“We choose our next world through what we learn in this one. Learn nothing, and the next world is the same as this one, all the same limitations and lead weights to overcome.” Richard Bach, Jonathan Livingston Seagull.
I was turned away from the concept of God at a very young age. An off-hand remark from a member of the church community left me feeling Heaven held no place for me. The comment was “Animals cannot enter Heaven because they have no souls.” I was five or six years old and animals were my friends. Whether it was the hawk-moth caterpillar in the garden, the stickleback in the river or my silver tabby kittens, every animal was important to me. In my mind they all deserved a place in Heaven just as much as I did. If they didn’t go to Heaven, were they automatically consigned to Hell because they were soulless? I didn’t think so. I wasn’t willing to be parted from my friends so wherever they were going, I was going too even if that meant God wouldn’t be with me.
As I grew up my relationship with nature deepened but my relationship with the church was never rekindled. I’m neither a staunch atheist or a devout worshipper and I don’t mind if others hold different beliefs to my own. We’re all free to choose what we believe in and there are plenty of things science cannot adequately explain. For me this gap in plausible explanations creates space for something else, something intangible and more profound. Faith, curiosity, wonder – it could be all or any of those.
I doubt I am alone in having met someone, a stranger, and yet felt as though I’ve known them for a very long time, longer than was physically possible. Or happened across someone who could almost be a long-lost twin. These experiences happen, sometimes more than once and there is no simple explanation for them. It seems it’s more than having a lot in common, similar tastes or shared experiences and there are no logical explanations for these events. In the absence of rational descriptions, perhaps it’s possible that the most basic explanation is true – we knew these people before, somewhere else in time and space. It’s not a chance meeting, it’s just that we can’t remember much about the previous occasions because our memories don’t have that kind of capacity. Although this might sound far-fetched consider that not so long ago cell phones, video-conferencing and tricorders were firmly in the sci-fi domain of Star Trek. Consider also that some people who undergo transplant surgery report experiencing memories that are not their own, recollections from their organ donors life. This is another phenomenon we are yet to fully understand and possibly never will.
I’m not sure I’ll ever believe in God in the everyday sense but I’m equally unsure that when our corporeal bodies give up, everything else disappears with them. Maybe it does? Perhaps reincarnation is firmly in the Star Trek domain – who knows? Either way, I’m sure Richard Bach is right. We choose our next world through what we learn in this one. Our children are the next world. If we learn nothing from those who went before us and pass no new knowledge to our children then sure enough the next world will be the same. It will have the same limitations and lead weights to overcome. Our world is still struggling with war, inequality, fear and hatred just as it was in my grandfather’s time, my great grandfather’s time and my great-great grandfather’s time. What have we learnt?
I’m fairly certain that when its my turn to move on I’ll go to wherever my animal friends are; I’ll be there with the caterpillars, sticklebacks and cats. Until then I very much hope I’ll take on board some lessons and have the good sense to share them with my son. If I can be here for the next world there’s a chance his children and grandchildren may finally cast off the limitations and lead weights that constrain the world today.