I have always been fascinated with the endless variations our species has dreamed up about what happens when we move on. The possibilities are limitless. I have also suspected for many years that, upon dying, people will probably experience something similar to what they believe will happen. The topic of what will happen when we die is something everyone wonders about, but few wish to discuss.
When I was a child, I drew a complex diagram. My idea was that our essence split into quarters. One part would travel the places we had been, watching change and reflecting on the past. One part would retreat into the land of dreams, existing in those strange, twisted landscapes and visiting our families and friends as they slept. One part of us would move on to a new body that was just being born, and would become part of a new cycle. The final part would go to the forests and live in the hearts of trees with all of the other spirits, putting down roots, stretching out branches, and becoming a collective consciousness.
When my children asked about death a while back, I gave them a general description of some of the prevailing theories, including Heaven, reincarnation, nothingness, and reliving one’s life repeatedly. They had already found a reference to spirits left behind with unfinished business. Advanced readers will do that, I suppose.
I hadn’t heard more on the subject for a while, but last night during dinner, the kids decided to enliven conversation by talking about their idea of what happens when someone dies. I will share this theory with all of you, because it is very interesting to see how the mind of a child processes the idea, and what they come up with as a result.
My son, who is six, was telling us excitedly of the “Restarting Machine”
According to him, if you die a natural death, you get to go to the Restarting Machine and begin life again as something or someone else. He suspects we alternate between human and animal forms, and we have some amount of selection in what we would like to try. He hopes to be a frog for a while.
My daughter, who is eight, agreed that there was a Restarting Machine for natural deaths (they were a little obsessed with the idea of death being natural or unnatural). She further stated that, if you died an unnatural death, you would get to go to Heaven, provided you had no unfinished business on Earth. If you had unfinished business, then you must stay until it was completed. Then you could go to Heaven. My son shrugged, unconvinced, but interested in what his sister was saying. Our friend Lisa, who was over for dinner, was very impressed with the way they both listened to each other’s theories without arguing, trying to dissuade the other, or getting upset. She mentioned that most adults could not conduct themselves so well on these topics. She was right.
I asked what Heaven would be like, and was regaled with tales of a place where you do nothing but play and have fun. You get to play for eternity, or else become an angel and help people. I asked if I had to play for eternity. My daughter nodded happily. I declared that, according to her theory, I would be stuck on Earth. I feel that I would consider not seeing every library and reading every book to be some serious unfinished business. Sure, I only have to worry about that if my death is unnatural, because I would otherwise go to the Restarting Machine. What animal do I want to come back as after I visit this miraculous machine? Either a housecat or a kangaroo, I think. But I still have questions. My husband and Lisa also have things they wish to ask.
My main question was the difference between natural and unnatural death. The kids were less clear on this definition. My daughter felt that pretty much anything other then peacefully slipping away in your sleep was unnatural. My son mentioned outside forces and injury. I wanted to know if time travel was possible when one was in ghost form with unfinished business, because there were some amazing libraries in the past that I would really like to see. Lisa asked if she would be able to go to the Restarting Machine for a while, have more chance to read books, and then get to go to Heaven. My daughter thought this sounded like an excellent plan.
I know that many parents out there would tell their children the theory presented here was wrong. I know that some families would use this as a diving board into religious ideology. I did not see this as a time to impose my own ideas on my kids. I saw it as a time when my kids were animated, excited, and engaging in a deep conversation. I saw that they were getting along, and communicating their ideas fluently. I saw a great amount of thoughtfulness and creativity. Sure, their ideas might not be accurate, but who am I to know what “really” happens? None of us can be completely sure. We can believe we are sure, but we cannot prove it to be true.
One thing we can do, however, is support the imagination of our children. Let them know we are listening. Take the time to consider their ideas, where they came from, and what tat tells us about the child. By listening, we can learn far more than by shutting the child down. Even if you adamantly believe the child is incorrect, let them have their say. Not only will you bond with your kids while learning how they think, you might also learn a little something about yourself in the process.
What theories did you have as a child? What theories have the children in your life shared with you?