a recognition

This morning, my little boy, 4, asked me:

“What does ‘unconscious’ mean?” We were driving up the sunlit road toward his daycare.

I said, glancing back at him: “It means like when you’re asleep. That’s called being unconscious.”

He thought about that for a minute. Then he said, “I think when I die, I’ll be unconscious. I’ll be asleep. But you can’t breathe when you die,” he went on. “But we have to breathe.”

Driving through the sunshine, I said the kind of thing I always say when my children bring up the topic of death. “Little friend,” I said slowly, “you don’t have to worry about that — that’s not going to happen for a very, very long time. And no matter what,” I went on, “I am always always always always going to love you!”

He said, “your voice sounds funny.”

Question: When I tell my children that I will love them forever, am I lying?

I do not believe that I am.

This is why, in the last analysis, I am respectful of people of faith.

I know nothing more than they do; and they have chosen to live within the validation of a moral intuition that seems to me transcendent.

Also: its objects — such as eternal life — may not be real.

But longing is real; anguish is real; love is real.

Author: JD Fleming

I am Professor of English Literature at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, BC. My work is in intellectual history of the early-modern period (1500-1700), with a special interest in epistemic issues around the emergence of modern natural science (the "Scientific Revolution"). In 2012, I initiated the international conference series "Scientiae: Disciplines of Knowing in the Early Modern World."

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