You receive a knock at the door in the middle of the afternoon. Wondering whether there’s an Amazon delivery you forgot about, you make your way to the door. A man in a pristine black suit and black rimmed spectacles stands there. Something about his appearance strikes you as somewhat other-worldly. A little too clean cut. Almost wax-like.
He hands you an envelope. He then proceeds to explain in a robotic sounding voice that inside the envelope is a piece of paper. The piece of paper gives a succinct and clear explanation of what happens to us when we die. Something in his tone, demeanour and aura suggests he isn’t playing the fool. He’s real, and what’s in the envelope is real.
As you stare at the envelope in your hands he turns on his heels and makes his way down the street, out of your line of sight.You look up, suddenly wanting another sight of him, perhaps a question on your lips. But when you stick your head out of the door and look down the street, he’s nowhere to be seen. He’s disappeared, and there you stand with the envelope of all envelopes in your hand.
I lost a loved one recently. When these things happen I suppose it’s natural to wonder about death, and what happens after death. If anything happens at all. Death comes along and leaves so many questions and no answers. But what if you could have the answers? Would you take them?
So you’re standing there with the envelope. Your first inclination would probably be to rip it open and read it. But common sense would probably make you pause. What would be the implications of opening it? And would you really want to know? After all, in your hand, within the envelope lies the nature of life and everything after.
What if what happens to us when we die isn’t exactly a pleasant prospect? Would it not tarnish the quality of the rest of our lives, if we knew a bad fate awaited us? And what would a bad fate be exactly?
Let’s say the envelope told you that reincarnation is in fact a real thing, and that you’d come back to life as a newborn baby somewhere in this world. For me this wouldn’t entirely be a good thing. I don’t have many complaints about life. I’ve largely lived a fairly privileged, good existence. Yet I wouldn’t particularly want to go and do it all over again. Life is suffering after all. Duhkha, I believe, is the Hindu and Buddhist term for this. And what if your circumstances aren’t as good in the next life? What if the rolling dice of life isn’t as kind? What if the next generation isn’t a world one would particularly want to live in? Needless to say, this outcome would make me somewhat depressed.
What if the envelope confirmed that there was nothing beyond life? Nothing at all. This might be a little more acceptable. You could then at least put your energy into living this life to the full knowing that this is it, your one chance at it. This might even free you up to live with less inhibition, knowing that no eternal judgement awaited you. But how would this knowledge make you feel as you got older – as you crept into your 70’s and 80’s knowing there was nothing beyond, no hope for a life after death. For some this might be ok. Others may struggle.
And what if Heaven and Hell are real? The confirmation that Heaven is real would be wonderful, as well as the knowledge that re-acquaintance with loved ones may indeed be possible. But it would make me ever so slightly fearful as well. You can’t have a Heaven without a Hell. What if I somehow didn’t make it in, and upon death was confronted with the prospect of Hell? I am of course, just like everyone else, imperfect in thought and deed.
Maybe it tells you something that wasn’t even in the ballpark of consideration. You’re part of a simulation, and you’re not even real – life and the world is a giant computer programme. Or, when you die your energy is sucked up into the universe and is morphed into another existence in another world. Or that you don’t really exist at all, you’re merely part of a dream.
Many of the potential answers would leave me unsatisfied, to say the least. I often wonder about this scenario. Would I open the envelope? Would I immediately throw it in the bin and be rid of it. Or would I put it in a cupboard while I pondered whether to open it or not. I can imagine lying awake at 3am with the idea of this envelope in the cupboard gnawing away at me.
What would you do?
We’re a world that likes answers. But sometimes maybe the questions are more powerful.