest parenting tribute I'll ever receive.

When I went through my divorce several years ago, I would often lament to myself, "But I did my best!" It was more protest than self-pity; how can one's earnest best efforts bring such lousy returns? But after a year or two, that voice in my head took a turn and became a little more encouraging. "Hey, I did my best!" And it dawned on me that outcomes are highly overrated. I even distilled my new wisdom into a kind of mantra:

Show up because you care...
Act because it defines you...
and be prepared to disengage before the scoring round

I went from a head knowledge to a heart knowledge that life is indeed "what you make it," and the opportunity to exercise that choice--to cheerfully show up and put my shoulder to the wheel--has made me happier and more grateful than I've ever been. And as far as the big picture is concerned, who needs answers when the questions are so entertaining? THIS is the time for joy and reflection. I'm quite content if this is as good as it gets.

I have read and thoroughly enjoyed the book SUM by David Eagleman. It is a series of 40 short essays on what one might encounter after death. It is a brilliant, thought-provoking book and I highly recommend it. The author spoke recently at an independent book store in Tempe, AZ and he said that he is a "Possibilian." Instead of standing on the shore and being fearful of the unknown, he enjoys playing with it by just exploring the possibilities of what MIGHT be there. It stretches the brain to think this way (he should know---he's also a neurophys (spelling?)...a neuroscience scientist!)

The essay that describes how God has a special chair for Mary Wallstonecraft Shelley is worth the price of the entire book. (God likes her novel description of a human attempt to create life and feels that she and He are kindred spirits!)

I was reading this beautiful entry on death as I sit in my south-central LA apartment. The windows were open to let in the breeze, and just as I finished the van Gogh quote, three gunshots rang out in the night, perhaps a block away. Instantly, police sirens began to howl, and a moment later a helicopter began to circle. I don't know if anyone has died, but it's strange to think that, if someone had, they'd experience nothing of all the activity that has been stirred up.

I think that what bothers me most about death is not where I'll go, but what I'll miss. But will I really miss anything? Like you said, we were content missing all of history up until the points we were born.

Ebert: It is eerie to think that you were reading the entry as someone in earshot might have, in Toback's words, "died in the next 30 seconds."

The following letter recently appeared on the front page of the Sun-Times. It is heartbreaking in its eloquence:

http://www.suntimes.com/news/24-7/1535476,rita-sallie-statement-schanna-gayden-death-042009.article

Karl, I love the comments you made on May 6th at 12:13am. I realize you're not a Christian, but bless you.

Mr. Ebert, any way you can post the closing scene from the movie "Blow Up," where the main character disappears? It might be appropriate here.

Thanks folks. Reading this has helped me a lot. I've been giving in to depression and hopelessness, shutting out the light and my contacts with people. But I'm going to get up right now and take my dogs for a car ride, windows down. Sure it's one in the morning, but what the hey.

"Nothing worth having
comes without some kind of fight.
Got to kick at the darkness
till it bleeds daylight."
Bruce Cockburn

In general I am very careful to get into impossible ideological arguments about the virtues of liberals and conservatives. That said, I'm not so sure it's necessary for you to back down for commenting that you vote liberal because of kindness. Of course, getting into a discussion with a conservative (read Republican, which includes the Republican platform) about why you wrote and felt this would likely lead to no further understanding and further divisiveness. That said, while the conservative gentleman who tells the nice story of giving a ride to the stranded liberal kid shows that this man has kindness in him, this has nothing to do with his vote. If you had said that you're a liberal because only liberals help strangers who they see in trouble, then he would have a point. But in this context I think that in large part a vote is, in very simple terms, about helping strangers in trouble who you cannot see. And the results of an election or a referendum can help or hurt far more than the few people we come across in person in our daily lives.

Does the conservative voter consider the vast social benefits of the taxes he pays; in many ways benefits that are there to help, as Jesus would have said, "the least of our brothers"? Does he even live such Christian teachings he has likely learned? I left Catholicism, but I still try to follow its philosophical teachings. And I fret that many modern conservative Christians do not, and that some in fact might use their religion as a ruse (the teachings behind the "Prosperity Gospel" come to mind). Does the voter consider the gay person who wants the same rights as all of the other men and women who were "created equal"? Does he think he is equally as kind as the liberal because he is friendly and even helpful to people when he meets them, whether straight or gay, even as his vote can then only serve as a hypocritical contradiction of kindness? In these terms, the liberal voter is kinder and so kindness is thus a valid criteria to cite for voting the way that you do. Conservatives are kind people, but are they as kind as liberals when they get into the voting booths?

Finally, I can't help but to quote John Kenneth Galbraith here:

"The modern conservative is engaged in one of man's oldest exercises in moral philosophy that is, the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness."

Ebert: I agree, of course. The Galbraith quote is my opinion exactly. Show me kindness in, to take the worst example, Rush Limbaugh.

But after further reflection I have removed the sentence from the entry, because it distracts from what I'm essentially trying to say. It may have to begin another entry some day.

Ebert: I'll lose it if Pete Seeger dies.

Have you read any of the recent NY Times articles about Pete Seeger? That is a man who has definitely lived a good, long life on his own terms, by his own uncompromised beliefs. The articles made me appreciate him all the more - his energy, his stamina, his grace and his very humble human approachability. He personifies the folk music he lives for. He is a character Steinbeck would have wished to dream of.

Pete and his gang were a bit before my time, and I got to know him and the Weavers through my parents' albums, and albums he'd made for kids. My mom recounted how McCarthyism had all but ruined them and killed their fame, and how Dylan and others from the 60s owed their careers to the path these people, and in particular Pete Seeger, had blazed.

A number of years ago, I went with some friends to Clearwater's Hudson River Revival, a folk festival in beautiful Croton, NY. We were watching Holly Near perform. She had recently done an album with Ronnie Gilbert, and Ronnie joined her up on the stage. And then Pete Seeger, Fred Hellerman, and Lee Hays joined them. A Weavers concert, no extra charge!

The crowd was totally blissed out, because this had not been on the schedule and just happened spontaneously. Their singing was as strong as ever, the harmonies as spine-tingling, as they went through their classics. Even Hays sounded strong, even though he was in a wheelchair and would pass on shortly after. It was the very last time the Weavers ever performed in public together (not Carnegie Hall, as many believe). I feel blessed and privileged to have seen it.

Don't get yourself too settled into that expectation of nothingness, there. I intend to have you cloned, and bring you back again. You know that sooner or later someone is going to remake Citizen Kane as a 3-D musical with all CGI-generated talking animals, and we're going to need you.

Ebert: I envision legions of film critics rising up from the dead, like a scene in a zombie movie.

Turner Classic Movies sometimes runs a commentary by the late director John Frankenheimer on actor Burt Lancaster. When they do, I'm reminded of how Frankenheimer left us too soon. For some reason I also remember watching a tape on a cable community channel of some kind in Western Canada of a workshop session years ago at the Toronto International Film Festival hosted or chaired by one Roger Ebert. It was a great example of Frankeneimer the storyteller, going on about both films and the days of directing live drama on television before the invention of videotape. The disasters and the characters including the colorful actor Robert (Treasure Isand's classic if hammy Long John Silver) Newton, also profiled in David Niven's great books. Roger keep writing on as long as possible. But thankyou for all you did for the Toronto festival in it's early days, including chairing that memorable session with John Frankenheimer.

Ebert: He was hilarious that day. I'm happy to learn it was taped.

I've been a coke head for over three years, now. I'll always be a coke head, unfortunately...(and obviously?). Anyhow and anyway, I'm currently on a waiting list for a bed in an in-patient rehab. I've been told I can expect at least 5 weeks to be admitted (but what do I have, or what am I, to admit?) Oh, that's a lot of time...all the time in the world. (Did Mr. Serling or Mr. Matheson write that episode or someone else?)

There's money to steal...if you're thief, which I've regrettably been and will therefore always be. Ends to a means, or vice versa: myself, my birth, and my life...or lack thereof. I've robbed from my mother money and possessions but cannot rob back what I beget with my selfish addiction. I hurt her. I hurt myself. Is there something inside that dies?

Maybe those 28 days will help reveal something as beautifully abstract as an actress named Sandra Bullock--or a mistaken sequel which stars me as the walking dead in Boyle's filmy procreations. (HeyHeyHey...it's only a paper life).

--Anonymous

Ebert: Put one word in front of the word "anonymous," and the 28 days could reveal a peaceful and happy life, reaching ahead of you. You know what the word is. Keep coming back.

I lived in a small town in Arkansas for some time.

Believe me Roger, you are correct, there is nothing to fear in death.

I see a dying movie theater, withered with memories
A childhood neighborhood disappearing before my eyes
I hear a beautiful song that only old people know of
I taste a meal whose recipe will soon be forgotten forever
I see a dusty hotel ledger written in pencil, last entry 1964
Details meeting my eyes like the wilderness meeting a lone explorer
Weary old memes meet confused new memes, tangled in a million heads
I see that all is vanity
And all is grace
And the rough boxer is the same as the sharply dressed stockbroker
For they are both fighting
And we are afraid of death as much as we are afraid of life
For both are sides of the same coin
Beauty in both
As is the beauty of a thousand fireworks
We humans
Exploding into the night sky
Brilliant colors and endless forms
Dancing with vigor, falling with tranquility
Breathing in, breathing out
We appear, we take part, we disappear
Popping in and out of existence
Putting on a show
A most beautiful, beautiful dance

Mr. Ebert, you have been a great influence to me, a breath of fresh air. Thank you.

Ebert: The image of the ledger evokes strange stirrings within me. All those people checking out.

I'm 21 and have often heard adults joke about how us kids must "never think about death." On the contrary I've been afraid of death since I was a young child. I envy those who profess to be content and unafraid. Or even those who can write so lucidly about death. The topic tends to make me physically ill and, in a cruel irony, want to die. For example, seeing "The Seventh Seal" made life difficult for me for weeks afterwards.

All of this makes me wonder: Why are humans sometimes subject to crippling depression? The purely scientific view would seem to suggest we should evolve to possess all the advantages necessary to survive and pass on our genes. What is the advantage of young people without children experiencing such anxiety that they kill themselves, or at least are rendered useless in their day-to-day activities? Why do we "higher" animals experience this self destructive tendency?

Soren Kierkegaard suggested this ability to experience anxiety is precisely what makes humans higher than animals and allows us the possibility of salvation. He may be right, but at this point I still find it necessary to simply try to put such topics as death out of my mind so I can have peace.

So Mr. Ebert rather than thank you for this blog post as others have done, I’ll take a different route and say thank you for your whole body of work, which in addition to being thoughtful has always been entertaining. Your candidness has inspired me to tell a very candid story: Just earlier this week while feeling very depressed and having thoughts of ending my own life, I reached for the most fun thing I could think of at that moment to take my mind off my worries. I watched old clips of "At the Movies" on Youtube for several hours until I was sufficiently calmed down.

Since you made a post about dying, I thought it was fitting to thank you for helping me to live.

Ebert: I went through a period of depression once, some years ago, and read somewhere that "exercise" might help. I doubted it. But there came a morning when I could no longer sit on the chair in my room. I couldn't bear to. So I went outside and walked. Walked and walked and walked. I returned quite tired, and fell asleep in the chair, then woke up and crawled into bed. I was no better the next day. But I had slept. Again I walked. I walked a hell of a lot, for how many days, maybe weeks, I don't know. But what happened was, I discovered I liked walking. It wasn't dramatic, but one day my depression had gone and I hadn't even much noticed the change. It was just that I didn't go there any more.

I'm not sure this would work for everyone. I know there are professional people who deal with depression. Maybe I wasn't as depressed as I thought. At least I eventually got a book out of it, The Perfect London Walk.

Mr. Ebert,

I am not entirely sure, but I think that I have posted on your blog only twice before. In both posts I may have failed to convey the reason I find myself here in the first place. I like you.

I am sure that one thing you will not miss when you are gone (if, when you are gone, you are surprised to find yourself missing things at all) is sycophancy. Nevertheless, I like you, and if, in what I hope is a very long time from now, you slip the surly bonds of earth before I do, I will miss you even more than George Harrison or Pete Seeger.

Sincerely,

Stephen

Ebert: Now you have gone too far.

The incomparable Tom O'Bedlam sounds eerily like Michael Gambon, by the way.

Ebert: I wonder if you have solved the mystery. I came upon him quite by accident, as one does with YouTube, and found he has some 450 readings online.

http://www.youtube.com/profile?user=SpokenVerse&view=videos

He signs them "Spoken Verse," and it was only after a lot of clicking that I found him referred to as "Tom" in some of the comments. More clicking, and I found an associated email for Tom O'Bedlam. I wrote him, asking for his real name so I could give credit. He wrote back graciously, and said, "Just call me Tom O'Bedlam."

I like the way he allows the words to carry the meaning and emotion, instead of trying to cue us with a performance. Bill Nack does the same thing. I once attended a reading by e. e. cummings, and you would have thought he was reading his poems out of a newspaper.

Regarding the Toback article,

I've taken LSD a few times, and I think I know what he's talking about. Regarding a blog a couple months ago with what Arthur C. Clarke was saying, No, I did not see any mandelbrot sets, although I did see a kind of yellow and orange graph that merged with purple or something. As Robert Crumb said in "Crumb": "Everything looked all fuzzy", which is exactly right. Metallic numbness is how I'd describe what your senses feel like. There are a lot of different kinds of LSD and each will have a chemical feel in your brain with differing degrees discomfort (or purer, no discomfort, I'd guess) with a kind of metallic feeling in your brain to which sensory stimulations feed; you want to feed that thing in your brain with your senses and it feeds endlessly on anything--everything becomes "groovy", I guess, which maybe why there was so much harmony or whatever in the sixties; on LSD, just about any sense stimulation was something you craved or more like melted by, and there was a feeling of mutuality with others; we're all just grooving. This melting feeling by itself is overwhelming, so you didn't really want to go into "the real world". This craving goes on for about 6-8 hours, peaking after about 3 or 4 in intensity. And your thoughts: All of your thoughts become amplified. I, when walking around, was expecting or had some kind of anxiety that some crazy drunk was going to yell/there would be violence I would witness, but nope. Other times, it felt like the universe was going to collapse. If you feel like you're going to die, you might, it seems. It also made me laugh hysterically--falling straight on my back laughing,--and one time as soon as it kicked in I started laughing for no apparent reason, holding my belly laughing, and my friend just joined in and we walked to the park nearby, which was about a 6 minute walk, which took about 10 minutes because we walked the entire way there holding our bellies laughing down the neighborhood. We didn't care what anyone was thinking of our laughing...at nothing.

I've read so many reviews of movies I've never seen, many I don't know where to see, and almost all I ever recall seeing, on your website. And still it's updated weekly to some extent or another with another review that I'll read. Sometimes, Mister Ebert, I wonder what your last review is going to be. Like you might die unexpectedly and your last review ever might be a snarky 2 1/2 review on Underworld 4(or something else along those lines).

So, not to be morbid or anything, but it's sort of funny. It's like how we all run the risk of going unexpectedly, and the last thing you might be doing is something that doesn't really do justice to everything up till then. But I guess I'll try to focus on all of your reviews as a whole, and how long I've enjoyed them, rather than any single one to remember you by.

Yeah, I'll buy one of your books.

Ebert: Not to worry. There will always be a few more Great Movies, already written. I like to let them marinate.

Mr. Ebert, this was a fantastic find for me today. I'm 30. I have a young toddler. I'm undergoing tests for cervical cancer. Things do not look good. And yet, as I have talked with my family about it, I have not felt sad, stressed, worried ... some can't understand that -- that I am not moved by the revelation. Here's my thinking: it has happened to me. I did not do anything that would cause it. I cannot do anything to fix it, so what's the use in worrying? Of course, it does have me thinking about mortality. I really needed this read today. Thank you again for sharing with us.

Ebert: Your post really touched me.

Of course you didn't cause it. One of the most evil of all folk myths is that we are somehow responsible for our cancer. I have been responsible for two broken bones, and I admit it. Cancer happened to me like the wind or the rain. It is simply a part of being alive and having a human body.

A dog knows when it has been a bad dog. It feels bad, because it knows it is responsible for peeing on the rug. If it dies of cancer, it doesn't lose a moment's sleep over it.

One day at a time. Not because we have cancer, but because, what else can we do?

Slow comments are mindlessly slaughtered!

Oh well!

Why is there anything at all? Where is everything? When is it?

What is it about a question?

Jorge Luis Borges was mentioned. One of my favourite essays of his was about infinite. It is eminently appropriate to this blog entry.

Infinte, Borges wrote, is by far the most horrifying thing to contemplate. For what is death, really, but a fear of the infinite? A fear that, once dead, we shall never again be conscious. We shall pass into nothingness, be forgotten, and remain in that state forever and ever.

But what's worse is that immortality is no more comforting an alternative. Who would want to live forever? Outlive the Earth even. Eventually the sun will collapse, or explode, and then what will become of the person who cannot die? They will float through space, alone, forever. Or be pulled into a black hole and stuck there, again, forever. And forever, infinite, is such a vast amount of time that all memories of normal life from Earth, back when it was whole and life had a semblance of normality, will inevitably fade away, after billions or trillions of years.

No, Borges wrote, ultimately all fears can be traced back to infinite. To eternity. Whether it is an eternity of stasis, or an eternity of change, eternity is horrifying.

By Gilbert Smith on May 6, 2009 7:20 PM: The only time I ever cried for someone's death without having met them personally was George Harrison.

I was in grad school in 1980 when John Lennon was shot. That night--morning--at 3:00 AM, W.C. Fields' It's a Gift was on TV. My friend Bill and I decided John would appreciate it if we stayed up to watch it for him. I dozed off, and Bill--an artist
--did a charcoal drawing of me, stretched out likeThe Death of Chatterton. Bill gave it to Jill and me as a wedding present. I asked him what he called it, and he said, "Death of a Hero." Of course, the hero was John, gone but still with us, via hapless Fields and his dream of orange groves, and a drawing of a sleeping guy. Gentle all around.

Ebert: It hit me very hard when Natasha Richardson died. It seemed so wrong.

Jorge Luis Borges was mentioned. One of my favourite essays of his was about infinite. It is eminently appropriate to this blog entry.

