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  • TRUE STORIES – Puzzling it out

  • “All goes onward and outward, nothing collapses, And to die is different from what anyone supposed, and luckier.” - Walt Whitman 

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  • “All goes onward and outward, nothing collapses, And to die is different from what anyone supposed, and luckier.” - Walt Whitman

    “When we’re born we’re like a giant jigsaw puzzle. And ever so often, throughout our life, something bad happens — like death, divorce or loss of a child — and a puzzle piece is taken away. And when the last piece is removed, that’s it. We die.”

    So said Ed Malle as he leaned against my Pathfinder at the service station he runs with his brother, Dennis, last week as we talked about the Moore, Oklahoma tragedy.

    I drove away considering his statement and wondering if the removal of the last puzzle piece is predetermined at birth — or comes about by free will.

    Also the even bigger question: What happens after we die?

    The core of Christian belief about the afterlife is that how we behave while alive will determine where we will eventually end up — hell (fire, suffering, and damnation) for the wicked ones; and heaven (eternal life with God and the angels) for those who behaved well.

    Buddhist and Hindu religions believe in the doctrines of reincarnation and karma, which is the concept that, after death, the soul begins a new life in a new body that may be human, animal, or spiritual, depending on the moral quality of the previous life's actions.

    Traditional Judaism has little afterlife dogma and leaves a great deal of room for personal opinion. It is possible for an Orthodox Jew to believe that the souls of the righteous dead go to a place similar to the Christian heaven, or that they are reincarnated through many lifetimes, or that they simply wait until the coming of the Messiah, when they will be resurrected.
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    Like Christianity, Islam teaches the continued existence of the soul and a transformed physical existence after death. Muslims believe there will be a day of judgment when all humans will be divided between the eternal destinations of Paradise and Hell.

    Spiritualism says that all people that have been loved (had their vibrations raised) continue to live after physical death. On crossing over we take three things with us: our etheric or spirit body (a duplicate of our physical body) all memories and our character. This goes for animals that have been loved, such as pets, as well. Which brings to mind a Will Rogers quote I agree with, “If there are no dogs in heaven, then when I die I want to go where they went.”

    Not long ago I read a book by Dr. Eben Alexander, a successful neurosurgeon who spent his life dismissing claims of heavenly out-of-body experiences and refuting such talk with scientific logic, until he himself had a near-death experience.

    He now says that he saw heaven and knows the afterlife exists.

    Alexander, a Christian, claims he took the journey to the afterlife when he slipped into a coma in 2008 after contracting a rare form of bacterial meningitis.

    “Toward the beginning of my adventure, I was in a place of clouds. Big, puffy, pink-white ones that showed up sharply against the deep blue-black sky.

    Higher than the clouds — immeasurably higher — flocks of transparent, shimmering beings arced across the sky, leaving long, streamer-like lines behind them.

    A sound, huge and booming like a glorious chant, came down from above, and I wondered if the winged beings were producing it. Again, thinking about it later, it occurred to me that the joy of these creatures, as they soared along, was such that they had to make this noise — that if the joy didn’t come out of them this way then they would simply not otherwise be able to contain it. The sound was palpable and almost material, like a rain that you can feel on your skin but doesn’t get you wet.”
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    Alexander says that he traveled through this heaven, surrounded by "millions of butterflies," with a woman. This woman gave him three messages: “You are loved and cherished, dearly, forever," “You have nothing to fear." and “There is nothing you can do wrong.”

    Eventually, the neurosurgeon awoke from the coma and penned “Proof of Heaven,” the book describing his journey.

    I found the book intriguing as I’m of the belief that, not only do the dead have a continued existence in another dimension, they possess the ability, as do angels, to influence the fortune of the living — which is why I talk to them often (my beloved Lab, Andre, included).

    This being Memorial Day weekend, millions across the country will be venerating the dead; remembering — in addition to those who served in the military — friends, neighbors and loved ones who have, in the words of Ed Malle, had the last piece of their jigsaw puzzle removed.

    As I have in years past, this year I will again visit several cemeteries, wander a while looking for the graves of my people, lay upon them fresh flowers – peonies, roses, and irises – and pause to pray.

    And remember them of course.

    Remember them with love … which is, in the end, the only thing more mysterious than death.

    J.T. Knoll is a writer, speaker and prevention and wellness coordinator at Pittsburg State University. He also operates Knoll Training, Consulting & Counseling Services in Pittsburg. He can be reached at 231-0499 or jtknoll@swbell.net

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