Retirement Talk

WHAT to do with the rest of your life?


576 Death and Decision Making

This is Retirement Talk. I’m Del Lowery.

In have entitled this podcast “Death and Decision Making”

Retirement brings death just a bit more closer to home. It becomes personal. Our parents die, or are dying. Our friends die, or are dying. What happens after death? Many people make decisions in life based on what they believe will happen to them after death including retirement. They live this life in fear or in hope of what will happen to them later.

When my daughter was in her freshman year of college she took a class in philosophy. I asked her if they talked about god and religion. She said they did. I asked her if they got into discussions about it in her dorm. She replied, “No. Not really.” I asked her why not, “Weren’t kids interested in this topic?” She said, “Some were but not me. It really doesn’t concern me”.

As you might of guessed she was raised outside of the faith; religious faith. God’s existence, heaven and hell and making decisions concerning her life were not influenced by what might happen to her after death. It was a non issue for her.

I remember vividly one of my earliest experiences with death and decision making. My rabbit died. Pete was a baby cotton tailed rabbit. I had found Pete after mowing some long grass. I hate to think of what may have happened to Pete’s brothers and sisters. I fixed Pete a little pen. He was such a cute little rabbit. Within a day or two he died. Some wild animals just can’t adjust to captivity . I took an empty peanut butter jar: cleaned it and placed a bed of green grass for Pete to lie in; dug a hole in the ground under the plum tree and buried him. I then make a small wooden cross out of lath; painted it white; inscribed Pete’s name and date on it and placed it at the head of the grave.

I can still picture in my mind going to house after burying Pete and asked my mother if Pete would be in heaven when I got there. She replied with, “No, Heaven is just for people”. I cried. And claimed that it wasn’t fair. I ran from the house. Thoughts of how God could not let Pete into heaven just seemed mean. He was just a little innocent rabbit. If he couldn’t go to heaven then I didn’t want to go either. Why would a good and just God treat other animals differently from us.

My mother pursued me and then comforted me with second thoughts. “Well, I guess for an animal as nice as Pete God would make an exception.” I still think that is when I first started to seriously question my religion. It just didn’t seem right.

An obsession developed concerning God and the hereafter. It consumed much of my time and energy during the first forty years of my life. Probably thousand of hours and probably thousands of decisions. It may have also been true for many of you and perhaps for many it still is.

Years did pass. I once visited Down House where Charles Darwin wrote the “Origin of the Species”. It isn’t far from London. It’s was on our first trip to London as a family. The kids were focused on the Tower of London, Stonehenge and the Lochness Monster. Brenda wanted to visit Herod’s famous department store.

On the flight over the Pole I had finished reading Loren Eiseley”s book, “Darwin’s Century”. My mind was constantly rambling around and through Darwins thinking and argument. This one book had caused so much furor. Some people saw it as an intellectual gateway; others as a work from hell.

On one special day the wife and kids were off to explore their favorite sites and I took the train to Kent. It was a hot summer day and I walked from the station down a narrow, hedge row lined country road for a few kilometers. There was no traffic. None. Where were all the people?

Eventually I can to a small brick moment at the edge of a driveway that led to a big brick house. Inscribed on the monument were the words, “Here Charles Darwin thought and wrote for forty years”.

It was lunch hour. No one answered my knock. Then I saw the sign. It would be open again at two o’clock. I waited the forty-five minutes. Not one person appeared; not one car. Bird calls came from the hedge. My mind wandered concerning how such a maelstrom of thought could have emanated from this serene spot in the country side.

At two o’clock I knocked again. A caretaker soon opened the door. He looked surprised. He looked past me as if looking for other visitors or for at least a car. No one. I asked if I could visit the museum. It is part of the British Trust just like the famous British Museum only no one was here. Except for me. He held the door wide and asked me to come in and said, “Give a shout if you need anything”. Then he bound up the wide stairway to an upper floor. I was left what seemed to be alone in Darwin’s house.

It was stunningly silent. The house had every appearance of an occupied home; carpet, furniture, photos, cabinets, etc. I moved slowly like a shadow silently peering into this case and that. There were the birds he had brought back on the Beagle. His chair where he sat with his writing board on his lap each day to compose his thoughts. His pens. His books. Letters. His glasses. All sorts of personal stuff.

Out the french doors lay the footpath that he walked every day. I walked down it and thought of Darwin. Returning to the house with no visitors I lingered and then silently let myself out and left this house where thought had taken a giant leap forward.

Thoughts about life and death were changing forever. When I returned home I read Darwin’s “Origin of the Species” and was convinced by the clarity of thought and rational thought. I guess I passed those thoughts on to my daughter.

This is the first of a series treating death and decision making. In the next episode I want to tell you a story about my last tussle with this matter. I think it has major implications for retirement.

This is Retirement Talk.

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