Infinte, Borges wrote, is by far the most horrifying thing to contemplate. For what is death, really, but a fear of the infinite? A fear that, once dead, we shall never again be conscious. We shall pass into nothingness, be forgotten, and remain in that state forever and ever.

But what's worse is that immortality is no more comforting an alternative. Who would want to live forever? Outlive the Earth even. Eventually the sun will collapse, or explode, and then what will become of the person who cannot die? They will float through space, alone, forever. Or be pulled into a black hole and stuck there, again, forever. And forever, infinite, is such a vast amount of time that all memories of normal life from Earth, back when it was whole and life had a semblance of normality, will inevitably fade away, after billions or trillions of years.

No, Borges wrote, ultimately all fears can be traced back to infinite. To eternity. Whether it is an eternity of stasis, or an eternity of change, eternity is horrifying.

From my favorite short story: The Dead by James Joyce

"The air of the room chilled his shoulders. He stretched himself cautiously along under the sheets and lay down beside his wife. One by one, they were all becoming shades. Better pass boldly into that other world, in the full glory of some passion, than fade and wither dismally with age. He thought of how she who lay beside him had locked in her heart for so many years that image of her lover's eyes when he had told her that he did not wish to live.

Generous tears filled Gabriel's eyes. He had never felt like that himself towards any woman, but he knew that such a feeling must be love. The tears gathered more thickly in his eyes and in the partial darkness he imagined he saw the form of a young man standing under a dripping tree. Other forms were near. His soul had approached that region where dwell the vast hosts of the dead. He was conscious of, but could not apprehend, their wayward and flickering existence. His own identity was fading out into a grey impalpable world: the solid world itself, which these dead had one time reared and lived in, was dissolving and dwindling.

A few light taps upon the pane made him turn to the window. It had begun to snow again. He watched sleepily the flakes, silver and dark, falling obliquely against the lamplight. The time had come for him to set out on his journey westward. Yes, the newspapers were right: snow was general all over Ireland. It was falling on every part of the dark central plain, on the treeless hills, falling softly upon the Bog of Allen and, farther westward, softly falling into the dark mutinous Shannon waves. It was falling, too, upon every part of the lonely churchyard on the hill where Michael Furey lay buried. It lay thickly drifted on the crooked crosses and headstones, on the spears of the little gate, on the barren thorns. His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead."

Ebert: John Huston made a great, great film from that unfilmmable story:

http://rogerebert.suntimes.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20051009/REVIEWS08/510090301

In a sense, we we do live forever in the reverberations of our actions in the world. A gesture of kindness can touch someone whose future actions are, consciously or not, informed by that act. Perhaps the original experience is forgotten but the effects ripple out across the community over time. We never know which ripples will attenuate into the smallest remnant and which will align to come a swell. It doesn't matter. We never know if the tiny flap of the butterfly's wing will alter the course of a river.

To say that every action seems to have an endless future is also to acknowledge that we are the product of every action that came before us. There's no implication of determinism here. The universe appears to be a far too complex and chaotic dance for that to be the case.

Nor is there any religious implication in this view. It's revealed by simply observing the everyday world over time. As I have gotten older, it's a view that seems increasingly reinforced. The memes of religion and the actions that follow appear to ebb and flow just like everything else.

The eternity of our actions is a blessing and burden (nice phrase from a previous poster), perhaps even an opportunity. Between epochs of stardust, it seems a lot can happen. Dance it consciously or not, joyfully or not, amazed or not.

May 7, 2009 – 10:30 pm., Taiwan time

To Lord Ebert,

As promised, I am here to lay out my droll and shameless limericks for all the world to see. I dedicate these limericks, first and foremost, to a friend, whom I shall only call as P. (P has had rough sailings for most part of her life, but always managed to weather through every single storm.) I also dedicate these limericks to you, Roger, and to everyone else who is looking for lighthearted humour and amusement.

Another reason I have for writing these limericks is to celebrate Limericks Day, which falls on May 12 of every year. As you can see, it is 5 days from now. Since this is a kind of (pre)celebration, I have therefore taken great pains to lay the whole thing out beautifully like a tea banquet, using at my disposal, HTML codes to add designs to the verses. It is my hope, dear readers, that you will find the finished work pleasing not only substantially, but also visually.

In my attempts to write the limericks, I had put to heart Roger’s advice on humour: that it should not be forced, but spring naturally from an inner comic self. (Doing otherwise would render the joke ineffective, or at best, unwieldy.) As such, the finished limericks are just modest works compared to those written by the Masters of this literary form; the likes of Edward Lear, Ogden Nash, Isaac Asimov, Robert Conquest, E. O. Parrott (whose Book of Limericks I have held in my hands for these past three years that it has become my constant companion inside the bathroom), and many others.

I do not expect my limericks to induce guffaws of laughter from readers; but if they so much as put a slight smile on one single face, then my work would not have been for nowt.

Now, Roger, I have a confession to make. Initially, I was discouraged to put my limericks here; for as you well know, this latest blog post deals with the contemplation of death. (Personally, I have nothing profound to contribute to the subject of Death. I only ever contemplate about death when, after having gorged down a can of Spam, heart palpitations begin to happen within my chest.) However, to continue, it soon dawned upon me that Life, Decay (Death) and Humour are actually all akin. Here is strong proof that these three, with the blessings of Intelligent Design, constantly collude behind our backs!:


Of all God’s jokes none is bluer
Than when He mixed sex with manure.
What was on His Mind
When He saddled Mankind
With a playground alongside a sewer?

~ A. Cinna


With this grim realisation, I end my ramblings, and proceed to the tea banquet. Please know that my offerings are never intended for the offence of anyone. Limericks are such that slight jabs and innuendoes are must-haves in order to keep true to its playful and prankish spirit.

Lastly, Roger, you have extolled on kindness in your readers? If I might add, it also wouldn’t hurt to occasionally put oneself in other people’s shoes. I find that the world gravely lacks in understanding. We pursue academic understanding ardently, but ironically neglect empathy for our neighbors, in whatever forms these neighbors of ours come.


[ To Edward Lear and the Revellers of Croom ]


The limerick’s a work of Rythmity,
Its base in Wit and Profundity,
Which, with proper force,
And gentle intercourse,
Is afterwards married to Absurdity.


~ o ~


There was a limericist in Formosa,
Who had his work blest with Holy Wata.
Thus transforming his rhyme,
From a lewd, diabolic grime,
Into one of virtuous, angelic Scriptua.

~ inspired by Mr. Ogden Nash's
"oleaginous mutter"



[ Ψ The Undead Limerick Ψ ]


Nosferatu once went to his dentist,
On account of perhaps gingivitis.
But his jaw was too stiff,
The dentist had a tiff,
“Sir! You’ve a bad case of rigor mortis!!”


~ o ~


Nosferatu once visited his physician,
On account of some unknown condician.
Doc then gave advice,
"Ample rest will suffice,
And abstain from sex with the mortician!!"



[ The ƒilosoƒically-Můddled
but Ṗolitikally-Ḱorrekt Limerick ]


A confused Anglophile named Fillion,
Known for other than literary disquisition,
Doggedly argued that “ass,”
Be replaced with “arse,”
And that all males should forego circumcision.


~ o ~


How by pure evolutionists’ reckoning,
Is belief in God a fool’s unfolding;
When all of history,
Proves that trusty Folly
Is Man’s evolutionary way of Happening?



[ Δ β Limericks of Literary Spoofery φΩ ]


Cried Oliver, “I live amongst heathens!
As this Victorian humbug plot thickens!
The wanker Fagin’s aloof,
While Nancy’s gone, *kapoof’*,
And Sikes! …Oh, bugger, what the Dickens!”

~ Oliver Twist


~ o ~


Said Hera to Athena, “’Twasn’t Zeus’ power,
Or the wondrous glitter of gold shower.
‘Twas this soggy cuckoo, see,
That smote me to sympathy.
You know we birds always clot together.”

~ Greek Mythology


~ o ~


“Confound it!,” said Frankenstein, in effect.
“This isn’t what Shelley and I would expect.
Could there be trauma
In his Medulla Oblongata,
Or other reasons why the thing won’t erect?!”

~ Frankenstein


~ o ~


A lass named thea that was Doro,
Wedded with this bon that was Casau.
Till his will’s cil of codi,
Drove thea to slaw-Ladi,
For bon’s cil was ocks that was bollo.

~ the beheaded limerick's
take on Middlemarch


~ o ~


In Chawton Cot, Miss Austen said, “Hark!”
As her ripened years grew steadily dark,
Words here she imparted,
Before she departed,
For damsels from Thames to Mansfield Park:


"Prejudice breeds many a temptation,
(like that of Lizzie and Darcy).
Bad sense is virtue’s emmaciation,
(such as Marianne’s complacency).
And when sensible gents are short,
Shun pride, northanger resort.
Buck up, for you still have persuasion;
(old maids lack such luxury).”


~ Jane's proposition -
freely to be weighed, as calls
the situation.

~ the double limerick, which nearly
succeeded, and the limeraiku,
on Jane Austen



[The R-rated Limerick]


In Spain there was a maid called Ramona,
Who was one veritable headturner.
Even priests would exclaim,
(and much to their shame),
“… of the Father, of the Son, and of the
…………………… Holy Banana!!!”



[Limericks for the Young-at-Heart]


There once was Jeremiah, a chameleon,
Who’d turn from black, blue, to vermillion,
Then scarlet and green,
Then ultramarine, and –
That, admittedly, was his lifelong ambition.


~ o ~


On sunny hills and redolent meadow,
A kitchen garden there clear springs flow,
A gracious country abode
Of hearty Victorian ode,
And tomes whereby thinking sparks grow ...
~ To Albion do my wand’ring dreams go.

~ for Queen Victoria, and the Era
that bears Her Majesty’s Name


[] []    ~ Finis ~    [] []

Thank you for this touching and beautiful article. I am going to turn 35 this September, but I've been obssessed with death and with what happens afterwards since I can remember myself. Because life here is so short, and death is eternity. In my family, most people die suddenly, from one moment to the next, without pain and suffering. That's how I'd like to go, painlessly. I hope something does happen to us after death - be it going to heaven, reincarnation, whatever. Even old Nietzche's idea, about us living our lives over and over and over again, without being able to change even one part of it, sounds OK. I'm just afraid of nothingness, of blackness, of never being able to think or feel. It scares me like nothing else, this concept does.

I hope that you will live for many more years, Mr. Ebert, and that you will continue to entertain, elighten and touch the feelings of your family, friends and readers. And thank you again for touching my feelings so much with your blog entry.

"My entry was admittedly self-centric. I accept death for myself, but am far less philosophical about the deaths of my loved ones, and have an urgent desire to never attend their funerals. You survived to see your daughter start her entry into adulthood and are still her loving dad, two things that are far more important than your theories about death."

Damn right. I'm not the least afraid of my own death. Surely the worst agony anyone could ever go through is losing a child. We have come so close too many times.

We used to be taught, "No one has ever suffered as much as Jesus did on the cross" and "God won't give you more than you can handle." Those statements are just about the two biggest pieces of horseshit I've ever heard. I would gladly endure three hours of crucifixion to have my kid back the way he was four years ago. And what's the opposite of handling it, exactly? Death? Nervous breakdown? Did the people who experienced these things turn to God only to be ignored?

Unless, however, there is an everlasting divine life to which we contribute, a repository of experience that cherishes every worthwhile experience, then in the end nothing means anything, because a universe in ruins that began as an "accidental collocations of atoms" -- albeit ruins in a future distant enough for us to evade -- stamps an expiration date on all value.


...and kindness, and love, and wonder, and joy, and participation, and laughter, and courage, and health, and accomplishment, and experience, and insight and wisdom and freedom and justice and general goodwill, for their own sake, are meaningless why...


If you or some of the visitors feel so inclined there is a philosophy course about death on Yale's website.

http://oyc.yale.edu/philosophy/death/content/class-sessions

This undergraduate course is totally free to watch and the professor, Shelly Kagan, is amazing.

Philosophy really is the "science" of thinking, I am at course 14 so far and I am enjoying every minute of it.

Philippe

I'm constantly amazed at how your blogs put into words exactly what I have felt and experienced. Is it something about being human that seems to hold us together or drive us all to the same point? I had the thought some time ago that what happens after death is the same as what happens before birth. What does that say about us if you have come to the same conclusion? It feels to me like this understanding is something constantly lost and rediscovered with every generation. How many times throughout our entire history has this idea been uncovered? By how many people? Tarkovsky spoke of the notion that an artist must develop through his own experience, that he cannot simply "use his father's experience," he must come to these understandings on his own. It just seems incredibly sad to me because it appears we are going in circles, constantly losing what is most valuable. Art is our attempt to preserve our ideas throughout time so that future generations may have a link or insight to their past. I recall a sense of wonder reading the work of a poet from 500 years ago and realizing that he is still so relevant today. I feel connected to him. Something essential seems to remain constant throughout time. I just feel a sense of loss that we work our whole lives to build upon our knowledge of existence only to have the slate wiped clean for each new person who comes into the world.

The Mike Nichols' film version of the play Wit reflects your own view of the afterlife more closely than the original play. The play gives more credence to the notion that the afterlife provides the source of hope which allows us to ask of death "Where is thy sting?" The film places a stronger emphasis on human kindness as our source of hope and does not take the afterlife literally (though it does take ideas on the afterlife seriously.)The film leaves out an essential scene from the play where the main character, after she has died, rises from her table and takes a step toward light.

Here is my question: As a critic, do your own views on life after death move you to prefer the film to the original play?

from one buddha to another...you will die today (always) and you will be ok...hope to meet you eventually my friend.

Roger,

One of my fantasies is to take fishing trips with a great thinker that I admire, to spend a few days in a boat talking about stuff. Stuff both in the person's area of expertise, and out.

The late Richard Feynman, Bob McGinn (the sports writer), Jimmy Carter (maybe Rosalynn), Warren Buffet to name a very few. And of course, you.

Not likely to happen, but having your essays available via your blog is an excellent approximation. Keep on truckin'.

Dear Roger,

Thanks for this lovely candid meditation on your ending. You deserve a good one. Thanks, too, for decades of vivid insights and good humor about film. You once settled a bet for me in a ballroom in Chicago. I asked you for a thumbs up or down on John Sayle's BROTHER FROM ANOTHER PLANET. You said, modestly, "For me, thumbs up." When I turned smugly to my betee, he smirked and said, "He's just one critic." I said, even more smugly, "He won the Pulitzer." For that moment alone, I owe you a beer.

PS: Read Mary Oliver.

Patrick O'Leary

As someone who was also raised Roman Catholic, but now considers myself more of an agnostic, death is still a touchy subject. I've come to have little faith in a god, a religion, or most of the traditions that I grew up believing. However, part of me still truly has a small belief, or at least strong hope, in the afterlife. Why? It is probably to console me on some level. Having no belief in any sort of life after death can certainly be depressing. The thought that once I take my final breath, I am non-existent is almost beyond human comprehension, yet I haven't seen any concrete evidence to have any other belief. (Same goes for God and religion.) I suppose it is at once good and bad. If there is no life after death, then I'll be dead and won't know.
But then, that thought creeps up, if it really is over, then that's it. No more of me. I don't try and dwell on death much because I feel like it can hinder one's life in the moment, but it is a question that I always yearn for the answer, but once again come up short...I suppose until I take that final breath.

When Ebert slows to an unseemly slog,
Grinds to a halt, on his last critical cog,
“Before his time” we will say,
“When Death spirited him away”,
And “Oh well, so much for his Blog.”

Encouraged by this post and tonight's premiere, I re-watched Star Trek II a couple of days ago. You might recall that the film opens with Kirk lecturing a cadet that "how we face death is at least as important as how we face life," and the drama that unfolds is based in part on his hypocrisy: he's never truly faced death before. It's obvious from this and other posts that you've seriously grappled with this question since your illness began, and I wonder if that hasn't played a role in the apparent disappointment behind your review of the new film.

Or maybe the disappointment comes from memories of watching the original "Star Trek" series as a young man (the title of the review is proof positive you were a fan), when at its best it fulfilled the visions of Asimov, Clarke, and Harlan Ellison in a way that virtually nothing else on the large or small screens could? And you don't feel it's lived up to that promise ever since?

Krubozumo Nyankoye on May 6, 2009 11:14 PM

... while some of your companions in the wilderness are occupied watching Fox News on their satellite systems in their trailers.
Wow. The elitist arrogance of this throw-away phrase of yours is staggering. And revealing.

In that regard, you do excellent mimicry of your guru, Dawkins, who indulges in his writings and public comments in similar elitism dripping in condescending disdain for the masses of poorly educated "backwoodsmen" in America who reject ToE to some degree. Nice. Very attractive.

What do you know of people who live in trailers, I wonder?

Me personally, I come from deep poverty. I grew up around trailers, near my grandparents who lived many years in a trailer out in the woods in Kentucky. Good-hearted people who wouldn't think it wit to disdain a whole segment of their fellow man, as you apparently do. I lived in a trailer myself for a time, as a young newlywed struggling to complete a degree and support a wife. While I'm not there now, I have an earned affinity for folk who live in trailers.

I think that you may have missed the paragraph in Roger's excellent post where he talked about kindness. The useful type of kindness is one that you show not only to your peers, but that you might extend to a class of people who you clearly disdain.

P.S I can see why you dumped on Fox News. The brand of elitist snark in your comment has it's home on MSNBC.

I hate flying. I always think of Death when I'm on a flight. There you are, thousands of feet above the ground, catapulted faster than the speed of a bullet train, and you're not in control! Someone, a pilot, a stranger, hidden from your view, holds your life in his hands. Sigh.

Every bump, every seat-belt sign warning, every minor change in engine sound, I feel like, "Maybe this is it." I hear a baby cry somewhere on the plane and I think, "Maybe that baby is in tune with something that's about to happen. Maybe this is it." Lol.

Friends tell me the statistics. Less likely to die in a plane than a car. But always, I feel safer driving my car, hands down, statistics be damned.

But anyway, the only way for me to relax on a flight is to surrender. Whatever happens, let it be. I'm not in control.

But in order for me to surrender, I need to trust in the "something" that I surrender to. Can't surrender to the enemy unless I trust he won't hurt me. So I surrender to God and trust Him. If the plane is going down, well, I guess it's my time. And if it's my time, then I trust there's no other purpose for me in this life. No matter how modest you think your life has been, if it's your time, then God must have thought you've done all you needed to do. Time to move on.

