What happens to us when we die? If there is an afterlife, are we still recognizably ourselves? Or, as some believe, do we come back, reincarnated as someone or something else?
For the answers to these and all your other questions about the Great Beyond, check your daily horoscope.
No, wait! I'm just kidding, of course. If there were easy answers that satisfied everybody, we wouldn't need churches, synagogues, mosques, astrology, channeling, harmonic convergences -- or even this column!
As it is, we mortals are given life, along with a brain to contemplate its meaning, a soul to make us care and the gifts of love and laughter to make it all worthwhile. With those tools, men and women have come up with an amazing array of speculations about what lies beyond death. And, thank goodness, not all of them are solemn.
Consider the poem "Reincarnation" by Wally McRae. This is a Montana rancher's meditation on a subject that has teased the human mind for centuries:
"What does reincarnation mean?"
A cowpoke ast his friend.
His pal replied, "It happens when
Yer life has reached its end.
They comb yer hair, and warsh yer neck,
And clean yer fingernails,
And lay you in a padded box
Away from life's travails." .
"The box and you goes in a hole,
That's been dug in the ground.
Reincarnation starts in when
Yore planted 'neath a mound.
Them clods melt down, just like yer box,
And you who is inside.
And then yore just beginnin' on
Yer transformation ride."
"In a while, the grass'll grow
Upon yer rendered mound.
'Till some day on yer moldered grave
A lonely flower is found.
And say a hoss should wander by,
And graze upon this flower
That once wuz you, but now's become
Yer vegetative bower." .
"The posey that the hoss done ate
Up, with his other feed,
Makes bone, and fat, and muscle
Essential to the steed.
But some is left that he can't use.
And so it passes through,
And finally lays upon the ground.
This thing, that once was you." .
"Then say, by chance, I wanders by,
And sees this on the ground.
And I ponders, and I wonders at,
This object that I found.
I thinks of reincarnation.
Of life, and death, and such.
I come away concludin': Slim:
You ain't changed, all that much." -- Wally McRae
I'm indebted to a colleague from Montana -- the land where an endless sky seems to imbue the people under it with common sense, generous hearts and, as we have seen, imaginative spirits -- for sharing with me the issue of his Montana newsletter that included Wally McRae's poem. "Reincarnation" is taken from McRae's collection of poems titled "It's Just Grass & Water."
Do you have a question about mortality for Sara Engram? You can write to her in care of Universal Press Syndicate, 4900 Main St., Kansas City, Mo. 64112. Questions of general interest will be addressed in future columns.