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Reflections on Death, Time, and the Reality of the Past
January 27, 2019
by William P. Meyers

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Real Present, Real Past, Real Future

Death troubles people. Religious people pretend it is just a transition. When someone lives and a loved one dies, sadness is the natural emotion. Missing the dead person is a natural emotion.

Watching others die, each of us knows that we will die too. It is a frightening thought. It is also a natural thought, one that helps keep us alive.

There is a natural interpretation of life, death, and reality that a mentally and culturally healthy person will reach. It may not prevent fear and sadness, but it puts everything in perspective. It allows people to focus on living, not on those who have died, or on the fear of death.

The past is real.

Most people accept the reality of their present situation. Religions may spin illusions, and philosophers are right to consider their doubts, but our conscious knowledge of the world around us accurate. We know too, if we care to know such things, that the real world is very, very big. We can only be immediately aware of our locality. Yet we can travel, and we can read, and we can watch video, and we can listen to those who have seen through telescopes that we are on a planet near a star in a galaxy that is just one of millions of galaxies that make up reality.

Time and distance have certain similarities. We accept the reality of things happening at a distance. We can believe that people are being born, and living, and dying in another country. So too can we believe that in the past people were born, lived and died.

Just as we cannot easily be in two places at once in the real world, we cannot be at two times at once. But there is no reason to deny the reality of past or future times.

So if a person has died there is no reason to deny their life. They are in the past. They have not disappeared into nothingness, though there may be nothing of them left in the present but ashes, memories, and perhaps a few documents. There is no reason to favor the current moment of time as more real than other moments of time.

We did not exist in any way before sperm and egg merged and started growing towards a conscious human being. Unborn, we did not suffer. Dead, we do not suffer.

In between birth and death is a real life. There, perhaps, is suffering and joy and everything else both animal and human.

If we do good, that good is in the past. It does not become nothing, it merely recedes in time. If we do evil, it is there in its time.

We can look back at the past, sometimes easily, sometimes with difficulty. We have our memories. We have the tales told by elders. We have old art and books, and more recently movies and video and audio recordings. We should look at the past. Our present reality is created out of it, rearranging it. To understand the present it is often necessary to understand the past.

The future is to be determined. Until we die we will be living in it as it turns, moment by moment, into the present.

Conscious life is a wonderful thing. We should enjoy it while we can. We should shape our local reality as best we can. After a period of mourning, we should be content that those who have died were just as real as we are now.

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