So that's what I trust about Death. And Life. And what lays beyond it, The Great Beyond.

And I confess I'm more religious on flights than in church services. Sigh.

Ebert: You know what's coming:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kFRuLFR91e4

I was expecting Frank.

Heaven is on my mind because I cannot find a crappy job much less one where I can do something worthwhile. Heaven is living among friends, having time and money simultaneously and anything one cannot have in this life. There is no hell except perpetual job applications.

I've lost grandparents, a father (though not as a child), friends, acquaintances; saddened as I was, I tried to take comfort in the standard beliefs that "they are in a better place" or "we'll see them again in the next life." But when my brother was killed in a car accident at 27, I was absolutely overcome with grief and confusion and sorrow and anger. I remember even feeling fearful. None of the usual condolences worked to alleviate my utter devastation. Today, I believe, having since moved on (still missing him terribly, of course), that it was because of a deep-seated knowledge, unreachable by any tenets of faith, that Death is Final, and I will indeed never see my big brother again. And that is exactly what made it so damn difficult to get through.

But wait, here's the thing! It turns out, actually, that he DOES live on, in old photographs and faded home movies, but also, best of all, clear memories and pleasant dreams, both of which remain vivid and real. I consider THAT to be an honest-to-God true miracle, one that I think we all fail to fully appreciate. The ability to REMEMBER.

Thanks again, Roger, for another thought-provoking piece. I never knew how close we came to losing you during your surgeries. Give Chaz an extra kiss from all of your faithful readers, and be well, my friend.

I would say that all inner reflection is good. Your reaching out to the infinite unknowable is natural. When you were a child you held a leaf and explored it. Now you look at your life and beyond. It is what we do, when we can. It is part of surrender. No one has the right to force you to be 'religious' by definition. We are all, I think, 'spiritual' but our definition and experience of this state is ours alone to find. Cheers.

Very beautiful piece, I think the best thing I've read of yours.

I'm under twenty and scared of dying young. I think if I lived to 60 I would feel I could die then and accept it. I've been to two funerals, one was of a classmate who died when I was 12, and the other was a grandparent. I didn't feel sad at the grandparent's funeral the same way I did at the classmates. The saddest thing in both cases was seeing other people's reactions. I'll never forget my eternally beaming aunt breaking down at the coffin side and (if not for the hold of her husband) collapsing to the floor.

Me: Okay, I think I've reached my limit for number of times to post to any one blog, haven't I?

Ebert: Not even close.

Me: Phewww!!

*

Ebert: The amazing thing is, Toback really talks like that. Whole paragraphs come out.

Me: If that's the case, then I'm going to seek out everything I can find that he's said and made. I love a person who thinks before he speaks (and I don't necessarily mean that in the way we usually mean that).

*

Ebert: ... sad to say, this is not exactly a destination site for 16 year olds.

Me: Well, I'm telling all of my 16-year-old students about it, for sure.

I have no poignant quote to post, but there is one work of art that I was reminded of while reading your blog entry. Jason Rohrer's "Passage" made me consider mortality with a bittersweet wonder that I could never quite verbalize until after reading your thoughts today. Thank you for finally giving words to some of those feelings.

You can find "Passage" here: http://hcsoftware.sourceforge.net/passage/ , but please accept my apologies in advance because I realize its chosen medium isn't one of your favorites. It only takes five minutes to get through though, and for those in my generation who still have yet to come close to the reality of death, the procedural rhetoric of "Passage" speaks louder than most words.

When I think of what's on the other side, I think of this poem by Leonard Cohen. I've read it many times over the years, and it never fails to give me a sense of peace.

You have the lovers,
they are nameless, their histories only for each other,
and you have the room, the bed, and the windows.
Pretend it is a ritual.
Unfurl the bed, bury the lovers, blacken the windows,
let them live in that house for a generation or two.
No one dares disturb them.
Visitors in the corridor tip-toe past the long closed door,
they listen for sounds, for a moan, for a song:
nothing is heard, not even breathing.
You know they are not dead,
you can feel the presence of their intense love.
Your children grow up, they leave you,
they have become soldiers and riders.
Your mate dies after a life of service.
Who knows you? Who remembers you?
But in your house a ritual is in progress:
It is not finished: it needs more people.
One day the door is opened to the lover's chamber.
The room has become a dense garden,
full of colours, smells, sounds you have never known.
The bed is smooth as a wafer of sunlight,
in the midst of the garden it stands alone.
In the bed the lovers, slowly and deliberately and silently,
perform the act of love.
Their eyes are closed,
as tightly as if heavy coins of flesh lay on them.
Their lips are bruised with new and old bruises.
Her hair and his beard are hopelessly tangled.
When he puts his mouth against her shoulder
she is uncertain whether her shoulder
has given or received the kiss.
All her flesh is like a mouth.
He carries his fingers along her waist
and feels his own waist caressed.
She holds him closer and his own arms tighten around her.
She kisses the hand besider her mouth.
It is his hand or her hand, it hardly matters,
there are so many more kisses.
You stand beside the bed, weeping with happiness,
you carefully peel away the sheets
from the slow-moving bodies.
Your eyes filled with tears, you barely make out the lovers,
As you undress you sing out, and your voice is magnificent
because now you believe it is the first human voice
heard in that room.
The garments you let fall grow into vines.
You climb into bed and recover the flesh.
You close your eyes and allow them to be sewn shut.
You create an embrace and fall into it.
There is only one moment of pain or doubt
as you wonder how many multitudes are lying beside your body,
but a mouth kisses and a hand soothes the moment away.

Have you ever heard of quantum computers? Its (as I roughly understand it) the idea that there is almost infinite computing power within quantum particles because they can essentially convey a 1 and a 0 at the same time.

There's also the idea that the universe will start to contract after it reaches a certain point, and it will compress down in to another pre-big-bang state. Except this time, it would have far more evolutionary mechanisms to guide it as the matter started getting closer together again.

So once it theoretically reaches that pre-big-bang singularity, it will be a non dimensional quantum sandwich comprised of everything that ever was. I couldn't think of a better representation of infinite knowledge than everything occupying the same space at once and instantly representing every permutation that energy could take. That singularity would be 1, 0, tree, iPod, despair, and everything else we could want to assign at once. That instant representation of all possible combination of energy could be the answer to every question that you've ever asked, and the energy systems required for you to understand it.

Maybe, maybe not. But its fun to think about.

Ebert: "Singularity." I love that word. This time, perhaps it would mean there only was a single thing.

"I was perfectly content before I was born, and I think of death as the same state."

Then why don't you commit suicide? Genuine question, not sarcastic or attacking.

Not fearing death is a lie - we're evolved so we have this irrational aversion towards death, even while knowing it's irrational. It doesn't make sense to fear death, but we are still not willing to die, not willing to solve the problems of living, not willing to be content. Humans (as well as all the others) like suffering, while at the same time hating it, trying to balance their lives like an acrobat on the high wire.

This is why evolution is consoling to me: knowing that we're not _designed_ or "ought" to be sadomasochistic like this, that we have the opportunity to break out of this situation, this hope of progress, is what makes it so great. Eventually we'll have the technology and the socially enlightened conditions to alleviate pain without ceasing life; to prolong life without prolonging suffering; to achieve what may be only compared to the imaginary heavens - in the real world. It is rare for an idea to be both consoling and true at the same time, but this one is - and that truly makes it the greatest.

In this one I agree with you. But don't say you're not afraid of death. If you wouldn't, you would be dead already, like any sane person past their early teens would.

Ebert: I may not fear death, but, even as a sane person past my early teens, I enjoy life way too much to lose one single moment. A wise man once said: "Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem." He who does not enjoy life should take up something. Chess, maybe. Whistling. Juggling. Memorizing poems. Making love. Baking bread. Becoming a stand-up comedian. Running for office.

By Gilbert Smith on May 6, 2009 7:20 PM

The only time I ever cried for someone's death without having met them personally was George Harrison. It seemed a very symbolic death, that the period of history I was born into had ended. I didn't grow up during the Beatles heyday, but I did grow up with them and I loved the Traveling Wilburys as a kid.

Ebert: I'll lose it if Pete Seeger dies.

Aside from the momentary misting that occurs sometimes upon the seemingly tragic and untimely (or just plain sad) death of someone I don't know -- I'm thinking Heath Ledger and Paul Newman most recently -- the last time I really bawled was for what I suspected to be the imminent demise of my childhood idol, Ron Santo, when he didn't travel, instead going into the hospital yet again during the Cubs' 2003 playoff run. My own demise...meh; losing my childhood idol was a terribly sad prospect, however. As a karmic reward for my lifelong adoration of Santo and unbeknownst to me, a friend who delivers supplies to the salon where Ron gets his toupees done (Santo...toupees...Who knew?!?) arranged for me to get a birthday call from him on my birthday in '07. Probably the best birthday gift I've ever gotten.

A wonderful reflection on life of which death is a part of. For some reason the final scene with Rutger Hauer and Harrison Ford popped into my mind after reading your words.

Indeed death and disintegration is part of the grand perfection, the notion of a unique beauty that lasts but for a few breaths, what can be more sublime than that. What greater way to engender a deeper appreciation for something if we know that it will fade away. I think that is why the Japanese philosophy of Mono No Aware holds an attraction for me.

I lost my beautiful wife a few years ago. As the years flew by I began to notice that when I looked at her I always remembered how she looked when we first dated 20 years previous and that I always felt a disconnect between how she appeared to me and how she would appear in a recently taken photograph. She always appeared younger to me in person.

Physical disintegration and aging is a natural consequence of our existence, but as events have shown me it is how one feels internally that really matters.

Ebert: I look at dear friends who have become old farts, and I clearly see the young bloods inside. I was just looking at a photo of two people with whom I closed a Korean karate joint in Old Town in about 1970. It was dawn outside. One was still singing. I thought, "Anyone looking at this photo would see two guys about 65." But I looked at them, and grinned. One of them has died. If the other one walked through the door right now, I'd slap him on the back and say, "You asshole."

On seeing all those references to a comment on conservatives, I kept going back to try to find it in your original entry, and couldn't. It wasn't until I got far enough down to see your post today (5/7, at 1:58 a.m.) that I realized you had deleted it.

That's my springboard for observing that blog readers and commentators are, by definition, a self-selecting group, so it's not surprising that you should have so many kindred souls as an audience here. I'm among them, not only as another wretch with undergraduate English degree, but also in general agreement with your views on cosmology, religion, life, death and eternity, including your appreciation of evolution, which, as any high-school biology student knows, does its business through mutation.

With your help, considering your current condition and your attitude toward it, I'm just now coming out of a considerable depression after learning about the downside of mutant genes: I have one. I learned 18 months ago that I have one of the 11 or so genes that causes a heart condition called hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. It's the leading cause of cardiac arrest among young athletes, and more common than MS (1 in 500 for HCM, 1 in 700 for MS), even if it's far less well known.

My depression has not been so much from learning that I have the disease -- after all, I have lived a full and active 62 years in blissful ignorance of the time bomb in my chest -- as for the god-awful guilt I feel for almost certainly passing it along to my daughters (it's autosomal dominant, meaning there's a 50-50 chance that they have it; as I think back about the little symptoms of it I showed throughout my life, they have them too). Through the contemporary miracle of gene sequencing, I know which of the mutant genes I have, so we can easily and inexpensively find out if either of them has that gene too. So far, they're choosing ignorance -- they'd rather not know.

My thoughts of my own mortality aside, it's a hell of a downer to contemplate my kids' deaths for something I gave them, however unwittingly. Apart from advising them of the available treatments (no cures, but there are drugs, devices and surgeries that can alleviate symptoms and discomfort, and possibly extend longevity), all I can do is encourage them to appreciate their lives on a daily basis, and to try to make sure that John Lennon's description of life -- as something that "happens to us while we're busy making other plans" -- doesn't apply to them.

Your direct, elegant writing, particularly on this blog, and your ability to appreciate your life in spite -- or maybe because -- of your considerable disabilities, helps me counsel them. Thanks.

Ebert: Hey, you gave them life, The genes were out of your hands.

The thing about life and death is that all questions about it cannot currently be answered, by any realm of inquiry. There can be speculation, but no answers. Science deals with falsifiable, testable facts and can help us delve deeper into the workings of the natural world. Other than that, religion, philosophy, etc. can help us form new hypotheses for science, but mostly have a social function. How do we live in this world? How do we interact with others and as a society? Unless we have an agreed-upon standard, chaos will ensue.

So, religion (and God) is true in the sense that everyone agrees that God exists (religious people, that is) and hold themselves to that standard, being humble, praying, etc. However, as an actual fact, it makes no logical sense to jump to the God conclusion. The argument that "the chances of life (or anything) existing is so miniscule that there must have been a causer" is flawed because it fails to take into account the fact that anything that DOES exist by necessity could not exist unless it was in perfect synchronicity with everything else that came before it. So we are back at square one... How did we get here? Why do we have intelligence? Why do we have the capacity for philosophical thought?

A purely atheistic, non-spiritual standpoint would say that humans cannot bear the fact that their life, their memories, everything that they have ever done will one day be... nothing. It's depressing. We are used to fullness, richness, our heartbeats, etc. So in order to combat that depressing realization, we have speculated on how life could continue. And some are very good arguments. But from a purely naturalistic standpoint, consider this: If our brain is like a light bulb and when we die, the light bulb dims, then turns off, then our consciousness is finite and will one day just completely end. To say that we would feel or know anything beyond that is absurd, because the brain, the organ for feeling and knowing, will be completely dead. So, for all intents and purposes, eternity for each and every one of us will be the split second time frame in between our brain dimming, and then completely going out. I imagine that time will seem to stretch on infinitely at that point, like a black hole, and from our subjective standpoint, that will be eternity.

That is one idea. However, I am compelled by near death experiences and by certain other religions' answers to death, particularly the Tibetan Book of the Dead, which serves as a guide in safely getting someone through the hardships of death so their spirit can be free and reincarnate. I'm not saying that I believe that fully, but I think a little bit of the answer lies in every legitimate mythology.

I also find it interesting that the shamans, witch doctors, seers, etc. of tribal societies all take hallucinogenic drugs in order to see beyond the ordinary realm. Bipolars and otherwise "psychotic" people have also claimed to have similar experiences, although their voices are muted by today's society. The fact remains though, that people who extend their perception and feel that they have glanced at the other side and come back to tell the tale... all these people seem to have somehow altered their mind. What happens when we die? Blod and oxygen is cut off from the brain and we slip into a daze, which will only get deeper as the seconds and minutes pass. I believe there is a very strong connection between the altered state and the state of death. To minimize it as "merely a brain misfiring" is the same as saying that love is "only a release of certain chemicals."

As I've said before, Mr. Ebert, I converted to the Catholic Church for some of the same reasons you seemingly rejected its theology. The flavors of quark and gluons, fractals, let alone the inconceivable distances that make Earth seem the sticks of the universe, never seemed good arguments for convincing me that we are not made imago dei. Whose to say the "show" isn't the tail end of firework display for our benefit?

And as a cancer (kidney - removed; bladder presently on chemo) patient, I have felt the yawning, gaping maw of death too, my friend. All the more reason to agree with Blake:

my soul lies at the gates of death._I will arise and look forth for the morning of the grave._I will go down to the sepulcher to see if morning breaks!_Lest the Last Judgement come & find me unannihilate_And I siez'd & giv'n into the hands of my own Selfhood.

I have a small book coming out soon entitled, A Little Guide to Your Last Days - Or How You Too Can Grow to Like My New Friend, Mort Or A Quick Read on How to Spend Your Last Days/Weeks/Months (Because a Little Time is All You’ve Got) Or Advice on How to Face The End of Your Life From One Dying Beggar to Another.

Let me know if you wd be interested in a read-thru of the ms at my blog, or here. Cheers and all the best

"Maybe I should. I find I have exercised admirable restraint in my review of Jarmusch's new film, which will be published shortly."

Because of your review which I just read, I think I need to see this film. I was going to anyway, but doubly so now. It seems that when you review my favorite filmmakers, any of their films you give a negative or so-so review to, that film somehow makes it onto my list of masterpieces.
Case in point, Taste of Cherry. Sorry you didn't like it, but that's probably because Kiarostami wasn't making it for you.
Another example, your lukewarm reaction to 2046. A far superior film to In the Mood For Love, my opinion. But they are both masterpieces.
In 1970, you lambasted Cassavetes's Husbands, one of the greatest American films of all time. Is Faces better? Maybe it is. But it's hard to top Faces. And Cassavetes wasn't setting out to make that film again anyway.
After reading your "restrained" review of Jarmusch's new film, I can't wait to see it! It sounds amazing!

Ebert: True story. One year at Cannes, Jarmusch told me that Kiarostami told him that he values my negative criticisms of his films because they tell him what he is doing right. Those who say I make good films, he said, are right, but I already know that.

Jarmusch is a very nice man, and I believe Kiarostami must be, too.

Dear Roger

Thanks again for your words.

I took the belief test and came out as Orthodox Jew and Sikh. Not a bad mix for an Irish Catholic who used to serve mass.

As an aside it makes me very proud of my own tribe to see Yeats, Joyce, The Clancy's, and Behan mentioned. I hope you have watched D'Arby O'Gill and if not, you should. It is a secret guilty pleasure of mine but reinforced by my mother having told me she heard the banshee the night her father died in a small house on a hill in West Cork many years ago.....many years ago, I was out with my girlfriend walking the seafront near Joyce's tower in south dublin. A typical sunny evening in September. The tide was out. the rocks basked in the golden light. wind surfers skimmed far out waves. we arrived back at her home where her novelist granny and artist aunt and family lived. A house that had been a kind of fulcrum of artistic types through the 60's, 70's and 80's. We came in and disturbed her younger cousin who had come back from wicklow with a bucket of magic mushrooms. He was fourteen and in our wisdom ( early twenties ) we confiscated the bucket of small button headed brown mushrooms with narrow stalks.
I was two years sober from booze at this stage but overcome with curiosity.
Upstairs, we took some. My girlfriend after a while of talking about the colours moving on the walls fell asleep. I continued eating them, curious to provoke a more intense reaction.
For the next eleven hours or so, I had one of those experiences of God talking to me.
Not in words but in the sense of pure meaning flowing into your mind where it becomes real and incarnate. At first the flow was so fast, I could only keep saying, yes, yes, yes, with no way of pondering anything. I was in a flood of meaning. After a while, I began to understand that using 'yes' and 'no', I could slow the stream of consciousness by using them like valves. Yes to bring it on. No to slow it down. My mind was a simple door.
Did I learn anything or come to see anything new?
This is what I was told ( and I am aware there are many explanations as to what it was that was talking to me but I prefer to use none except that it happened.)

