There are all sorts of hypotheses about what happens to us after we die.
Some believe that, like Clarence in “It’s a Wonderful Life,” we become befuddled angels on a quest to attain our wings. Others believe that we drift into a netherworld of ectoplasm and eerie music accessible only to spiritualists with crystal balls. Others still believe that after we draw our last breaths, we take what my friend in the Marines calls “a dirt nap.”
They are all, of course, wrong.
What really happens after we die is that we become floating particles … dust motes. We find a sunbeam that suits our fancy, hop on, and loll around in the general area of where we once lived. We don’t actually do anything once we get there; we are more like smoke hovering over a long dead campfire.
Your Uncle Harold who died at 97 after playing a game of checkers at the Carl Shultz Park … your Aunt Martha who died (or was it a homicide?) at a nursing home in Winnipeg after she bit a nurse … your cousin Marco, hit by a bolt of lightning on a golf course in Miami … your brother Max, gored to death while running with the bulls (what a stupid thing to do!) in Pamplona.
Once they were people, with eyes and smiles and fingers and toes. Now they are beautiful microscopic particles dancing in the light that streams through the window. Dust motes are what they have become. That’s all. Just dust.
They cannot answer our prayers. They cannot help us to write a resume, unzip a stuck zipper, prune a hedge, trap a skunk, or housebreak a wolverine.
We are down here. They are up there. Lounging around all day with nothing to but float. Which brings us to the worst thing about being an infinitesimal particle in the sun: The tedium. They are (or were) bored. Bored. Bored. Bored. No windows to wash. No cross puzzles to do. No lawns to mow. No graduations to attend.
Then, literally overnight, all of that changed when … jolted out of their stupor by thousands, millions, billions of electronic messages whizzing past their head (do dust motes even have heads?) … the dear departed unexpectedly found themselves smack dab in the middle of cyberspace.
Just like the rest of us.
Yep. It’s true. The souls of those we loved, loathed, and disregarded were suddenly reawakened by the Internet. And … and … and … here’s the clincher:
They are reading our emails!
They know where we work. Which books we buy. Where we go for our summer vacations. And whom we are sleeping with. They know when we’re mad, sad, or glad. They know if we’re late, whom we hate, and if we joined Match.com to find a mate. They are here, there, and everywhere, dive-bombing our brains like kamikaze bumblebees, reading every email we send and every snatch of correspondence we receive. Not satisfied merely to snoop, they also want to interfere with our lives, give us advice, re-enter the fray, and (can you honestly blame them?) once more be relevant.
They must do this, however, with great subtlety, because if we suddenly got an email from our dead Aunt Matilda reminding us to prune the withered limbs on our apple trees, we would consider it a hoax … or decide that we were losing our minds.
So, they sneak up on us. One day, we receive an unsolicited email from an undetermined source cheerfully reminding us, “It’s time to trim back the branches on your fruit bearing trees.” We read it (allegedly from a Greenhouse in Connecticut), smile, and remember Aunt Matilda with great affection. Then, obedient to its instructions, we take out our loppers, and … prune.
Same thing happens with the email we get reminding us to change our oil every 3,000 miles. Supposedly it is from Joe’s Main Street Garage. Of course, there is no such place. The message is really from Mr. Smithers, our old next-door neighbor who smelled of Captain Black Blue pipe tobacco, died 17 years ago, and taught us how to change spark plugs in a 1981 Ford.
Many of the other emails we get are fraudulent, too. Like the ones advising us to ask for a raise, change the color of our hair, take a trip to Toronto, and use grocery store coupons instead of paying full price. They may seem like junk mail or spam, but they are actually from co-worker Jean, who died last year in a car accident; cosmetologist Margo, who died of anaphylactic shock after a wasp bite; Uncle Thad, who always wanted us to go to the Toronto Shakespeare Festival; and Mom (we miss her so much!), who really really knew how to shop.
Dust motes. Gone but not forgotten. Doing their damndest to meddle with our lives. Out there. In here. All around us.
Happily sending us emails from cyberspace.
Shelly Reuben has been nominated for Edgar, Prometheus, and Falcon awards. She is an author, private detective, and fire investigator. For more about her books, visit shellyreuben.com.
Copyright © 2012, Shelly Reuben