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Nature has symbols for her nobler joys,
Her nobler sorrows. Who had dared foretell
That only man, by some sad mockery,
Should learn to laugh who learns that he must die?
-- Wilfred Scawen Blunt
I am thankful for laughter, except when milk comes out of my nose.
-- Woody Allen
Not long ago, a good friend of mine, about twenty years my junior, wrote to me saying that he was already fretting about getting older:
I have been thinking of you off and on again these days, pondering whether I should take you as my role model for how to deal with getting older. I am 61 now and quite often annoyed about the symptoms of getting older, while you often wrote things like: "There is still a lot I can be grateful for" and other encouraging things.
“Ah, my early sixties,” I thought wistfully, “I was in my prime then.” Well, all right, I was...
Of course, when you’re in that in-between zone – what the Tibetans call a “bardo” – after your life is over but before you’ve died, you have plenty of time to think – to ruminate and to wonder what will happen to you when you finally cross that threshold and enter the house of death.
Oh, perhaps before I follow that train of thought, I guess I should clarify what I meant when I wrote that line about my life being over. Obviously, either I’m still here or a ghost is writing this. What I meant was that the really active part of my life has finished – no more rapturous love affairs, exciting adventures, extensive travels, doing research, writing books, and so forth – all the activities that I enjoyed so much during my life until recent years. Yes, I still have my quieter pleasures, as I have written, but mostly I am just waiting – waiting to die. And can’t help speculating what will happen once I do.
Lately, I have been reading a little philosophy, not about life and death matters, but in doing so, it has occurred to me that so many of the world’s great thinkers are professed atheists and are convinced that when we die, that’s it. Poof! Death brings annihilation to our individual personalities and to all consciousness. We enter into a sleep from which we never awaken.
Let’s consider this roster of the world’s greatest minds who hold this view. There’s Friedrich Nietzsche, of course, who became the most influential philosopher of...
The bright realization that must come before death will be worth all the boredom of living. Ned Rorem
What’s it like, waiting to die? Of course, it’s different for everyone. I can only say what it’s like for me. On the whole, it’s rather boring.
Don’t get me wrong. I still have many pleasures in life and – knock on silicon – I’m lucky not to be suffering from any fatal illness, though if I were, that would certainly add some drama in my life. I could then follow the example of the poet Ted Rosenthal, who after contracting leukemia, joyfully called his friends and said, “Guess what’s happened to me!” Well, no thanks. I’ll take my boring life any day and intone a hymn of gratitude every morning I wake up with only the...
Introduction: Hi, everyone. I think I should tell you a little bit about the column I’ll be writing monthly and that if you have the interest you’ll be reading – at least until your interest begins to flag. You see, toward the end of last year, I wrote something, just as a lark, I called “Waiting to Die.” Well, I published it in a couple journals and on two websites of friends, and to my surprise, I received a lot of encouragement to write more such pieces. So I did. I’ve now written a bunch of them, and in this column, I am going to start inflicting them on you, beginning with my maiden effort.
One advisory: These essays are not morbid; they are meant to be humorous, at least some of the time. And they usually end with something that I hope you will find to be of spiritual value, maybe even occasionally inspiring. But, bottom line, which this almost is, they are meant mainly to be entertaining, and if occasionally they prove edifying, I hope you will forgive me.
OK, you’re on your own. Have fun and enjoy the ride.
Dr. Ken Ring's series of essays "Waiting to Die" debuts here tomorrow September 5, 2018.
Dr. Ring is Professor Emeritus of psychology at the University of Connecticut where he researched near-death experiences. He designed scientifically structured studies of 102 near-death survivors that further developed Dr. Raymond Moody's early NDE findings. He is well-known for his ground-breaking research...