I asked God when did he begin ( I use he without prejudice ).
God always existed. God is what we are. And then I saw a white circle of light surrounded by darkness.
I asked what the darkness was. I was told this is what god expands into through love. The darkness is overcome through love. Conscious love. I asked what is this place, this earth, this universe?
I was told the world was made by God as a place where the light was able to meet the darkness.
I asked what was our purpose?
I was told it was through us that God could turn the darkness into light and thus God would grow. I was told that we were miners sent into the world to bring back light from the darkness. I asked God what the darkness was and God didn't know. It was something to be overcome with love and turned into light. I asked if there was any end to this and was told there is no end to darkness. I asked what evil was and was told it was anything that prevented the light from existing and thus prevented God from expanding.
I asked about all the suffering in the world and God said there was nothing that can be done except to know that we are of God and loved by God in our journey but the nature of the world was to encounter the darkness and through the pain of our work bring more light into it.
I asked about people dying, persecuted, sick, ill and was told that there is nothing that can be done as God is surrounded by darkness like we are and that all we have to increase the light was love.
We are at war with infinite darkness. And our weapon is love. And love your enemy is our work because loving your friend preserved light but created none. I say this without being its greatest practitioner. I am more a vessel and less a preacher or teacher.

I have never written like this and have discussed it rarely.
I never took mushrooms again as it has always felt like it would be in some way sacrilegious.
This experience has always in some way haunted me as I have never learned how to live from it yet it is the source of all my beliefs. I have had other drug related experiences on LSD but nothing like this. I am unsure if it was a profound experience or not. It has given me more doubt then anything else in the world because the realness of the experience was as real as what I am doing now, typing here. Everything has been tinged with an edge of unreality. My mind tells me what to believe. When I see the crack in that, I laugh like a fool, with a sense of great relief. I think humour may be the source of all wisdom as I have never laughed so much in my conversation with God and most of the laughter came from knowing that God was in some ways as unknowing as I am.

I think from writing this I see how fragile any beliefs are as are their origins. I think having belief is harder then anything else in life and I think to have no beliefs is the easiest and emptiest path. I can also see why people build such walls around their beliefs and protect them so vehemently because beliefs are like wisps.
I try to tell my beliefs here but feel I have come up short. I feel a little stupid. I feel a little vulnerable. I would be more comfortable talking about my catholic tradition because that is shared with billions and two thousand years old. I would then be billions and two thousand years old. I would rather have no belief and rationalize everything. But underneath everything is only poetry because there is no proof upon which all other proofs are built. There is at the heart of everything a nothingness and a something.

We go in search of proof like candles looking for wind with our heads fluttering at the madness of ourselves.

Ebert: God seems to have been a wise entity in a far from perfect existence. How you quote him is more persuasive than what a lot of people say. Thank you for writing about this.

Ebert, you have a knack for getting under peoples' skin and they respond volubly.
I bet it has always been that way with you.
Were you born with it or did you cultivate it?

Ebert: The following letter recently appeared on the front page of the Sun-Times. It is heartbreaking in its eloquence:

http://www.suntimes.com/news/24-7/1535476,rita-sallie-statement-schanna-gayden-death-042009.article

Heartbreaking letter, and story, Roger. It put me in mind of Samantha Morton's postulation of what Tom Cruise's son's life would/could have been in Minority Report and Clint Eastwood's rumination on what is taken when you kill someone in Unforgiven.

Ebert: I envision legions of film critics rising up from the dead...

Isn't that where movie critics come from anyway? :p

forgive the use of CAPS. i copied and pasted this from msword.

What causes cancer? This is the theory which is mine:

Cells reproduce themselves constantly. Just as with a copy machine, they occasionally make a bad copy. Usually, those bad copies are flushed out of us after they are detected by T-cells, which destroy and then lead them to the exit. The stockpiling of T-cells, our wonderful friends, is facilitated by certain foods, such as blueberries, broccoli, tomatoes, et al.

Unfortunately, an occasional copy makes a copy of itself before it gets flushed out. Further, that bad copy makes another bad copy, and a useless blob of cells grows. Sometimes that blob is just a harmless, benign blob that sits there until it gets annoying and causes enough discomfort that it’s host much visit a doctor, which leads to its discovery, which leads to surgery, and then its purgery.

But sometimes the cells that make those bad copies are very vital cells, like in the lungs, stomach, pancreas, skin, and other vital parts. Those bad cells are now part of those organs, and they can’t be so easily removed like a benign blob.

To back up, the question becomes, “what’s taking us in a wrongly direction? Why is cancer increasing?” two reasons.

1. our diet is suffering. We’re not eating enough of the healthy stuff that builds the T-cells. We’re not taking care of ourselves, and we don’t have the same resistance we once held. I live near a farm, and I try to stop there for my veggies instead of the local supermarket because I know that his veggies haven’t left the area nor have they been radiated to preserve them. I also walk the mile there and back for a little exercise.

B. we’re overexposed to the things that influence the bad copies. Microwaves, not in the kitchen but in the atmosphere, like cell phone towers that you don’t realize are across the street. I heard an interview with a cell tower installer who has placed them inside the flag poles at your neighborhood school and the auto dealership at which you shop or work. If you drive through Medford, nj, you’ll see a house with a big banner that shouts of the Chernobyl next door. Actually, it’s a church, but a cell phone company wants to place a cell tower inside the steeple of said church. there's more than one way to talk to god.

Another cause of a bad copy is magnetism. When cells divide, they’re very sensitive to magnetism, specifically electromagnetism. So when you’re wrapped in that electric blanket, you’re creating a magnetic field around you. As your cells, which are very watery, split and copy, the magnetic field is screwing with the polarity, causing incorrect development, thus a bad copy. Check the price of real estate near a big alien-like electricity tower. It’s more than just an eyesore.

Are these facts? Darwins, no. just the theory which is mine.

Re: George Harrison, John Lennon, Natasha Richardson...

For me Johnny Cash was like this. The depth and strength of my reaction to his passing caught me really off gaurd. It's almost too vulgar to say it felt like 9/11 only deeper and more elemental, so let's all just pretend I didn't say that.

I'm not sure why it hit me this way. It definitely wasn't shock - when I heard that June died I "knew" (in that way we keep talking about here) that he'd likely not last long.

I wasn't even all that huge a fan. Sure, I love his music and grew up with it, but there are so many others, both those close to me and those like him I've admired from afar, who touched me more but whose deaths moved me less.

I suppose it was because, at least in my psyche, he occupied a place more like a force of nature than a person. That the world included Johnny Cash in the same way it includes rivers or mountains. Stupid as it sounds, it just never occured to me to ponder a universe in which he wasn't. It was like hearing that meteorologists had discovered that there weren't going to be any more thunderstorms.

Too Weird... I know...

Roger, I'll respect your wishes and generally hold my thoughts on the kindness differential between liberals and conservatives for if or when you address it in a different post.

But, to hold me over for that moment, I'll answer this one question for Thomas:

Does the conservative voter consider the vast social benefits of the taxes he pays; in many ways benefits that are there to help, as Jesus would have said, "the least of our brothers"?

Why of course we do. We just judge our government's effectiveness at doing that with tax dollars differently than you do.

The conservatives that I hang out with, mostly all Christian I would guess, not only give personally and generously with time and money but also know the wisdom of aggregating the money through larger groups, like faith-based charities. Those are typically much more effective with the money than government.

Just look at the aftermath of Katrina. The faith-based charities were much much much more effective than government in efforts to aid people in need. Need I say more?

I personally think that it is unkind to advocate for more taxes as a way to aid people. You take away from people the real sense of giving to help others that local giving affords you. You replace it with an impersonal approach - payroll deductions that you never see that go to a bureaucracy that wastes most of it in activities that you are not involved in.

I care much more about the 10 percent tithe to a local church, and the good that we can do with it directly helping people than I do about the 40-odd-percent cumulatively that various goverments take away from me in taxes and squander.

So the answer is: the conservative voter knows exactly what we're doing in the voting booth. Keep as much money as you can in the hands of people, and they will use it much more effectively than government will. You want to help "the least of these"? Then do it. Do it the way I, and other conservatives do it - just do it. Don't vote for a politician who is going to pass a tax and take money away from other people and hand it to Washington and hope that it will eventually help the least of these at 10 cents on the dollar, so that your conscience can feel better. Just do it.

Okay, I'll hold the rest of my thoughts for another post.

I have to go home and tune in O'Reilly and Hannity - who, by the way are extremely generous to charity. :)

Roger,

Forgive me, I know that I will ramble, as I'm a man of many words, and I've always wanted to write to you, and here I am, finally doing it. I'm a Cistercian monk in the Roman Catholic Church (yes, they still exist), currently studying theology for the priesthood, a native Texan, a political conservative (does that make us enemies automatically?), and a devoted reader of your reviews for several years. Also, one of my favorite movies is "Moonstruck," in which the fear of death is so delightfully, and insightfully, explored as a topic. (How can all of the above describe one and the same person? I suppose I, too, "contain multitudes.") People who know me know that I love movies, and when I tell them that Moonstruck is my favorite, they are shocked. "But, it stars CHER!!!" Or, "but, it glorifies fornication, and you're soon to be a Catholic priest!!!" Well, I tell them, I don't like Cher anywhere else than in this movie, and I think fornication is just as wrong and false as it always has been, but what I do like about the movie is Olympia Dukakis' wonderfully unique and real character, Rose Castorini. The movie is about death, and it is about different kinds of love. The hero of the movie is not Cher's Loretta, or Nic Cage's Ronny. The hero, or heroine rather, of the movie is Rose Castorini, who displays a self-sacrificing, patient love, a love in accord with Truth, and a love that saves her husband from himself, and teaches us (and Roger Mahoney's character) a lot in the process. Rose's love is Christian love. Agape, in Greek. It is a love that can only exist as a response of someone who has received that love from God. Now, I think that non-Christians also, in some mysterious way, receive the spark from God at times that enables them to practice this love, but I also believe that it ACTUALLY comes from THE one God, the Triune God, and is communicated to the human race through the Incarnation of the Son, through Jesus of Nazareth, and him alone. (I know that many readers have totally lost me at this point, but you haven't, given your Catholic background). Now, my point is this. Olympia Dukakis' character, Rose, shows the truest, finest, yes, even divine form of love, the unconditional, self-sacrificing kind, that is aware of the Truth. (You yourself wrote something close to: "unconditional love is the only kind of love worth practicing"). Only this kind of love is redeeming. In the movie, Rose's love is literally re-creative of her family. And Rose has an instinctive sense that only this kind of love can conquer the fear of death that she sees in her husband. That is the Christian message about God and Jesus Christ. Love (not romantic love, but unconditional, creative, self-giving love) conquers death. Christianity becomes truly offensive only when it fails to hold on to its core, when it is hijacked by politicians and hate-mongers...but it is not wrong in its core, rather, it is life, and it is light! I am sad to see that you somehow lost hold of that long ago, or maybe you think you never really had more than a set of social teachings mixed with superstition. Christianity's traditional core was best expressed by St. John: "God is love," and in another place "you will know Christians by the love that they have, one for another." And the measure of that love is: "I was hungry and you fed me, thirsty and you clothed me, etc.," and "love [such as this] covers a multitude of sins." Pope Benedict's first encyclical letter was all about this, not that the news reported on it. He, and the Church, are passionately interested in these questions of love and death and eternity. His encyclical moves smoothly from meditations on agape and eros to the moral imperative to do socail work. But the social work of the Church finds its moral compass and its energy in Jesus Christ, and in the investigation of objective truth, and of a fixed human nature. That is why Mother Theresa could be so unquestionably caring and supportive of the poor, and the dying, while being so opposed to the practices of divorce, contraception, and abortion. As a Catholic, she developed her understanding of Truth by way of analogous reasoning (an art that poets practice all the time, and that Saint Thomas Aquinas put at the servicec of theology and philosophy), and both by faith AND reason, she was able to arrive at certain distinctions--true and important ones, I say with the Church--which are lost on far too many today, while not sacrificing one ounce of the charity she lavished on the poor. John Paul II saw the authenticity of Mother Theresa's Christianity: a loving, socially active faith that also stayed anchored in Truth. I am sorry to hear that you have no use at all for the Church beyond a few social teachings. You must have had some pretty lousy nuns teach you as a boy. Well, the current Pope is not hitting anyone with a yardstick, nor is he trying to trap anyone or trick anyone, and he is not obsessed with condoms. Like many Christians before him, and many who will come after him, Pope Benedict is trying to share the greatest gift ever given to the human race, God's self-revealing to men in Jesus, the God-man, and to share it as well as he can, in spite of his imperfection. That is what St. Bernard of Clairvaux, the famous patron saint of my religious Order, did with his life. That is what St. Augustine of Hippo, my own patron saint, did with his life. That is also what I am trying to do, by seeking God, and serving my fellow man, in my monastery.

Anyway, I should have spent the past two hours grading my students' religion tests, but for some reason, before I started my afternoon's work, I checked your blog (probably to see again why you didn't like the new Star Trek movie...I also was looking for a return to the science fiction Trek of the ideas, and not just a rejuvenated action vehicle), and have spent the past hour scanning over many of the replies. It was a good strong dose of humanity. Don't get me wrong: you and your correspondents have said many things which I disagree with. I think pride and rash judgment have been expressed in several replies, not only that most obvious post by "Huge Boobs." I think that reason alone, used carefully and patiently and humbly, could demonstrate the irrationality of some of your beliefs, while showing the full richness and God-centered goodness of many others of your beliefs. I think that the Christian faith, though going beyond reason, still answers the deepest questions of reasonable men such as yourself. But I'm out of time, and if you're still reading this, then you are already as patient as the greatest saints. So to conclude let me say this. The overall experience of reading your blog and its replies today had the net result of increasing my desire to pray, to pray with all my heart. And to study, and to think, and to find better ways of seeking the Truth (not my truth or Ebert's truth, but yes, THE Truth), and to actively show my love, by words and deeds, for everyone whom I encounter, every day. Thank you for that. Thank you for your patient life's work, which I think is a search for THE Truth, ultimately, and not just Ebert's truth. Roger, I really hope that when you die, you'll be surprised by the joy of eternal life in the Triune God, in Jesus Christ, surprised by just how true it all is, all that stuff you were raised on. I wish this joyful surprise for everyone, including myself. I think it is not rationally PROVABLE to have this hope, but that it is not UN-reasonable to have it, either, and to accept with it all the "baggage" of life in the Roman Catholic Church, much of which can be, and has been, better explained elsewhere, by better men than myself. I'm only 26, and may be a good several decades longer on this earth, but I do look forward to meeting you, Roger, someday, in this life, or the next.

- Brother Augustine, Cistercian monk of the 21st Century, a lover and seeker of God, a lover and servant, in and through the Catholic Church, of all mankind, a lover of science and reason, and yes, a lover even of a certain movie starring Cher called "Moonstruck," which contains, like all great films contain, I say, and as Catholic theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar would say, "the whole in a part."

Ebert: Thank you for such a heartfelt post. Please do not think I had nuns who failed me. Perhaps I failed them.

I go into more detail about my beliefs in this entry, which you will not agree with but will perhaps find my own thinking depressed in more detail:

http://blogs.suntimes.com/ebert/2009/04/how_i_believe_in_g.html

Do I ever agree with you about "Moonstruck." Dukakis seeing her philandering husband sneaking in guiltily and informing him: "Just remember, old man, some day you're gonna die."

Mr. Ebert,

This was a wonderfully inspiring piece of contemplative writing. Thank you for it. I'd say I'd pray for you, but being a non-believing infidel, I'll just say "you'll be in my thoughts" on that day some time in the future when you return to that which you once were... stardust.

Regards,

~Eric

I'm 18 years old and the death of Jim Croce saddens me beyond belief. Listening to his music makes me think he could have accomplished so much more. His son was just born and all he wanted to do was spend time with him, then a damn plane crash ended it all. I hate it when good people die so early, it isn't right. Do you like Jim Croce? i do, i think hes amazing, i just bought his 50th anniversary collection.

Good Post Mr. Ebert.

-Luke

Roger, thank you very much for sharing your thoughts. I've read the article twice. I almost died at the age of 21, one week before my wedding, from a large, non-resectable tumor in my head. I underwent extensive radiation therapy and eventually affected a complete recovery. I, of course, experienced a lot of changes in my outlook on life and my beliefs about the world. But I think the greatest thing that changed me was learning how to give up control. Specifically, learning how to cope without any control. The key word here is "learning": I've continued to struggle with this ever since (I'm now 28). Just after I almost died, and then realized I would live for at least a little while longer, I was flush with a rejuvenated youthful excitement about life, but it didn't seem to last long. What took its place was a sort of gnawing anxiety that some day death would come again, and when it did, it would take me back with it for good. Only this time it would be after having a taste of a fulfilling life and having that much more to lose.

People like us, who have come close to death and escaped it for a time, seem to derive a lot of strength and clarity from their experience. It's often framed as an event that has bestowed all sorts of profundities and revelations to the person who survived, but I think it may be more often a curse that heightens our sense of mortality and transience. I don't see any reason why this makes us better able to handle death when it comes. It makes me more desperate, in an easy and quiet sort of way.

I don't dread the unknown; I don't feel like I would be leaving the here-and-now for the here-after, but rather, that everyone would be leaving me behind. I think this may be why we like to think of people "going on ahead," or "passing on"--to make us feel like that's what we'll do. That, instead of receding back to the oblivion from whence we came, we'll be leaving everyone else behind; that death is a vehicle. I hope it is, because I'm tired of feeling like I'm going to be left behind. It's made me an ambitious and grasping person, greedy for life and love. I would much prefer to pass through life in daily rapture, and, when it comes, to experience the dull pang of loss sweetly, like the last sip of a prized scotch from the cupboard, not regretting that it's all gone, but confident that I understood its true essence.

