10 February 2011

A light has gone out.

 (This was originally posted to Facebook in March of 2010 after a friend lost her life in an accident.)

Recent events have had me thinking on the notions of life, death, the afterlife, and how we all go on with our lives knowing that certain special people are gone.

I was specifically thinking about how these things fit in with my other personal views on the world. I’ve recorded my thoughts, and I offer them here on the chance that they might help someone else, perhaps someone with views of the world similar to mine, to better handle this sad turn of events or any others that may occur. It’s certainly not my intention to upset anyone who may have differing views on these subjects, and if that happens I will certainly be understanding of that and will remove this from the public eye. But hopefully it will be clear that my feelings are genuine and my intentions only good. If you’d like to share anything that follows with someone else who might find some solace in it, then by all means do.

I don’t believe in an afterlife in the traditional sense of the word, but I still do believe in an afterlife of sorts; that is, a way in which a person continues to be, even after they’ve left us. I suppose it comes down to how I define the word “person.”

Is a person defined by the crude matter that comprises us, the proteins and other materials so intricately strung together and coordinated, forming our muscles, skin, lungs, heart, brain? No, that is simply a body.

Then is a person that body combined with a mind? The physical self combined with the ability to think and feel imparted on us as a result of the unique interconnections of neurons in each individual which are built up over time, and the signals that pass among them? No, I would argue that these make a human being, but not yet a person.

Then is a person a body, a mind, plus the life they lead? The highs, the lows; the laughter, the tears; the mistakes, the things learned from them; the passions, the fears; the follies, the triumphs; the love, the loss? This is closer, I think, but I would only call that a life lived.

You see, I don’t think you’ve defined a person until you’ve taken into consideration the impact they’ve had on all the lives around them: the memories, both foggy and clear; the words, both secret and proclaimed; the moments, both happy and sad. I think that the real essence of a person isn’t contained within any one body, heart, or mind, but shared among all the lives an individual has touched. And in that way, I think a person does go on even after their mortal life, persisting within everyone whose life was changed because that person existed--directly or indirectly, and whether they know it or not.

And I think it is an incredibly special occurrence when one person has affected so many lives in such a singularly positive way--when a person is able to impart so much happiness upon the world. I know that her path and mine crossed for only a short time, and that those close to her must have been there for less happy times, for the trials each of us faces. But I saw then and I see now--in the words of those who have been remembering her so fondly--that she has only ever left a place happier than it was before. And that is nothing short of wonderful.

I regret that I wasn’t able to see her again after high school. It was far too soon for her to go, and a light has truly gone out in the world. But the light continues on in our hearts. And I know that the light she left in mine is tiny compared to the light that glows in the hearts of those close to her, but I’ll still do my best to diligently protect it from the winds of time. And when we do that--when we cherish the way a person has impacted our lives--that person is never really gone.

Cassie will always be with us.

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