“Rosencrantz: We might as well be dead. Do you think death could possibly be a boat?
Guildenstern: No, no, no… Death is…not. Death isn’t. You take my meaning. Death is the ultimate negative. Not-being. You can’t not-be on a boat.
Rosencrantz: I’ve frequently not been on boats.
Guildenstern: No, no, no–what you’ve been is not on boats.”
― Tom Stoppard, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead
It’s spring. Kinda. It was a pretty brutal March here in Brooklyn, but, to use the term with which my old head of upper school welcomed and warned the new prefects, “Spring is here. Sap is […dramatic pause…] rising.” Yeah, my impression of him in the flesh at the sixth form review was better. I mean, it sounded nothing like him, but it caught the essentials of the man. A good, if ever so slightly unusual, fella. Not in a bad way. Just in a going for a jog round the neighbourhood, but while having a crafty cigarette way. And he’d mastered that ploy of remaining silent while waiting for the other party in a conversation to offer up valuable information. Once I’d twigged this, I’d opt for silence, too. Partly from pure mischievousness, and partly because I wanted to know where he was going with things. So when I was a vice-captain of the school, and we’d have to coordinate stuff, we’d sit on opposite ends of the phone line in silence. It was quite amusing in its own way, but it didn’t half make running the sixth form common room tricky. Anyway, where am I going with things…?
Oh yes. Teenage boys and rising sap. <shudder> Spring is here. A number of friends have had their birthdays recently. (Which might suggest that sap rises in early summer, rather than spring.) Zombie Jesus Day was yesterday. And, in possibly related news, today is the sixth-month anniversary of StrokeFest 2012. So, I’ve been giving thought to rebirth and renewal. As a long-time atheist, but lapsed Church of Scotland Sunday School teacher, I had hoped to give you some educational lines from A.N. Wilson’s skeptical biography of Jesus of Nazareth, Jesus: A Life.
But that seems to have been lost in the brutal pruning occasioned by the many moves of the last twenty years. Wilson himself would probably be happy to hear it. I discovered in researching this post that, in 2009, around Easter-time, Wilson disowned the book in an op-ed piece (mm-hmm) in the Daily Mail (well, duurr). As well as the New Statesman, to be fair. [Note to American readers: the New Statesman is a bit like The Nation. The Daily Mail isn’t.] I wouldn’t claim for a moment to be as well-read as Mr. Wilson when it comes to the events of the gospels, but it seems that shouldn’t discourage me from thinking that my belief, or otherwise, is a valid brick in an argument regarding the veracity of the story of the resurrection. Wilson notes that his return to belief is motivated by a dislike of certain unbelieving British TV figures, but also goes on to write that “…there is more to it than that. My belief has come about in large measure because of the lives and examples of people I have known – not the famous, not saints, but friends and relations who have lived, and faced death, in the light of the Resurrection story, or in the quiet acceptance that they have a future after they die.”
Well, I’m not claiming to be the messiah. I am, on the contrary, a very naughty boy….
But I have been through an experience that was absolutely expected to result in death and returned, after a dramatic pause, to tell the tale. I even found myself experiencing what seemed at the time, and still seems to me to have been, a near-death experience; a dream-like state in which I could have given up clinging on to the life I knew, and not had to wake up to the feeling that I had had the shit beaten out of me by a dozen vicious stroke cartoons with angry scribbles for faces. I could rest forever. But, I caught a vivid glimpse — in my dream-state — of My Love and realized that I couldn’t shuffle off this mortal coil without doing my damnedest to see her at least one more time, and let her know that I had loved her and things were going to be OK.
[Note: CDs were plastic disks that played music that you could buy in HMV. HMV was a record store. Record stores were places to buy plastic disks that played music. Morrissey? We’ll have to get to that another time.]
It was, in fact, my certainty that, if I let go, then that was it for me, that gave me the prod I needed to hang on long enough to be nursed back to health by Beth and the rather brilliant medial and rehab teams at Methodist Hospital and the Rusk Institute. And now, “…the whips and scorns of time/The oppressor’s wrong, the proud man’s contumely/The pangs of despised love, the law’s delay” while not to be sneezed at, have lost much of their ability to blight life. Beautiful, sweet, fragile, never-to-be-repeated life.
This isn’t a tract to turn anyone away from a worldview that gives them comfort. apoplectic.me is, increasingly, a place where I go to try to figure out things for myself. But, it’s not unusual for the fiercest atheist to throw in the towel in the face of the despair. In fact, many seem to turn to god, eventually. Maybe because they’re primarily attracted to articles of faith and certainty, positive or negative. Or, perhaps because the life of the rationalist can be bleak, if one follows one’s convictions through with, er, conviction. Be encouraged, though, that this guy, “not famous, and not a saint”, found comfort and strength — and an afterlife — with the help of atheism.