Is it the purpose of aging to ease our fear of death? I will be 21 this year and the thought of my death and the death of my friends and family has plagued me constantly ever since I realized my own mortality at 16. I don't know why I realized it then, in the middle of a math class no less, but I could barely sleep at night for the panic. Since then I have seen a friend cut off from life before her time and she never lived to see 21. I know it happens to everyone but I wish so much that I could be sure of what happens after. I don't know how you can be at peace with the thought of nothing. If that is what happens, I know it is senseless to worry because when it does I will not know it. But it strikes me as being so pathetic and stupid that things like our memories and our talents and our loved ones should be so dreadfully wasted. That's what it feels like to me. Wasted. Even if my body decomposes and the bones become brittle and the mind turns to mush, I would feel so happy to know that at the very least my soul could rest within a leaf on a branch that contained every one I loved. I believe in God, and accept Him as something beyond my understanding, but I believe I am much more than nothing and I was not created merely so that I could be destroyed. I just wish I could be sure.

"I wrote him, asking for his real name so I could give credit. He wrote back graciously, and said, 'Just call me Tom O'Bedlam.'"
A quick google search for Tom O'Bedlam returned:

The plot thickens...

Why have I never before seen such a perfect description of a person's political beliefs? Kindness. Perfect. If "everything... just happened," that does not make everything meaningless. Rather, that makes kindness all the more meaningful, because kindness is no longer about something else (religion); rather, kindness is what everything else is about. I think that's part of what Camus's "The Myth of Sisyphus" says.

Roger,
While we're discussing all these unanswerable questions, have you ever thought about what your success will mean in the end?
We all crave success. Our society depends on it. But in the end it just means you'll be remembered for a little longer than most people.
I think many people crave it so ardently because they want to live forever. Tolstoy, Shakespeare, Dickens, live eternally through their words.
Have you ever thought about how long you will stay relevant after you're gone? Can a movie critic stay relevant after the films they've reviewed have faded from the public's memory?
Kael is still relevent to me, eight years after her death, but I'm obsessed with film criticism. Will her books gather dust on forgotten bookshelves 100 years from now?

Ebert: As long as people view films, they will want to view the films of the first 100 years. As time goes by, their numbers will grow smaller. I think film reviews will continue to have value as a reflection of contemporary opinion on those films, just as Shakespeare scholars comb Pepys and anyone else for the slightest mention of Shakespeare.

But films are not Shakespeare, and I am not Pepys. Realistically, I hope to retain some curiosity value among a few of the curious of the future. Film reviews will be relevant then for the reason that they are relevant now.

Do you think Shakespeare craved to be remembered forever? I think he would be astonished to know that he is considered the greatest writer of the English language.

Every night when we go to sleep we practice death, just a little. And much like death, sleep happens whether we want it to or not. No, you can't cheat sleep. Oh, you might for a little while but you will only make yourself miserable, or insane maybe. Best to accept it. It'll make your awake time so much nicer.

Buffalo Bill's
defunct
who used to
ride a watersmooth-silver
stallion
and break onetwothreefourfive pigeonsjustlikethat
Jesus
he was a handsome man
and what i want to know is
how do you like your blueeyed boy
Mister Death

-- E. E. Cummings

Ebert: He really is wonderful, isn't he.

in Just-
spring when the world is mud-
luscious the little
lame balloonman

whistles far and wee

and eddieandbill come
running from marbles and
piracies and it's
spring

when the world is puddle-wonderful

the queer
old balloonman whistles
far and wee
and bettyandisbel come dancing

from hop-scotch and jump-rope and

it's
spring
and
the

goat-footed

balloonMan whistles
far
and
wee

e.e. cummings

Some days I hope for 20 years or more of retirement, sitting around, drinking wine and enjoying great company. Other days I just want it to be over with, already.


You remind me of -The Hit-, in which Terence Stamp has completely come to terms with his imminent death. But of course when this death arrives -early-, Stamp's reaction is appropriate to us all-- now? not now!!!!

I for one don't mind talk of death. One must keep in mind that talk, being of breath, issuing from the body, it is still death's very opposite.

I think I'd like immortality if it could be with only me and the girl of my dreams.

Ebert: And what dreams are dreamed by the girl of your dreams?

This section of Rilke's July 16th, 1903 letter brought me much 'comfort' during the time of my mother's 'untimely' death. I return to it often still amazed at its 'power.' It might be the best few sentences I have ever read and reread and reread....

...I want to beg you, as much as I can, dear sir, to be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves like locked rooms and like books that are written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer....

Letters to a young poet, Rainer Maria Rilke

Thank you for this wonderful, wise piece, sir.

From another Camus fan.

"at a certain point on his path the absurd man is tempted... He is asked to leap [for faith]. All he can reply is that he doesn't fully understand, that it is not obvious. Indeed, he does not want to do anything but what he fully understands. He is assumed that this is the sin of pride, but he does not understand the notion of sin; that perhaps hell is in store, but he has not enough imagination to visualize that strange future; that he is losing immortal life, but that seems to him an idle consideration. An attempt is made to get him to admit his guilt. He feels innocent. To tell the truth, that is all he feels - his irreparable innocence. This is what allows him everything. Hence, what he demands of himself is to live solely with what he knows, to accommodate himself to what is, and to bring in nothing that is not certain. He is told that nothing is. But this at least is certainty. And it is with this that he is concerned: he wants to find out if it is possible to live without appeal."
- An Absurd Reasoning

"I leave Sisyphus at the foot of the mountain! The struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill a man's heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy."
- The Myth of Sisyphus

"Ebert: I went through a period of depression once, some years ago, and read somewhere that "exercise" might help. I doubted it. But there came a morning when I could no longer sit on the chair in my room. I couldn't bear to. So I went outside and walked. Walked and walked and walked. I returned quite tired, and fell asleep in the chair, then woke up and crawled into bed. I was no better the next day. But I had slept. Again I walked. I walked a hell of a lot, for how many days, maybe weeks, I don't know. But what happened was, I discovered I liked walking. It wasn't dramatic, but one day my depression had gone and I hadn't even much noticed the change. It was just that I didn't go there any more.

I'm not sure this would work for everyone. I know there are professional people who deal with depression. Maybe I wasn't as depressed as I thought. At least I eventually got a book out of it, The Perfect London Walk."


It worked for me and I've kept up with the peripatetic habit ever since. It was about a year and a half ago that the love of my life, a brilliant woman doctor, died at an early age and right on my birthday. This threw me into a black pit of despair which made it impossible for me to sleep or to function for more than a few minutes without revisiting the same bleak thoughts and breaking down. I sought solace from another female friend and she suggested walking and getting into physical shape. Frankly I had become a dumpling over the years and retirement wasn't helping the matter. I got out into the sunshine and noticed the birds, blue sky, butterflies and nest-building gopher tortoises whilst walking the emptying neighborhoods of my Florida foreclosure capital, which was itself a victim--of the real estate bubble that had suddenly burst. My mind, of course, continued to focus on death and the futility of living during these long walks, but the physical effort seemed to bring the crisis to a head, the way profuse sweating under the covers seems to help break a fever. Exerting myself tired me out, made it possible to sleep, gave me a sense of accomplishment and gradually helped replace the focus on loss to an appreciation of what wonders still surrounded me in this earthly plane. Basically, each walk became an intense hour-long lecture to myself coupled to a rigorous cadence. Apparently, I eventually learned the necessary lesson. I can distinctly remember the realisation that I had conquered my depression and would be okay. I've never stopped the walking regimen and continue to hike 5 miles every day. I've worn out three pairs of shoes in just a bit over a year--holes worn completely through the soles and heels shaved to steep angles on the outside. But the price of shoes is well worth the other upside to my story: I managed to lose 40 pounds of excess weight, which I am proud to say I've kept off. I haven't been this fit and trim since I was a college kid.

Ebert: Five miles a day is 10,000 steps a day. I tried to clock that on my pedometer for years before my present troubles came along.

http://www.thewalkingsite.com/10000steps.html

I find myself always pleasantly surprised that, though we don't share the same views on religion, I still am always moved by these blog entries.

I am not afraid of death (although the dying part gives me pause) not because I don't believe anything is not awaiting me but because I have a faith and hope of Heaven.

I wish you shared my belief. But you don't. And because faith is an internal and deeply personal issue and the existence of God--because He exists outside of time and Creation--cannot be proven or disproven scientifically (proving Evolution doesn't disprove God) I find that trying to argue people into my belief is not only useless but wasteful. It robs me of the opportunity to dialogue with those who don't share my beliefs and ask my own questions and do my own soul searching and praying.

Oddly enough, when I talk to many fellow Christians, who refuse to ask Big Questions and instead like to cling to politics or pet issues, I find myself wondering why I believe some of these things. The faith displayed in the Gospel and Scriptures is so much deeper and more profound than what the Religious Right has made it.

But when I talk to atheists, agnostics and undeclared--and I mean talk to, not talk AT--I find intelligent people who force me to look at the nature of life and reality. And in doing those and seeing the things in the world that I believe are miracles and the hand of God, I find my faith strengthened. Through dialogue I realize why I disagree but I also respect the intelligence that brought me to that.

Roger, it was your passion for film that made a sheltered Conservative Baptist kid from Michigan decide to minor in film in college and take a chance on films many deemed "unhealthy" (to which I would always respond that a movie is not what it's about, it's how it's about it). It was the joy and wit in each review that prodded me into doing film reviews for the paper I wrote for on the side--even if they didn't pay me extra.

And now, these blog entries have become more cherished reading to me than your film reviews (which are still great reads, even if I disagree with you on Star Trek). I don't share your views on the existence of God, I respect and admire that you've been able to handle this discussion with so much class and tact, never condescending to those who have faith or writing as if you're better than your readers. Even you willingness to participate in the comments has shown an admirable humility and respect.

I hope one day these blog entries are published. I'd love to sit them alongside "Awake in the Dark," "The Great Movies" and "Your Movie Sucks."

Although one caveat--you do realize that by drafting such a beautifully written piece about death you've basically given the Sun-Times something to run in lieu of an obit. ;-)

Fiddle faddle. I intend to die, if I'm going to, in a light-saber fight. If I am struck down I shall have powers greater than anyone could ever imagine.

Take your time, Rodge. We're both old enough to have followed some writers, whatever they write, and see how much better they write with age. Like into their 80s and 90s. Of course they started out good, then they keep getting better. I can name a bunch, including your august self. It's true, ain't it?

Hello Roger,

What a cheerful way of looking at death !
To accept death, yes, but, at the same time, to believe there is really no reason to rush to experience it...

Georges Brassens has a lovely refrain in one of his songs, not perfectly on topic, but : "Mourir pour des idées, d'accord, mais de mort lente".

Georges also sings in another song, "Complainte pour être enteré sur la plage de Sète", the following: " La Camargue (death) ne m'ayant jamais pardonnée, d'avoir semé des fleurs dans les trous de son nez, me poursuit d'un zèle imbécile..."

Thank you for the interesting, no, gripping intellectual journey you have been sharing with us in this blog. I've spend many a sleepless hour pondering the issues you and my fellow readers have raised and rethinking some things I had taken for granted. The level of effort put into the posts and the responses has encouraged me to expand my horizons, to read Darwin's Origin of the Species and Gibbons Fall of the Roman Empire, to cruise Wikipedia for the latest ideas on ID and quantum mechanics. Because of explanations given here, I have finally understood the meaning of the classic Flatland/3D space analogy and how it can be used to illustrate how a particle that seems to be in two places at the same time could really be a single particle linked through another dimension, just like a circle ring perpendicular to Flatland would appear to be two separate dots to a Flatlander.

It has also comforted me in my generally positive view of Americans. As I sometimes have to say to my friends: There are 300 000 000 of them, there has to be some smart ones! Of course, your new Pres. has helped as well.

Keep em coming, we'll keep reading!

Regards,

Michel Lamontagne

Hello Roger,

A grammatical comment, there is no need to post this, i'm just working as a spell checker here.
Since your are a perfectionist, like Hergé, and since it is the last line of your text, you might want to change it a bit:

pas de pied, je l'espère (translates as: no foot, i do hope)
it should probably be:
pas à pied, j'espère ( not on foot, I hope)

Thank you for the reference to Tintin. It is an essential part of French culture and I am proud to see it reaches others as well. There is such clarity in his work. And humanity.

regards

Michel Lamontagne
Otterburn Park, Quebec

Ebert: Tonnerre de Brest! I've been quoting pas à pied, j'espère for 30 years, since finding it in a French editions of Tintin. I've read the complete Tintin in French. But not trusting myself, I checked on the internet, or thought I did.

I've made the correction.

Thanks for this blog post. A classmate of mine committed suicide this week, only 16 years old. I hope that he is happy with where he is now.

The limericists are coming out again! And yet--and yet--can all this pondering be five-linedly distilled?

We're slapped for our first Wailing Cry
Then bounced all around till we die.
Then Here(or not)After--
More Wailing Cries? Laughter?
A Void in the Aether? A Sigh?

Sorry, guess not!

I just remembered something today, when I was re-thinking the main ideas of your blog. I don't know if anyone has posted this particular Walt Whitman poem, though I don't doubt it, but have you ever read Walt Whitman's [To Think of Time]. I'd rank it as the American equivalent to Shakespeare's [As waves make to the pebbled shores].

Great, great poem. I've thought about death and tried to reconcile it, but that really gave my thoughts a voice;

To think of time....to think through the retrospection,
To think of today..and the ages continued henceforward.
Have you guessed you yourself would not continue? Have
you dreaded those earth-beetles?
Have you feared the future would be nothing to you?

Is today nothing? Is the beginningless past nothing?
If the future is nothing they are just as surely nothing.

To think that the sun rose in the east....that men and
women were flexible and real and alive....that every
thing was real and alive;
To think you and I did not see feel think nor bear our
part,
To think that we are now here and bear our part.

^And that's only the first part. I'd be surprised if you hadn't read it before.

Death does and does not bother me.

Death is nothing to me. To know a thing is to begin to dispel the fear of it, and though no-one, least of all me, can be entirely sure about death, I feel no great mystery about the thing itself, as others might. Death is simply nonexistence. We were nonexistent before we were born and we will probably return to nonexistence when we die. Death is certain. It is impossible for anyone to do the one impossible juggling trick. The question is not death, but life.

Life, on its own, has no meaning. Life is a waste of time (but to us what an interesting waste of time!). "...man would rather will nothingness than not will (Nietzsche, On the Geneology of Morals)." What we value and will and experience is interesting to us. Creating and destroying are interesting to us. And we all find it interesting in different and personal ways, though we might not have a choice in how. I never went to Prom, I have never been romantic with a person (though one day I'd like to try), I do not follow what others my age (21) do. The set track of college graduation, employment, children, marriage, retirement, and old age does not appeal to me, though perhaps it appeals to others. Hiking in the woods (sometimes in cold winters), learning calculus, feeling the fiery zeal of revolution (and for my own thoughts!), the subtle seduction of its refined points once this fire has cooled, enjoying books and film, reading and watching them annew, learning philosophy, writing and knowing and seeing--life is everything to me.

Yet death is simply nonexistence. None of any of this has real meaning--it is interesting only to us and will disappear as we do. The meaning will be gone. That we were able to experience it at all was the comedy, that we might waste it the tragedy.


Immortality would be fine for the eternally curious, or forgetful.

I love reading others' family stories about faith and non-faith. Here's a true family story of mine:

My great grandpa was asked once to go to church and he replied, "I'm not going to be responsible for all those nice people getting struck by lightning."

First may I say that this is a beautifully written entry Roger an excellent and honest piece.

In February my grandad (Father I called him) passed away in a town near Liverpool, England, born April 1916 he was 92 years old.

Eternally working class he was a very big part of my life and massively influential in my beliefs, he shaped my view on the world, taught me about history and politics. He made sure I watched films that starred Chaplin, Keaton, Laurel And Hardy, Cagney and Bogie and watched them all with me.

As he was 'always there' I can't believe he has gone yet at the same time I am very happy for him?

As the years went by although he had all his faculties and physicalities, each time I visited he seemed to be a little bit sadder.

He was never bothered about growing older or dying for that matter, he fought in WWII and came close once or twice but the longer he was living the quicker the world was changing and the more frustrating he found it.

He enjoyed cable TV but never really got the hang of all the channels. By the time he was competent at using the VCR, DVD's appeared. He was using a record player until the late 90's and wanted so much to learn about computers, the internet and going online.

As he got older he lost more friends and family to old age and sickness yet despite the loneliness he must have felt he never complained he just kept living his life.

The last year of his life we could all see it. He was waiting for his time to be up. He was tired and even bored with life.

Today's world was too quick and too complicated for him, he had seen everything, experienced numerous changes and achieved a great deal.

There was nothing left for him to do.

It was fitting that for a staunch British socialist the last major world event he experienced was the inaugaration of Barack Obama.

Living forever sounds great in practice and is something many people strive for.

However in reality it is a long, arduous and lonely journey.

Ebert: I wish Studs Terkel had been able to share Obama with your granddad.

Thank you for the three nights that it's taken me to get through this piece. I read parts aloud to anyone who was in the room at the time, and without fail had hours-long talks and debates about us and ours. Somehow, on Wednesday, the talks got around to Aussie movies, Picnic' in particular(which only four out of nine of us has actually watched), and other local "legends", and we're going up and around on the weekend. Haven't seen the place in years! And haven't had an all-in round-table like that for a while, either - really love doing that. Thanks again.
If I ever win an award, I will be sure to give special thanks to Roger Ebert for reminding me of the light within us all, and teaching me how to manipulate my friends. :)

Ebert: Don't get lost up there!

http://rogerebert.suntimes.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/19980802/REVIEWS08/401010325/1023

Death is not the opposite of life, it's the opposite of birth.
How can an idea be killed or die? Quite simply, it's impossible. My point is that if we are all essentially ideas (whether of God or nothing may not matter), we must continue to exist in some form or another. Energy doesn't simply disappear into nothingness. Or perhaps we ARE nothingness - in that case, we have nowhere to go. We're already where we're supposed to be and always will be (time or no time).

