May All Your Nothings Hold Up Something and Sing


As an agnostic, I’m open to possibility, skeptical of surety, and don’t feel too judgmental about anyone’s version of what happens after death. Sudden blackness? I am blinded by the idea of it. Transcendence to Heaven? The notion transports me. Limbo? My opinion hangs in the balance. Reincarnation? I’ll get back to you next time on that one.

All I know for certain is that something happens when the animating life force exits the body. That “something” might be as straightforward as An End resulting in a corpse. It might be as complicated as the spirit pinning on a bib and noshing on a platter of babyback ribs before swirling out into the Milky Way, where it melts into all other former and future energies in a tie-dyed time warp of smoosh.

I dunno. To pretend that I do know would feel presumptuous, over-reaching, arrogant.

What I can concede easily is that I’m taken with the idea of a Heaven, and not in a religious way, not as a payoff for following edicts that are, at best, contradictory and exclusionary. But I am warmed by the possibility of an alternate plane where consciousness can cavort. Without attaching the caveat that demands acceptance of a prescribed Lord and Savior, let’s call this place—for ease of reference—Heaven.

Play along with me now, lest you force me to hurl my toys out of the pram in an unattractive display of temper.

Because I am essentially a testy toddler—or, on a good day, an arrested juvenile–my post-death play place for consciousness, this Heaven, is a place of wish fulfillment, a place that starts with a tall glass of beer and ends with a deep tissue massage.

My pal Pammy, who is a Christian, also hopes for a Heaven where dreams are the reality. In her case, Heaven will be a front porch with a good view and a soft rocking chair, where she’ll sit and relive the most profound moments of her life: nursing each of her babies one more time, feeling their pudgy hands knead at her neck, running their toes through her fingers, blowing softly through their downy hair, connecting with her boys again in one of Nature’s most finely-attuned and heart-stopping relationships.

For me, in Jocelyn’s Customized Heaven, I would hope to sit in a darkened theater and watch, in minute detail, a replay of everything that’s ever happened on planet Earth since the beginning of all life…

from the first cell combining with another, to a clump of cells somersaulting out of the ooze, to a reptile slithering across the forest floor, to the first monkey discovering its thumb, to the second monkey discovering a bone in the jungle shaped ominously like, er, Adam’s rib, to the third monkey popping a napkin on his head and calling himself “Pope,”

right down to every second of every life of every last human being,

up to and including Simon Cowell standing in a dressing room deciding—wrongly!–that, yes, the black t-shirt does successfully camouflage his man-boobs.

I want to see it all, as it happened, in slow motion when there’s a particularly complicated shoot-out.

Incidentally, as this modest vision of Heaven might suggest,

I’m a bitch to buy for on my birthday.

And if the universe can accommodate various versions of Heaven, can accept that all eventualities are possible, can allow for individual feeling to affect outcome,

then I just might be able to keep my dollie in the pram after all.

Some, like my husband’s grandmother, Bestemor, ascribed to a traditional religious view of Heaven. Her entire life, which ended last Tuesday at the age of 91, drew energy from a step-by-step movement through worship and liturgy. At her funeral today, the words read and spoken will celebrate her beliefs, will comfort her like-thinking 96-year-old husband as he realizes the end of their 65-year marriage and applies the scriptures to an anticipation of seeing his wife again in the near future.

As a fan of alternate approaches, however, I would like to take one small moment to commemorate this solid, curious, appreciative woman’s life without religious words,

for many who loved her deeply, who continue to live on as Bestemor’s legacy, nourish their spirits through art, asparagus, humor, wild flowers, conversation, irreverence, sunlight…

rather than a prayerbook.

In a quiet memorial, then, where no one wears black, no one stands on shaky legs, and no one cries into an already-damp hankie,

but where everyone gathered communes through a shared perspective of humanity

and joy at the host of possibilities,

I give you this, to honor Bestemor and to honor those exhausted survivors who love her still

in their own, secular fashion:

And the Cantilevered Inference Shall Hold the Day
by Michael Blumenthal
Things are not as they seem: the innuendo of everything makes
itself felt and trembles towards meanings we never intuited
or dreamed. Take, for example, how the warbler, perched on a
mere branch, can kidnap the day from its tediums and send us
heavenwards, or how, held up by nothing we really see, our
spirits soar and then, in a mysterious series of twists and turns,
come to a safe landing in a field, encircled by greenery. Nothing
I can say to you here can possibly convince you that a man
as unreliable as I have been can smuggle in truths between tercets
and quatrains on scraps of paper, but the world as we know
is full of surprises, and the likelihood that here, in the shape
of this very bird, redemption awaits us should not be dismissed
so easily. Each year, days swivel and diminish along their inscrutable
axes, then lengthen again until we are bathed in light we were not
prepared for. Last night, lying in bed with nothing to hold onto
but myself, I gazed at the emptiness beside me and saw there, in the
shape of absence, something so sweet and deliberate I called it darling.
No one who encrusticates (I made that up!) his silliness in a bowl,
waiting for sanctity, can ever know how lovely playfulness can be,
and, that said, let me wish you a Merry One (or Chanukah if you
prefer), and may whatever holds you up stay forever beneath you,
and may the robin find many a worm, and our cruelties abate,
and may you be well and happy and full of mischief as I am,
and may all your nothings, too, hold something up and sing.




16 responses to “May All Your Nothings Hold Up Something and Sing”

  1. Logophile Avatar

    Oh yes,
    I do love that one,
    and I don't know that I could think of a better way to memorialize someone beloved.