Dear Mr. Ebert

My aunt passed away a few years ago. Her daughter, my cousin, was sleeping outside the ICU. my mother was there, awake and praying. the doctor comes out, and takes my mother inside, where she holds her sister's hand till she passes away. She goes outside and wakes up my cousin and tells her. Well, my cousin goes ballistic. She starts screaming at the doctor, asking why he didnt wake her up, she wanted to be with her mother in those final moments. The doctor tells her to be quiet, she is standing outside an ICU, and is disturbing critically ill patients. At this my cousin loses it and starts screaming that her mother just died, she doesnt really care for other patients right now. And then she realises that her mother DID really die. So she starts crying. Great heaving sobs, long wails, terrifying moans. Now the doctor tells her to be quiet again, the critically ill patients in the ICU will be getting terrified. At this all hell breaks lose, and my cousin tells the doctor to go f**k himself, calls him all kinds of pleasant names, questions his paternity, lists various parts of his anatomy where she would like to kick him, and prays to god that HIS mother dies in the same ICU so that another doctor can have the pleasure of telling him to "be quiet". My mother goes back into the ICU and tries to wake my aunt up, because she was the only one who could make my cousin shut up.

You didnt say how people close to you would react Mr. Ebert. I have always believed its easy to die yourself, harder to watch it from the sidelines and find yourself completely helpless. I wouldnt know though, having not died myself.

P.S Dont die anytime soon. How and where will we Intelligent Design believers argue with the Darwin-ites? No fun.

We don't know what happens when we pass, but there are some intriguing clues. I once asked Elizabeth Kubler-Ross what led her to believe the stories of people who returned from "the other side" were really true, and not just brain hallucinations. There were various things, she said, but one of them was the fact that none of the children she ever spoke with who had NDE's--near death experiences--ever described seeing their parents on the other side (presuming those parents were still alive, that is). You would think, she said, that if these were truly all just hallucinations, that would be the most common vision encountered, not the least. Intriguing.

Ebert: I'm not sure I agee with her. Surely, for a child, the fact of its parents being alive is so fundamental as to be almost hard-wired. When imagining heaven why should they see their parents there? That they don't seems to say more about children than it does about heaven.

Hi Luke.

Jim Croce is a good choice. I remember spending a lot of time listening to his records on my turntable in my room.

I was thinking of Dan Fogelberg too. Loved his albums. He died earlier than he should have too.

when she was about 2 years old, i asked my daughter if she remembered where she was before she was born. she said, "on the beach with all the other babies".

Hi Roger, Having been raised a Catholic, I have pretty much given up on the Catholic version of God, or any God for that matter. Having said that, I was long perplexed by one thing and was wondering what you make of it.... Jesus.

If God doean't exist, what is Jesus all about? Was he real or just a myth. Despite all the scripture to the contrary, I began to think myth.

Then I discovered an author with the pen name Acharya S., real name D.M. Murdock, who has written a few books abut God and Christ. In particular she wrote 'The Christ Conspiracy: The Greatest Story Ever Sold'.

After exhaustive and documented research, Acharya concludes that Christ never existed and that he is a contrivence of various religions. She makes a convincing argument, whcih seems to resolve the Jesus dilemma for me.

She goes on to talk about how, throughout history, there have been dozens of stories from many cultures handed down about saviours being born to virgins, how Christmas is NOT about Jesus being 'the reason for the season', that it was origianlly pagan in origin, etc., etc.

Needless to say, she has plenty of detractors. Most of us have been raised to fear NOT beleiving, after all.

In any case, I was wondering if you've read any of her work and what your thoughts are about it. In particular, how do you reconcile Jesus in your philosophy?

Regards,

Joe

Ebert: I believe there was a historical man named Jesus. That whether or not some of his teachings were attributed to him after bis death, they are largely teachings I agree with. That the Sermon on the Mount contains the essence of them. That his life story seems to reflect then-existing archetypes. That he represents a significant progressive shift from the world view of the Old Testament. That in the Born Again movement, he has been distorted as a cult object. That his teachings and example represent a significant gain for humanist values in Western society. That Christmas has become the year's most important retail shopping season. And that my own magical Christmas memories have nothing to do with what it has become.

It'd be a shame if there's absolutely nothing beyond death. It would deny us all the fun of discussing the experience and disagreeing about its implications.

Anyhow, thanks again for your insights, Mr. Ebert - as a filmmaker who never went to film school, you've always been my favorite professor.

Ebert: I'm not sure I agee with her. Surely, for a child, the fact of its parents being alive is so fundamental as to be almost hard-wired. When imagining heaven why should they see their parents there? That they don't seems to say more about children than it does about heaven.


You may well be right--but you're presuming these children a) know they're "dead" (versus suddenly going unconscious due to an accident or illness), and b) have religious preconceptions about heaven. I'm not either of those is a given, especially considering we're talking about hundreds (if not thousands) of cases she attended, and not one of those (supposedly) reported a living parent being seen during the NDE.

Ebert: When they return, I doubt (a) that they say or thought they were dead, and (b) that what they reported was interpreted by them as "heaven." It was more likely "the dream I had." I wonder if Kubler-Ross projected her ideas about death and heaven on their "dreams." How many of them report meeting dead grandparents? What do they report, indeed, before any prompts or suggestions?

Speaking of memes, you have coined a new one me to pass along:

"Even if everything everywhere is the same, I must eat an orange or I will die of scurvy."

This line in particular, and your entire essay in general, makes me think of the movie "I Heart Huckabees." Both your essay and the movie leave me mindful of our connectedness with the rest of creation, and the challenge of maintaining a sense of that connectedness given the limits of our physical being - we are, each of us, individual, conscious nodes on the macro level of a giant, interconnected quantum system; each of us just a bubble that thinks it is somehow separate from the rest of the whole.

What need then is there of, or point is there to, a "god" above and outside of time and space?

Thank you for the thoughts - I plan on going back now to read your post from the 3rd of December on Evolution - I can't wait.

Roger Ebert said: "All I require of a religion is that it not insist I believe in it."

I second that. It really is absurd how some of the most evil things in the history of mankind have been done as a result of trying to force other people to change the name of their God/gods and the way they pay respect to him/her/them.

Those people reduce their God's role in the universe to that of a lawyer by believing that it is as important to get the technique of practising religion right as it is to act morally.

This lawyer worship religion is perhaps resulted by drawing a simplified connection from moral behaviour to the specific techniques of the religion of choice, and inversely, a connection from immoral behavior to other people's religions.

Steven Weinberg, probably the most influential physicist alive, has touched on this issue in such a witty way ("Steven Weinberg on Atheism Part 4" - Youtube) that all I need to do in order to finish this blog comment properly is to quote him.

-Weinberg quote starts here-
I don't see religion as actually inspiring moral behavior. In fact you very often hear people saying "well these people who blow themselves up for some religious reason in the middle-east, or hindu mobs who destroy a mosque, or muslim mobs who kill hindus, that they're not really religious; that real religion doesn't involve that kind of behavior". I think what they're saying is that they have a moral sense which allows them to distinguish what is religious from what is not religious. I think for example George Bush said that these terrorists have hijacked a great religion, because their actions, their terrorist actions, don't fit his idea of religion.

You see what's really happening there is that instead of using religion to decide what is moral, they're using their moral sense - which fortunately is a perfectly good reasonable enlightened moral sense - to decide what is religious. And if that's the case, then what's the point of the religion?
-Weinberg quote ends here-

Ebert: When they return, I doubt (a) that they say or thought they were dead, and (b) that what they reported was interpreted by them as "heaven." It was more likely "the dream I had." I wonder if Kubler-Ross projected her ideas about death and heaven on their "dreams." How many of them report meeting dead grandparents? What do they report, indeed, before any prompts or suggestions?

Those are good points, and I don't have answers to them--or not completely, anyway. I do remember a couple of intriguing accounts from the literature of children coming back and describing grandparents or relatives they'd never met or even seen photos of, in some detail, and which proved to be very accurate. That's not proof of anything, obviously--but like I say, intriguing.

I didn't hear enough invisible laughs at my fine joke, up there. Plus I got upstaged by a cute girl announcing the suicide of a classmate just lately.

Oh yeah? Well, my brother's best pal killed himself, and then my best pal committed suicide. We were hi-schoolers. Some years later another best pal committed suicide. I've since talked a few out of it -- plus a few other deaths by injections of hopelessness from doctors' diagnoses. So, there's more to learn from this than just how to sob. Like, be a good neighbor.

There's such a thing as happy funerals. Most of my family's have been so far and I suspect it's the same with most others, despite our lugubrious teutonic lip-service. Dammit, if they're ready to go, don't be selfish about it.

At my dad's wake, after I'd been whispering gibberish out of the side of my mouth during the prayer service to try to make an old friend pee his pants without restraint, my dad's best pal came up to me. They were fellow carpentry hobbyists. Two weeks before, he told me, they'd been puttering around in his workshop and talking about how they'd like to die. "I'd like to die right here in my shop," Dad said, "and they can come find me."

That's what happened. One of my brothers found him leaned up against the woodstove as though napping. The coroner said he was probably gone before he hit the floor. How can you not be proud of a good old dad who always did what he said he was going to do, even unto a peaceful death? And who wants to die surrounded by whining, tugging people who don't want you to do what you want to do most of all? I hope to have the presence of mind to crawl off into a swamp unnoticed.

Most charming in this thread are the confessions from the kids about going through mortality shock. My first was at age 13, lying in bed in a strange new house in a strange new town with a strange new school to go to. It was quite a jolt. They'd come every so often up to young adulthood. I sort of miss them. Honestly, kids, they're a natural rite of passage. We begin to feel a sense of independence from the cozy confines of childhood; with it comes a feeling of isolation and responsibility for our own heartbeats, so to speak, and in those moments life can suddenly seem very, very brief and justly so. YOU HAVE TWO MINUTES TO FIGURE OUT WHO YOU ARE AND WHAT YOU'RE GOING TO DO WITH ALL THIS LIFE THUMPING AROUND INSIDE YOU.

A beautiful image, Mr. Ebert, comparing your post-mortem memories to artifacts from a tour, like a little model of the Eiffel Tower, for contemplation now and then, or put away.

Included among the disposable artifacts would be all the fine temporal considerations of science and religion, I imagine... unless you're planning to reincarnate as Richard Dawkins. Then, what a battle, fascinating to none but himself. Methinks he protesteth "religion" too much, as do his minions.

I like the guy furtively paraphrasing St. Paul, "I die a little each night." Yup. It isn't that death is just a dream, but rather, life is a little chunk of "too-solid" dream, and death a bigger one. We must imagine an eternity to make room for such, and all of their possible variations.

Emily Dickinson so loathed death ("He kindly stopped for me") that she couldn't part with her expired cats. They found a barrel of them, pickled, in her basement. She was such a PRETTY GIRL. Maybe she'd have loathed life less faithfully had she admitted that.

Ambrose Bierce from his "Little Johnny" column: "I ast my dad how come the papers print all these pomes. Dad sez it's so the authors can check 'em fer mistakes."

The absence of contributors telling of "NDEs," "Near-death experiences," is a bit conspicuous here, considering the number who have such tales to tell. How come? No soft white lights? No messages from angels? What, are they all afraid of Richard Dawkins?

But Dawkins is as dead now as he's ever going to be, and so I conjecture of all of us.

I've told people before that Roger Ebert is my favorite writer working today and this article is an example of what I love about your writing.

(I also say that Marchal Mathers is my favorite poet... don't know whether that adds or detracts from the sentiment).

Couple of thoughts... adapting someone: I find death to be completely unimagineable, and I can't beleive in the possibility of the end of my existance, but I'd love to have a nap this afternoon.

The issue is the "I"... all religion starts from explaining where that goes after death. It really hard to understand that "I" will not be around... because how is there an "around" without "I"?

But where is the "I" when I slept in this morning.

Someone else, (Bill Hicks?) talked of the moment when you first understand death and that it will come to you. I remember when my daughter, at about 4 years old, was asking about it. She changed once she understood that. The world looked different to her from then on. And maybe that was when she became an "I". I doubt she will ever remember that moment or anything that came before, but all that is after she will remember. Does our self not become until we recognize its end?

Dear Roger,

I have not told you this before, but I like your limericks very much. Thank you for your quick-wittedness. If only I had half of that, I could have matched wits with you peeps. Unfortunately, it took me a month, with a two-week hiatus in between, just to produce those 14 limericks. And right now, my mind is nearly squeezed dry, almost nothing will come out of it.


Roger, it isn't at all true that I have never contemplated deeply on death before. Three years ago, I was right beside my father when he let out his last breath. Afterwards, I saw him through all the ceremonies and rituals as only a son who pays his last respects can do. And yes, it was the whole nine yards, from the hospital and into that room where the TV series Six Feet Under was famous for. That experience changed my view on life completely; in fact, I have become more bleak in my outlook for it. What made the experience horrible, I think, was the funeral service and the things before that. I hated³ every moment of it. It was unnerving and dolorous to the point of being ghoulish. It didn't sit well with me at all. I know it was supposed to be unnerving, sad and all that. I mean, almost all people go through those motions, right?

And yet, here's the curious thing: I vehemently fought it deep inside. Plus, somehow, through all that morbidity over the fear of death, I was actually glad that my father had already gone. I was consoled by the fact that my father would not have to suffer anymore. He died of cirrhosis, by the way; and it was a shock to me and a younger brother of mine that the unexpected complications of the liver had finally come. This was around three or four days before he passed away. Anyway, I was glad not for my own sake, that I shouldn't be troubled anymore from seeing my pa suffer. I was glad for his sake, that he's past his afflictions already (though, it was indeed unsettling to have to see him there helpless like a child in the hour of his suffering.) Because of this, I began to understand why some people would not want their funeral services to be gloomy, but rather an event of celebration. Of course, the sadness of the departure of friends and/or family is still there, but so is the happiness in the confidence that the person had already passed his greatest personal trial.

Still, even as I write these encouraging words, I am unnerved whenever those funeral memories come back to haunt me. How I wished the funeral parlor were not that eerie. Does death have to be eerie?


To Roger and Gary (Phoenix), I'm trying my hand with the reversed limerick. I can currently only squeeze out one more. (^_^) Hope you like the reversed limerick below:


Vincent, after that beery brawl,
Said to Paul Gauguin,
while peeing on a can,
"Though you've made my ear to fall,
I thank my Muses it wasn't my ball."

Ebert: Those are hard. I thought your 14 above were rather brilliant.

HAL9021 on May 7, 2009 9:24 PM,

Sir, I salute you. I believe quite strongly that much of depression and other emotionally and so-called psychological disorders (of course, I am in no way attempting to diminish the significance of your grief) may be significantly improved upon by a habit of vigorous - exercise, training, participation - call it what you will. It is a quite underappreciated expression of life. Don`t stop!

I find it difficult to reconcile our knowledge of our world and our universe with the idealism of religion. If there is a Creator, then it is cruel. If there is a Designer, then the design is flawed. In either case, said being is far beyond our comprehension. Still, the question of our existence is one that I cannot get out of my head. It seems the only question worth pondering, because all other questions derive from it. I am kept up late at night pondering it, and the magnitude of the infinite. I've come to the conclusion that it is more fun to ponder than to know, because of the torrent of ideas that comes with it.

I am 32, presumably young enough not to dwell about such things, though they always did flit at the edges of my thinking. Recent circumstances have forced these things to the forefront of my mind, however. Facing a family member in declining health puts perspective into sharper relief.

My father was recently (this morning, in fact) diagnosed with brain tumors; too many for the doctor to count. Although it was not easy to hear, this was not a shocking revelation. He has been in declining health since 2006, when the first tumor appeared. Those who knew him well recognized his mind fading since. It is difficult to witness, however. He was always a brilliant, articulate, witty person, but now all those things are beginning to fade rapidly. It seems unfair for someone so intelligent and vivacious to be reduced in such a way. He is a shell of what he once was, physically shattered, mentally almost child-like in some ways, aloof in others. He can barely walk. He certainly can't take care of himself. It's difficult to determine if he is even aware of his situation and how much; perhaps that's a small comfort for him. He has said that he didn't think he deserved this. No one does. As my father always told me, life isn't fair.

Still, it's amazing (and sometimes heartbreaking) some of the things he can recall, like the details of a book that I hadn't read since I was a young child, details I couldn't recall myself. Is this a sign that he is still in there, behind some fog? Or is it all that remains of physical processes failing and falling apart? I would like to think the former, I'm sure most would, because humans in general desire to think we are more than the sum of our parts. How can our consciousness cease to exist, when it is capable of so much? Watching someone lose theirs humbles such notions. Belief is not fact, otherwise it would not be belief.

I always imagined losing one's mind would be the worst way to end. My reality has shown this to be true; if not for him, then for those that care for him. Our clinical knowledge of things brings little consolation. It is more difficult to accept how he will make that transition than the idea that all he ever was will cease to exist. When he is gone, I will find comfort in the fact that the matter comprising him and the energy infusing him will have been released back into the universe, with all the possibility and potential that entails, from becoming the fuel for new stars to the stuff of new planets. Finding peace in watching him go, however, has proven to be impossible.

My BeliefNet results:

1. Secular Humanism (100%)
2. Unitarian Universalism (93%)
3. Liberal Quakers (82%)
4. Theravada Buddhism (82%)
5. Neo-Pagan (75%)

Ebert: On this self-selected thread, at least, those five results seem common.

By Randy Masters on May 7, 2009 5:13 PM

Just look at the aftermath of Katrina. The faith-based charities were much much much more effective than government in efforts to aid people in need. Need I say more?

...

I have to go home and tune in O'Reilly and Hannity - who, by the way are extremely generous to charity. :)

I love the circularity of your argument, Randy: With all three branches of government being held by Republicans, who say that government is an inefficient decider of how money should be spent, they proceed to prove that with inefficient/incompetent government.

And I'd love to see documentation of O'Reilly and Hannity's generosity.

For the longest time I wanted to write and tell you what an important part of my life you've been (we are "of an age"), how much I've enjoyed your commentaries and columns over the years. I'm not so eloquent and I wanted to say something that really TELL you. . .and I can't. I've gotten to where now I worry that I'll be too late; your most recent columns leave me in tears. I think that I can only tell you by saying it's like one of those films that when you leave the theatre you can't speak. I love you, Roger.

I wanted to make several corrections to your recent review of Star Trek:

1. "The logic is also a little puzzling when Scotty can beam people into another ship in outer space, but they have to physically parachute to land on a platform in the air from which the Romulans are drilling a hole to the Earth’s core."