    I am so glad you liked that one.
    It speaks to my soul.

  2. geewits Avatar

    This is heartfelt and lovely. I agree that humor and feeling the joy and the funny are what life is all about. "Hey Soul Sister" is playing on the radio. How appropriate.

  3. Pam Avatar

    Ah Jocelyn, you have such a way with the written word. Like Bestemor (wonderful name!!) my mother-in-law has a deliberate line of Christian worship that she does not deviate from. My husband and I have played with the idea (in our irreverancy) of his mother at last attaining access to the heavenly realms to be greeted with Ganeesha waving in her admittance with a welcoming trunk. It would be enough to make her drop her handbag – perhaps quickly picked up in one of the many hands of that blindingly dextrous Hindu deity woman. Having dispensed now with frivolities,may I, in all seriousness offer my sympathy at the passing of Grooms grandmother. May all our heavens be just as we would want them to be.

  4. Shania Avatar

    What an absolutely lovely tribute.

  5. Jazz Avatar


  6. furiousBall Avatar

    that was really sweet.

    what a cool name too – Bestemor. i demand a recording of you pronouncing it in as many various accents as possible – please include the thickest MinneSOta accent you can muster…


  7. Green Girl in Wisconsin Avatar
    Green Girl in Wisconsin

    Shoot. And I was just thinking the other day that Heaven would be nice in that I'd get a body that wakes up ache free every day. There you are getting all DEEP and THOUGHTFUL on a gal.

  8. Steve Avatar

    If they make the film of it ALL for you, do you think they'll do just a highlight reel for me? I'll have things to do. I'll want to learn the harp, for example.

  9. Jenn @ Juggling Life Avatar
    Jenn @ Juggling Life

    Now that is a tribute for the ages.

  10. Jeni Avatar

    Reading this post, I was thinking (yes, a dangerous thing for me to do sometimes) about how I can show you heaven -simply by pointing to the skies but yet, I can't show you the "heaven" I believe exists there -not in the physical sense anyway. The piece you posted too reminded me of a piece my next-door neighbor's son put up on Facebook last week about all the various religions -a pretty deep piece it was too, but it touched me, deep inside, as did your words. It is part of my belief in heaven that when I get there I will have a reunion with family and wonderful friends long departed and too that I will have the opportunity then to meet my own father -not just the Heavenly One. But the one who gave me life and who passed from this life shortly after my birth so I never had the opportunity to know him. I guess we each do -as you said -have our own ideas about what awaits us in our passing, don't we? I know for myself, I can't simply believe that with death, all ends and there is nothing else because my mind simply has to have something to look to, to anticipate, and in a joyful manner too.
    Peace, my friend -to you and your family as you continue to remember and memorialize Grooms' Bestemor. A very fitting tribute to her, indeed!

  11. secret agent woman Avatar
    secret agent woman

    Lovely memorial.

    But I am still stuck on the fear you have just instilled in me that my spirit might be forced to eat ribs when I die. I insist on a vegetarian alternative!

  12. heartinsanfrancisco Avatar

    Wow! What an enchanting poem. As a fellow agnostic – (I wouldn't rule It out but would so like a bit of empirical evidence, not just desire) I must agree that to profess certainty is the highest form of arrogance, so I always preface my cosmic utterings with "I believe." And I rather resent those who insist against all odds that they alone know the truth about God and everyone else, and those who disagree are going straight to Hell. And there is the subject of another, companion post – Hell and what it represents to those of different mindsets.

    A lovely post, J! I do hope that Bestemor is enjoying her own happiest version of Heaven which doubtless includes harps and halos, because she earned it.

  13. Deborah Avatar

    Jocelyn, I don't want to read anybody's else's comments before I write mine because I'm afraid someone will have taken the words right out of my mouth.

    This is such a beautiful essay. My god, you are such a good writer, and a thinker, and funny in just the right places. You have a fresh, clear vision of After Life – and by that I mean that it's original and whimsical and wonderful.

    I love your mind. (I just wrote that, deleted it, and rewrote it. Deleted it because it sounded cloying and a bit insincere, but it really, really isn't.) I just love the turns it takes, the way you look at things; the acute and steady look you give the world and the people in it.

    The poem was wonderful too. I am almost embarrassed to admit this, but I have only recently (as in the last month of so) come around to thinking poetry should be part of my reading. And this poem gave me one more reason to do that.

    Your Grandmother (well, Byron's but who's counting?) was obviously an estimable woman, and I'm sure she would be proud as hell to have a grand-daughter like you say such things about her.

    I am very behind with emailing, but you're next on the list…..

  14. alwaysinthebackrow Avatar

    Iread this post earlier and couldn't comment. I have re read it now. I am dealing wih all of the issues of death and the possiblity of an afterlife. I have come to only one conclusion so far….organized religion is a bunch of crap. I am not sure about heaven. I had a near death experience. I stopped breathing and had to be resuscitated. I saw no bright light, no tunnel, no life flashing in front of me. It was just nothing. I have fainted before, as well, and this was different. So, I am still processing all of it.
    I love your comments about Bestemor. I have never heard a name like it….wonderfully unique. Respect for other's thoughts about issues like this where there is no way to verify is so important.
    Hope you keep thinking and writing these great posts!

  15. lime Avatar

    peace to those of you who knew and loved bestemor. a fitting tribute indeed which includes all the various ways in which someone may choose to remember.

  16. Anonymous Avatar

    This is just the reason why I want my funeral before I die. That was perfection. Beautiful.

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