Our heros must parachute to the platform drilling into Vulcan [not Earth] because the drill's energy has disrupted their ability to transport [beam?] people; once the drill is out of commission, they are beamed back to the Enterprise--at this point in the film, we haven't even met Scotty. The logic is sound, as science fiction goes; perhaps the film could have better explained its logic, though.

2. "Time travel as we all know, is impossible in the sense it happens here, but many things are possible in this film."

First of all, I don't think we [physicists? the laymen?] "all" agree on any sense of time travel--hence, the continued debates; short of going off on a diatribe against different time travel theories, I will summarize my opinion thusly: the movie's use of time travel does not strike me as logically offensive, and I'm not sure why you took such offense.

3. "Anyone with the slightest notion of what a black hole is, or how it behaves, will find the black holes in “Star Trek” hilarious."

Considering that we /don't/ truly understand what happens within a black hole [and to claim such quantal knowledge would betray extreme hubris], I am inclined to believe that you alone must be privileged to some information that has been withheld from the rest of us.

I am sorry that you were unable to enjoy this film, because I feel that you missed out on a truly wondrous experience--especially if viewed in an IMAX; perhaps you owe it to yourself to give the film another viewing?

Roger, thank you for questioning Kubler-Ross' assertions about children. The child sex abuse hysteria of the late 1980s and the charlatans who made livings off "recovering" memories showed how easy it is to plant "memories" into children, that children are not the reliable witnesses our idealized image of their innocent truthfulness would have us believe them to be. As an aside, this was a major flaw I saw with the ending of Nothing But the Truth.

Dear Mr. Ebert,

I check your movie reviews from time to time. I like your work. Sometimes I don't agree with your high marks for movies, based on moral values.

Today I noticed your journal entry about death and eternity.

So here's my bit for you:

You might need a "parachute" when you die, in case there is a judgment day from God...

But if there is no God, you don't have to worry.

Mr. Ebert, you sound and act like a man desperately searching for excuses. You have no peace. I am compelled to say something to you because you're a great man. Have you ever sat down and read the whole Bible? But reading is just reading. One must study it. One must study what it says. What do you think of Job, and the Book of Job?

Let's talk movies. The Ten Commandments. I always love the part when Prince Moses saves the old woman from being crushed between the stones. She is saved by her own son! How wonderful is that?

Then another part I picked up that I really never paid too much attention to before: when Moses holds a dying old man in a pit of mud, the old man complains that he will die before his prayers were answered, and when Moses asks what prayer, he says it's the prayer about how he might see the Deliverer before his death. But IT IS the Deliverer who is holding him in his arms before his death!

My great Mr. Ebert, I am not an educated man, but I have faith in God, and I love movies too!

May God give you wisdom, and understanding, and peace!

God Bless,

one of your readers

Mr. Ebert,
I have watched you on television and read your reviews for many years. I think I liked you more when I was young and still naive. I don’t always agree with your opinions of movies although, I must admit, you have been the best at what you do. As time passed, you became an unabashed liberal. And what is wrong with that? “Liberal” or “Progressive” thinking has nearly destroyed this country after 40 years. It has shredded the very societal fabrics that made this country great. Your gushing over pretentious foreign films and anything anti-American tarnished your objectivity. With that said, this latest entry in your blog contemplating death was quite moving. It demonstrates perfectly the talent you were born with. I will miss you when you are gone. There will never be another you.

Ebert: Forty years would take us back to 1969. Conservatives have run things for most of those years. We are discovering to what extent thanks to the financial crisis.

Can you name me an anti-American film I have praised?

This is getting to be a bad habit... What's the old Lay's Potato Chip ad? "Bet you can't eat just one..."?

Two quickies:

- On "Moonstruck"

One of my all time favorite movies, and the same scene you mentioned was running through my brain the whole time I first read your post: The first bit between Rose and Johnny where she asks him why men chase women and he says perhaps it's because they fear death. Olympia Dukakis almost jumps out of the chair and says "That's IT!". Johnny tries to back pedal, but she won't let him - "No... That's It. That's the reason..." A moment later when Cosmo walks in and she tells him that no matter what he does, he's still going to die. Vincent Gardenia looks at her like she's just told him he has a aardvark on his head, and says "Thank you Rose..." and goes upstairs. Classic.

On e e cummings -

Not that there were ever any doubts as to Chazz's good taste in writers, but if there were her love of cummings would clear them right up (at least as far as I'm concerned).

I'm not sure which side in the ToE/ID debate e e would come down on, but I know I've always had a soft spot for this little sonnet:

when serpents bargain for the right to squirm
and the sun strikes to gain a living wage -
when thorns regard their roses with alarm
and rainbows are insured against old age

when every thrush may sing no new moon in
if all screech-owls have not okayed his voice
- and any wave signs on the dotted line
or else an ocean is compelled to close

when the oak begs permission of the birch
to make an acorn - valleys accuse their
mountains of having altitude - and march
denounces april as a saboteur

then we'll believe in that incredible
unanimal mankind (and not until)

Oh wait... We were supposed to be talking about death...

Dear Roger,

When my grandmother died, my overly enthusiastic cousin was all over my Grandpa at the funeral about how, "Oh, you must be so thrilled to know that Grandma's in heaven now, and that you're going to see her again - soon!"

My Grandpa said, "Well, ya know, that reminds me of the ol' story about the fella that was on Death Row. They axed him what he wanted for his last meal, and he said, 'Strawberries'. 'But strawberries ain't in season right now!' they protested. 'That's ok,' he said, 'I'll wait!'"

That shut my cousin up. And by the way, that was almost 30 years ago and my Grandpa is still going strong at age 97.

So my wish for you is that you'll live and enjoy your life until the strawberries are in season. :-)

When I was a little kid, the LAST thing I'd have imagined about heaven was seeing my parents there. I daydreamed that it was a big movie theater where you could eat ice cream, too.

Oh, say, never mind this "Acharya S" person. She's nuts. I corresponded with her for several months, researching a serious article about messianic movements, of which there are many.

Her entire education is a BA at some U in PA. She's never been on a dig. She uses PUNS where scholarship usually is. No, the ideas of gods don't all boil down to "sun worship, as primitive peoples were in awe of the sun." Good Christ, excuse the expression.

If there really weren't any historical Jesus and it was up to me to prove it, I sure as hell wouldn't rely on anything she had to say about it. Eeeek.

I just wanted to thank you for your insightful words, Mr. Ebert. I agree that kindness is what we need most in life. Regarding life after death: I think Quentin Crisp (the great English wit) said it best, "I wouldn't wish eternal life on my worst enemy." Here's a poem I wrote about van Gogh: I tried to imagine his last thoughts on life and death. I'm fairly certain he considered himself a failure. Yet his magnificent paintings still startle and inspire the world.

VAN GOGH'S CROWS

If I should die
as the sun sets
and the crows fly

will you forget me?
If I should die
as my blood drips

and the saints cry
will you remember me?
After the paint's dry

and the critics lie
and the crows die
will you forget me?

After I die
and a new sunrise
and the crows fly

will you remember me?

--Dylan Mitchell

My grandfather is a sparrow.

At least, that's what my mom tells me. How an evangelical Christian could believe in reincarnation is beyond my understanding Roger, perhaps you can shed some light. My grandfather himself would have probably called it "cockamamy bullshit", but then again he was an Episcopalian. Whatever the case, it makes me smile and my mom happy.

The story goes like this. My grandfather John had died of colon cancer exactly one year earlier. My mom was tucked away in her bathroom weeping silently, hands over mouth to muffle her grief. It went on like that for a while (my family follows the WASP belief that displays of emotion are rude and inconsiderate to others). So she would have been perfectly content sitting there on the toilet crying her eyes out if it wasn't for the damn birds chirping outside.

CHIRP, CHIRP, CHIRP!

It was springtime, and it was annoying. They just seemed so HAPPY. Sparrows, robins, crows, cardinals, they were all out in full force. The chickadees were especially bothersome. You can always distinguish the call of a chickadee because its song is onomatopoeic: "Chic-a-DEE-DEE-DEE, Chic-a-DEE-DEE-DEE". The cacophony of bird calls was too much for my mother; not only were they intruding upon her private emotional outburst, but they seemed to be mocking her unhappiness.

There's a very tiny hobbit-sized window in her bathroom. With the fury of Ate she unlatched the window and screamed through the tiny crack: "Enough!"

That's when she saw him. A tiny sparrow. Hitched to a long yellow ribbon, that itself was hitched to a yellow balloon that exclaimed in big bright lettering: "HAPPY BIRTHDAY!" It flew right by her window and landed on a large, gnarled oak tree in our backyard.

My mom started crying again, this time with a smile. To her, that was her daddy telling her that everything was OK. The message delivered, the bird took off again and my mom waved goodbye. Needless to say, my mom is quite the naturalist now. She knows every bird by their song.

So I don't know if I believe in reincarnation, or the afterlife, but...I think I can make an exception.

My grandfather is a sparrow.

Great Dylan Thomas poem for the title--just read that in my poetry class the other day! =)

Just to say Roger, I am currently an English Literature student at Ohio University and I am also
studying film. I have had tremendous inspiration from you, you being and English student
yourself. Last fall I bought and read your recent publication "Scorsese" as well as one of your
former ones "Awake in the Dark." I loved both of them, naturally. There was a quote in the latter from you that I absolutely adored, on how students today are so worried about their lives that they start on
career paths as early as kindergarten and that you chose English simply because you loved and adored it for what it was. It was just the right thing to to at the time.

I mention it b/c hat is exactly how I feel, and that is what I believe, my way to bring happiness into the world--trusting your gut, and trusting that it will lead you in a loving place. I have been writing a lot lately, blogs, poems, narratives and screenplays and I have thought manically
about doing graduate work in film. I hope that with my choices I can bring as much joy into the world as you have. Glad you've reached me.

ps--For going to school in a small southeastern town like Athens, OH, we're lucky enough to have a great movie art house. 'Gomorra' is playing right now and my boyfriend and I cannot wait to see it. Thanks for the great reviews =)

Ebert: English literature is not the only field offering a lifetime's growth and pleasure, but it is always a companion to whatever else you choose. Many of your favorite works have still to be written, their authors still to be born.

Roger,

That Brendan Behan quotation made my day; thank you for showing it to me. Can you name this tavern for me? If I'm ever near it, it would be my great pleasure to see if that quotation is still on the wall (assuming the wall is still intact). As far as death goes, I've always connected with this phrase from Woody Allen: "It's not that I'm afraid to die. I just don't want to be there when it happens."

Ebert: O'Rourke's Pub. It belongs to the past.

Roger,
I have been a nurse for 37 years. The hardest part of death is the people that get left behind, loved ones are missed. I too have always enjoyed Walt Whitman's:
Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself,
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)

It applies to all of us.

We all have something to offer, what happens after? Who the hell knows.....it is all what we do when we are here.... I have enjoyed your blogs and the wonderful comments after, it certainly invites terrific commentary....didn't forget...eat those hot fudge sundaes...or whatever you delights are.

"Life is the accumulation of all the moments we live. One who cannot live meaningfully today cannot hope to lead a brilliant life tomorrow. No matter what grand plans one makes, if he does not value each moment, they will be just so many castles in the air. All the causes in the past and all the effects in the future are condensed within the present moment of life. Whether or not we improve our state of life at this moment will determine whether we can expiate the evils we have caused since the infinite past and be able to build up good fortune to remain for all eternity. The key is whether or not we have faith strong enough to decide that this may be the last moment of our life. The above passage, therefore, gives us the principle for changing our karma."....Daisaku Ikeda

I had a very profound conversation today with a 102 yr. old lady. Im still in shock and thought it might be relevant to your essay. Shes a retired school teacher from the area and now resides in skilled nursing. She taught elementary school locally for 45 yrs. Always has many visitors, mostly from her church and former students,now themselves retired. Never married, no children.
I've worked in this retirement community for 8 yrs and on occasion had her as a therapy patient,but nothing ever serious. She was in fact independent with a walker until recently, and was able to walk around, though less and less. She seemed to know everybody and has a great memory. I've often heard her call out someones name as if they were a long lost friend just encountered, me included. She always struck me as the most loving and gentle person I've ever met.
Yesterday she told the nurses she wanted to stop physical therapy. Although she was progressing very well. She was always very complimentary and cooperative. I was dumfounded.
Early this morning I went to her room thinking maybe it was something I had done or said. She greeted me with the warmest gentle smile and told me how wonderful it was to see me. "Why do you want to end therapy" I asked. "Because, I don't want to live anymore". It was said without any apparent sadness or distress.
"I've decided Im not going to take any more medications. I've decided to starve myself to death. "Im eating a tiny bit of food, and throwing some away so they won't notice". "Hopefully, that will do it". I asked why would she want to do such a thing. She replied "I've had enough".
Imagine, Heres a lady, too healthy to die by natural causes. completely guileless before this decision. How is she going to trick the nurses, without being discourteous, into letting her slip away from life?
Does this await all of us who try and stay healthy so we can live to a ripe old age. Eventually, it seems,we will want death just as we want to see the sun tomorrow morning. I say that because thats the way it is here in the old folks home. Her roomate is also 102 and very healthy and its mostly what she wishes for too. So Roger enjoy, be glad you won't live to be 100. It's apparently not all its cracked up to be.

Ebert: I may not fear death, but, even as a sane person past my early teens, I enjoy life way too much to lose one single moment. A wise man once said: "Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem." He who does not enjoy life should take up something. Chess, maybe. Whistling. Juggling. Memorizing poems. Making love. Baking bread. Becoming a stand-up comedian. Running for office.

That is my anti-drug. Even if I were to do drugs again, I'd know that I really don't need them. When I did them it was with the mindset that I could easily not do it ever again. I also realize that some develop a chemical dependence of addiction, like alcohol or even caffeine, which I interpret as meaning they want to replace your food, instead of food, which is insane. The problem was all my friends aspired to be drug dealers in a sense, so, that's the bad part. (Don't be friends with people who want to do business transactions with you, and that doesn't have to mean monetarily...any kind of reciprocity...like you said, Roger, "unconditional love is the only love bothering with", which includes physical contact (sorry for being vague...don't trade Anything with your friends, including something like affection--it's not a trade off). Anyway--back to the point--, I just enjoy thinking about the universe and reading about the new devolopments about it and generally, just have a curious mind. When I went to mandatory drug courses, they asked: what are you going to do to stay off drugs? And I said: stay curious about life. And the guy was totally perplexed by this, but I meant exactly what I said. It saddens me that the vast majority of people on drugs seem to do them because they don't know what they want to do in life or even what makes them content.

Ebert: And what dreams are dreamed by the girl of your dreams?

Art, making movies, becoming really famous for doing something great, and hopefully me-if not, we'll both have to make robot android copies of ourselves and let the robots have a go at it. Or so, she'll let me think.



"To conceive of life and death as separate realities is to be caught in the illusion of birth and death. It is deluded and inverted thinking.

When we examine the nature of life with perfect enlightenment [the true enlightenment of one awakened from the dream of illusions], we find that there is no beginning marking birth and, therefore, no end signifying death. Doesn't life as thus conceived already transcend birth and death?

Life cannot be consumed by the fire at the end of the kalpa, nor can it be washed away by floods. It can be neither cut by swords nor pierced by arrows.

Although it can fit inside a mustard seed, the seed does not expand, nor does life contract. And although it fills the vastness of space, space is not too wide, nor is life too small"....Nichiren (1222-1282)

Once again, Roger, you made me cry. What a beautiful entry.

Three things: 1) "Huge Boobs" is a huge boob.

2) Thank you for illustrating this entry with van Gogh paintings. It was a thrill and a revelation to see "The Starry Night" in person at MOMA a few years back. I was moved to tears by its movement, its energy, and its strangeness.

3) Your comment that the concept of living forever frightens you brought to mind my favorite poem, Tennyson's "Tithonus." In a nutshell, the mortal Tithonus asks Eos, the Greek goddess of the dawn, for immortality, yet forgets to ask for eternal youth along with it. The poem is Tithonus' lament, as he spends eternity growing older. IMHO, it features some of the most beautiful opening lines ever to grace the page:

The woods decay, the woods decay and fall,
The vapours weep their burthen to the ground,
Man comes and tills the field and lies beneath,
And after many a summer dies the swan.
Me only cruel immortality
Consumes; I wither slowly in thine arms,
Here at the quiet limit of the world...

Here's the beautiful remainder:
http://charon.sfsu.edu/tennyson/TITHONUS.HTML

Even the most fervent person of faith cannnot prove anything other than life is a linear expression with a succinct beginning and end. Perhaps the idea of an afterlife is our solution to the abject terror that comes when we realize so much of our lives has been wasted on trivial matters, on meanness, and on self-loathing.

Show me kindness in, to take the worst example, Rush Limbaugh.

If Limbaugh is indeed the worst example of conservative cruelty, I guess conservatives can rest secure in their innate kindness. Not a listener to his program but I am aware of his generosity to the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. There may be other instances of his charity. And this guy is the worst!

You are a great writer...but when it comes to politics your talent often gets subverted to your desire to win an argument, to the detriment of both the talent and the argument.

That said, more often than not your work the last few years has ensured you a degree of immortality far greater than I would have thought back in the days before your health crisis. I would never suggest that cancer has been a good thing for anyone, because that would be mind numbingly stupid, but you have turned personal challenges into some unforgettable work and for that I sincerely admire you.

Mr. Ebert,

What a tremendous post. I actually came here from your review of the "new" Star Trek incarnation. I plan to see Trek tomorrow. I will like it. Why? What fascinates me of such things? Great movies they are not. Nostalgia? I think it's because I want to believe, even though, as you point out, it snubs true science. I even liked the great bomb that was Star Trek V when they searched for God. (Have to go check your review- I'm pretty sure what I'll find). I think I liked it because I got thinking about God, life, death, etc. I cling to Star Trek because I want to believe despite what reality tells me.

As I type this, a graduation gown in hanging up before me. I graduate tomorrow with a Masters in Education, my second masters. First one was divinity. I did seminary, the pastorate, the works, until I was emotionally, physically, and intellectually burnt out. I couldn't stand anti-intellectuals and mom and pop theology. My ed. degree reinforced how closely tied mythology and religion are (Joseph Campbell stuff). Gardens, floods, Virgin births, resurrections,and miracles seemingly pop up in many cultures through many centuries. Education and divinity don't mix, yet I still participate in church (albeit a liberal one). "Why?" I ask myself. I know science, evolution, mythology,sociology, but I also deal in worm holes, warp cores, beaming, and Spock somehow is resurrected. I guess I want to believe.

In February I watched my mom die in our spare bedroom. In the last days we talked about heaven. How could I tell her no? I see no reason to believe such now, yet sometimes I think I still do. Somehow there's something out there we boldly go to, yet the science tells you it is not so.

Sorry about the length. I don't know how you read, write, and watch all the things you do. Keep up the good work, and thanks for giving us the chance to respond.

Hi Roger

I was very relieved to read that you aren't expecting to die any time soon. When I saw the headline of this entry, I was afraid I'd be seeing you in the checkout at the grocery store soon. Glad to hear you're not expecting that for at least some little while at least. If and when I do see you there, I will smile and thank whomever for you. Chances are you won't be seeing me in the checkouts, though, if I go first.

My mother says that she doesn't mind getting older, because she prefers it to the alternative. So let's keep getting older.

Cheers

Well, Roger, you have certainly brought happiness to many of us. I have followed your career for over 40 years now. I read your articles in the Daily Illini, your movie reviews for as long as you have written them, many of your books; and I attended your classes for the University of Chicago for nearly 20 years. Now, I am devoted to your blogs. I can't imagine a world without the joy of being able to read your incredible thoughts.
The world will be diminished without you. Let's hope it will not be for quite some time.

When I was young and thought it wonderful to scream at the night sky from the little outdoor stage in Washington Square Park, about the last light of a broken lightbulb, and other sacriligious pap, a pair of lovely younger ladies accosted me after my exhaustion, one rather more agitated than the other. "My friend has a question" said the calmer of the two.

"Do you really think that's it? We just die?" her friend asked in a sweet, soft, trembling voice, wide-eyed, visibly shivering with cold, although the evening was mild.

Ebert: The first paragraph of a short story.

Randy Masters wrote: "Just look at the aftermath of Katrina. The faith-based charities were much much much more effective than government in efforts to aid people in need. Need I say more?"

I happen to live in a country named Finland where the rich are not as rich and the poor not nearly as poor as those in the US and that's largely because the rich pay more taxes here. Like all other Nordic countries, Finland has practically a free educational system (including free school meals), a free health-care system, a free library system etc. etc.

It is a nice thought that all rich people give lots of money to charities but that simply isn't the case. When one has incomes like 3 million per year, reducing it to 2 million per year won't have much effect on the standards of his living (perhaps a few Lamborghinis less), but the taxes that have to be paid effect substantially the standards of living of the poor, the sick and the elderly.

I always enjoy your essays on mortality. They soothe me. Being relatively young, nearly half your age, I fear my demise not so much because of the act itself but because of what comes after. Where does my consciousness go? Does it disappear completely or dissipate like ink in a pond? What is worse: the possibility of Hell or the probability that all of us, good and evil, simply dissolve into nothingness?

You show me the answer to all those are irrelevant when there is life to be experienced. Places to go, movies to see, games to play, wines to drink, books to read. I thank you for that.

Although to be honest, it freaks me out when you do get morbid. Makes me feel like you came from having a chat with your doctor, something like: "Say, Roger, you hated 'The Bucket List' movie, but did you like its premise? Good, I give you a pen, paper and six months."

Thank you for the reassuring thoughts, nevertheless. Have a goodnight.

Ebert: My next entry should cheer you up.

Beautiful Words, Mr.Ebert.

Plenty of memes in here, plenty alredy transfered by me to others. Thank you very much for that.

:)

I've just now stumbled onto your blog. I've been reading your movie reviews for years, and have always thought your insight and comments were a level above most others. The blog lets me understand why; you're a deep thinker, reader, and have a big heart.

I have whined and fretted about life, unable to reconcile potential vs. the facts of life. Although blessed with husband, 2 healthy children, comfortable life, I was frustrated with a little job, inability to claim fame and prestige as a scientist, envious of those with more money, ease, mobility, etc etc.

But now (age 50), ironically, after my husband's cancer, daughter's surgery, son's injury under fire in the military, father's death, and various trials and tribulations of friends and family, I feel more drawn to the beauty and joy of life.

I find myself able to discern much better the best of things; the depth of appreciation in an excellent wine, beautiful food, great literature, and yes, films (just saw "Two Lovers" and loved it). Just sitting in our backyard and watching the Sunbird (similar to a hummingbird) sipping nectar from the flowers in our garden has a power I wouldn't have appreciated 10 years ago.

I am moved and inspired by your words, and your gentle comments to your readers.

Your new fan,
Shari

Hope

Let the darkness between us
Be as the night sky
With one lonely star
As the keeper of your memory

Let me recall
Your heartless stare
Sparkling hopelessly
Before the dark of my eyelids
Closes over my eyes

If I saw you
Angel-white
If I saw you
Some moonlit night
Even from afar

I would lay down brave
Lay down right into the empty grave
Where with some luck I might
Forever see that tiny star

Let me wonder at the night
And what hid behind the light
And find what words may yet be right

No deliverance
No requiem
Perhaps a gentle dirge
For my one pitiful star
My lost hope

And let my bones sweet the Earth

December 2007

Oh thank God.

Sober again at last.

I went to a Roman Catholic funeral Friday complete with a choir and full mass rendered partly in Italian, and afterward to the cemetery and mausoleum. Where, after biding farewell to the coffin and the father of my friend, we headed off to salute the living with Kilkenny's in an Irish pub.

It was surreal. The last time I'd seen St. Michael's Church was the day I graduated from High School; 25 years ago. I don't drive and arrived by bus which dropped me off at the bottom of a hill steeper than any to be found in San Francisco. I cursed that hill as I made my way to the church, while thanking God that almost everything I own is Art House black; as all I had to do in advance was laundry.

It's funny what you notice with fresh eyes after you've been away from it; I hadn't been to a Mass in just as many years. The agenda of the Vatican was on full display, there in all the rituals, hypocrisy and embedded propaganda, too. They even had one of those statues of the Madonna like in "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly" which lights-up with the flick of a switch and yes - they turned it on. And I was struck by how superficial and hollow it all ultimately felt; for playing out like a commercial for a belief system as much as a service for the dead. There was a reason I left the flock, the above serving to remind me of it.

Subtext of the Mass:

We're all Gods children, if your God is Jesus Christ that is. The church in its compassion and mercy is not blind to the suffering of its flock, and comfort can be found in knowing the church knows how to save you from yourself.

And all imparted with a sense of moral high-ground, while behind the priest, alter boys smiled and suppressed laughter while checking their watches. I swear to Buddha, I'm not making that up.

My girl friend's father had died earlier this week from Alzheimers. Born in Italy, so too her mom, it was interesting to see those gathered. I'd half expected a scene from the Sopranos but it wasn't anywhere near as exciting. Although we did catch up and overpass the Hearse and Limo at one point and for a second there, I thought we were gonna drag race until sanity prevailed along with cold feet. :)

The cemetery was typical of its type; modern North American. And although my first time to this one, I was sure I'd seen it in episodes of Smallville or Supernatural. Or maybe it was Dead Like Me..? But I digress...

The mausoleum was a marble warehouse for the dead - creepy and clean and overly bright, but at least her Dad got a room with a view outside on the west-facing wall; though located so high, they needed a special fork lift to hoist his coffin up and slide it through the hole. Mind you, it's beyond the reach of graffiti, so that's a plus.

In the end, most went their separate ways. The widow too, preferring to be alone, having been comforted enough by the well intentioned for the day. That left us. The youngsters. The ones who remember getting stoned in school - or last week, depending upon who you talked to. And duty done, it was off to perform the most ancient of all rituals, the sacred pouring of the Kilkenny.

My day started at 8:00 am and after a restless night for having sworn never to step foot inside a Catholic church again. My mother choose cremation before she died of Cancer. And without knowing it until a day before she died in coma, unlike Quebec where she was from, the archdiocese in B.C. will not look the other way - they tow the party line as dictated by the Pope. No body? You only get a basic, modest service. No frills. We didn't know we'd need a coffin and suddenly had to find one - the rest you can imagine.

Note: I didn't care, but my dysfunctional family did and that created stress no one needed, least of all myself. There's NO love lost between me and the Vatican and best of luck to the Illuminati.

All of that was pushed aside however as we knocked back drinks at the pub, where it was safe to laugh again, breathe and be ourselves. And where Spam filters do not silence colorful words or over-react to stuff for failing to grasp it in context. :)

Thus, did a restless night and early misery and the climbing of a steep hill, give way to giggling alter boys and pointless archaic rituals followed by a procession of cars driven by Italians to a box in a hole. To end in laughter and lighter hearts and many a pint of beer.

The pub lay within walking of where I live and so I walked back home - slightly tilted but still respectable, stopping off to buy some gummy bears and frozen raspberries along the way. And because I was drunk, stood to listen to an in-store promotion at the end of which, I was handed a free stainless steel forever sharp paring knife with a lifetime guarantee.

While paying for my groceries, the clerk who knows me asked "Hey, how's it going?"

"I went to a funeral today for an Italian and got drunk in an Irish pub and now I'm holding a knife."

(Yes, I explained! I didn't want her to call security; chuckle!)

After a long nap and now that I'm awake again, I'm going to make a snack, eat some gummy bears and ice cream with raspberries and then watch a cartoon - "101 Dalmations" by Walt Disney!

"Cruella DeVille,
Cruella DeVille,
If she doesn't get you,
The Vatican will...."

I have absolutely the most profound news to give you, that will shatter all that you have previously written about life, the universe, and everything. They have released 'The Curious Case of Benjimin Button' on the Criterion Collection! Let me tell you, as soon as I found that out, last Wednesday after watching it myself from Netflix, I rushed over to the Criterion website to see for sure that the IMDb.com was not having me on. I get there, and sure enough. I thought, what other movies have now crept into their list. I have enjoy the Criterion Collection for its esoteric tastes for years, so I browsed the catalogue for something I might want to Netflix. I come across a movie I thought you had once
talked about, but then I couldn't find anything you had written about it, but it sounded good, it was called 'The Theif of Bagdad', so, I put it at the top of my Netflix queue, which is cool, since its an old movie, not much demand, so it says: "Available Now" next to the title in my queue. So thats Wednesday. I check your website (as I do everyday I admit) on Thursday, and lo-and-behold, what have you chosen as your Great Movie for that bi-week? but "The Theif of Bagdad." I thought this was neat, nothing more, good coincidence. I am sure at this point you are asking yourself, if you are still reading what the earth shattering news is that I wanted to tell you that would alter you perspective of life, the Universe and everything! That is not it.

This is it: "The Thief of Bagdad" is now "Long Wait" on Netflix. Even though it was at the top of my list, when Netflix got a movie of mine back on Friday, they would not ship "Theif" they shipped a movie farther down in my queue. Your words, should you fail to realize this, make waves in the world; big ones. So, should you perish from this Earth, you will not be forgotten, how could you be.

Your friend in Astronomy,

Miles Blanton

Ebert: Whew. I thought the earth-shattering news was "Button."

I think you'll love the Thief. Check out the extras for how they used mattes.

I too have lost my childhood religion. What I believe now most closely resembles the worldview put forth in Ursula LeGuin's four Earthsea books, and that is that time is not linear, all times are now. So therefore this time right now, that I am typing these words, will exist for all eternity as now, as the present. In a sense, it's very much like a movie. Yes, a movie was filmed at a certain time, and watching it takes a certain amount of time, but it exists outside of time, and the goodbye at the end of Casablanca, Fred and Ginger dancing--those things are at the same time ephemeral and eternal. Our lives are like that.

So when I give someone the finger that cuts me off in traffic and I scream to them "Drop Dead!" out of my car window....is that an insult or am I actually wishing them well on the path of life? :')

Roger, in this time of recession, I have heard more frequently from actors/actresses and movie studios that people are seeking movies as an "escape" rather than an art. Doesn't that mean that the cinema has simply become a mild form of suicide? Or perhaps have all the arts become this way?

Ebert: You bring up an intriguing point. When we are involved in the arts, we are involved in some ways with lives other than our own. That isn't suicide, because it is ourselves we seek the experience for. But it can be deep transference.

Post a comment saying where you llive, and I can use this for the Answer Man. I won't post it.

As someone who also grew up Catholic and strayed into philosophy and finally science, I understand abandoning this cult. But I also wonder if we aren't really just talking about a truly human demand for easy, simple answers. The limits of an individual life are pretty well understood and accepted, but as an organism, individually we must do everything we can to survive. So isn't religion and even Freud's concept of ego, an expression of this need? Descending into dotage and infirmity will not change that, the organism keeps trying. Is it uncomfortable? Well, then adopt a religion and share a dream of other religious types, of an eternity with harps and angels, or maybe virgins, or maybe all those shop tools I've lost over the years, back in my heavenly toolbox.

We construct an edifice with priests, robes, and roles, all to help us accept our personal limit, and comfort others with their limit (religions can be a force for good acts). Perhaps rather, we can abandon the convenient and simple, and work to accept the limit but somehow cope with the organism forcing each of us to survival. We can party, we can search for meaning, we can procreate and we can pile up possessions. Isn't it time to look into ourselves and try and glean what it is, that makes some efforts meaningful, and share that?

The baby boom will have a lot of us searching for this meaning as our personal resources dwindle, and more of us agree with Roger, the religious faith was misplaced, but we need an alternative.

Reply to: Ebert: When I began this blog I thought if there was one thing I'd never write about, it would be religion. But you, my readers, have wanted to write about it.... How did I find a group of readers with so many metaphysicians? This has been an education for me.... My opinions have been challenged. I had to defend what I believed.

In high school, many students take formal debate, where they are encouraged to learn how to defend a position. That is part of education.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/may/06/us-creationism-teacher-first-amendment

In England, they're having a good laugh. At a high school student in Orange County, California (about thirty miles from where I live.) I said I was going to follow this case. I'm close enough to go to the federal courthouse and sit in on some of the arguments, and I forgot.

Guardian headline: US teacher broke law by describing creationism as 'superstitious nonsense'

Judge rules remark was 'improper disapproval of religion' and violated first amendment of US constitution

Chad Farnan, a devout Christian studying at California's Capistrano Valley high school, persuaded a judge that his European history teacher, James Corbett, violated the establishment clause of the First Amendment, which courts interpret as banning government employees from promoting, or displaying hostility towards, religion.

Farnan claimed Corbett made comments that were "derogatory, disparaging and belittling regarding religion and Christianity in particular". In legal documents submitted to the US district court, he said he was uncomfortable going to class and felt as though Corbett had created an atmosphere in which he could not effectively learn "both because and regardless of his religious beliefs".

Farnan's lawyer, Jennifer Monk, who works for a not-for-profit Christian law firm, Advocates for Faith and Freedom, told the Guardian yesterday, "It is the first case of its kind where a court has held a teacher responsible for the disapproval of Christianity. It's common for lawsuits to be brought against teachers promoting religion. In general, for years, religion has been taken out of the classroom. I don't agree with that, but if it's going to be taken out, at the very minimum you can't go to the other extreme. (end)

Kind of an interesting legal problem. If a school system fires teachers for promoting their Christian beliefs by handing out Bibles before class begins, do they also have to stop a teacher from saying "creationism is superstitious nonsense." Personlly, I don't think creationism is identified with any religion that closely, but (apparently) the judge has selected ONE remark (out of dozens made over several months) and issued a ruling that it displays "hostility toward religion" and sent the case on to the appellate level.

Reply to: librarybob: I graduate tomorrow with a Masters in Education. First one was divinity. I did seminary, the pastorate, the works, until I was emotionally, physically, and intellectually burnt out. I couldn't stand anti-intellectuals and mom and pop theology. My ed. degree reinforced how closely tied mythology and religion are. Gardens, floods, Virgin births, resurrections,and miracles seemingly pop up in many cultures through many centuries. Education and divinity don't mix, yet I still participate in church (albeit a liberal one). "Why?" I ask myself. I know science, evolution, mythology,sociology, but I also deal in worm holes, warp cores, beaming, and Spock somehow is resurrected. I guess I want to believe.

I wanted to ask about the way a modern Masters Degree in Theology deals with one issue. Specifically, (OK, I'll narrow this a bit) Jesus is told that Lazarus has died. He goes to the tomb, says a few words, invokes the name of God, and Lazarus comes out of the tomb, apparently resurrected.

I've never been able to pin this one down. Were Lazarus and Jesus part of a plot, to pretend Lazarus was dead? (ie, Lazarus wasn't even sick.) In front of the crowd, when Lazarus came out of the cave, it gave Jesus credentials as a man who could resurrect the dead. Meaning Jesus was part of a group pulling a con.

Or, if you read Secret Mark, in the original version of the story, no one thought Lazarus was dead. He was merely sleeping overnight in a tomb as part of an initiation ceremony.

(2) Star Trek. Roger, you said the new movie reminded you of "Take Your Kid to Work" Day. The target audience, the one who buy tickets on opening weekend, are males between 16 and 24. If you're going to make a movie about the starship Enterprise, doesn't it make sense to show a Captain between the ages of 16 and 24? So they target audience members can have the vicarious thrill of "That could be me."

I was checking Rotten Tomatoes when you review was tallied, and you were the second "rotten" vote. Up until then, "Star Trek" had a perfect 100 score.

Is religion an appropriate topic for "Star Trek"? Not with Abrams at the helm, but yes.

People want to talk about religion. Our current society pretty much makes it impossible to carry out a conversation where the concerns raised by librarybob are discussed. Such conversations are restricted, pretty much, to the Internet and maybe a few after-school philosophy clubs (who don't have any good books.) What America needs... what the world needs... is a book that can serve as a resource. What are the BEST arguments for and against? Is it possible that Jesus and his friends faked the death of Lazarus? As part of a political protest against the Roman Empire selling the office of High Priest to the highest bidder?

Now that you've stuck a toe in the water, and decided to defend what you believe.... is it worth writing a book? If American courts are about to rule that high school teachers must be prohibited from saying "Creationism is superstitious nonsense," isn't it time?

Ebert: I may not have time. You've already got me writing four screenplays.

If it is possible Mr. Ebert, I think your near death experience has made you a better writer. I don't know if I read anything you wrote that was so moving. Keep up the good work.