When it comes to near-death experiences, I'm torn. I'd love to believe that they are windows into an afterlife, where you are bathed in soothing white light and reunited with dead loved ones, and the idea of floating in etherial peace forever “just feels right, man.” I liked to think that we all end up in a permanently happy place.
But then I decided to read more about NDEs, and found out some disturbing information. For one thing, not everyone who comes back was pleasantly groped by angels or dipped in a gossamer hot tub of bliss. Some people report having visited a place that looks a hell of a lot like the set of a Ronnie James Dio video (pun intended). Both such experiences I read about involved men who were atheists at the time of their clinical deaths, and both men described demon-like beings that tore and ripped at their flesh. They also smelled bad, and had scary, Satanic voices. The good news is that if you find yourself in such a situation, God will show up if you call him, forcing the baddies to retreat. These guys did this, and they not only returned to their bodies, they became preachers.
I like the idea of a real afterlife, but I don't like the idea of ending up in a horrific one. So then I move the theory that NDEs are simply the functions of our brains as they wind down and call it a night. The only problem with this theory is that many people report rising above their body after they have died, looking down at the EMTs vigorously working to resuscitate them. People who have come back have described things that they supposedly could only have known if they'd been floating in the rafters of the room.
I was sitting at a table at the back of the Buckshot, contemplating eating chicken-fried bacon or a corn dog (surely two foodstuffs that would accelerate my trip to the afterlife), when I pictured myself floating up into the rafters of the bar, then gliding toward the stuffed deer heads that line the entire length of wall. It might be comfy to sit on top of a deer head in a bar for eternity. You could keep up with the latest music trends and remain perpetually in college. But what about the deer himself? What was his death like? Did he float out of his fur and hover over the hunter, watching as the man took a knife and gutted him? Did he care? Chances are he was already wandering through a sylvan pasture toward a big, cool stream.
The Buckshot is one of the best bars in the Richmond when it is not crammed with people who just turned 21. It's big yet cozy, with Skeeball and pool. The drinks are cheap. And it has a colossal collection of taxidermy.
I showed up for lunch with a friend; Lynyrd Skynyrd was playing when we walked in. This was a good sign. I ordered a club soda for me (designated driver) and a Shirley Temple for her (she's developmentally disabled). I felt silly ordering a Shirley Temple, I have to admit it. “I bet you've never made one of those in here before,” I joked with the bartender.
“Oh sure I have,” he said. I tried to figure out who would order one. Maybe it's the universal choice for designated drivers. He put four maraschino cherries in it and placed both drinks in front of me.
“How much?” I said.
“Eh,” he said, waving his hand, “All I do is serve alcoholics. These are on me.” Zoiks! I told him I resembled that remark, but thanked him nonetheless.
Reckless Eric came on the stereo system. I got my friend some ice cream, and I went back to fantasizing that the taxidermy had an afterlife. There was a big stuffed bear over by the DJ booth. They always pose them in “fierce” mode, when I bet all that guy really wanted to do in life was pee in a lake and eat blueberries. What if, after things die, they float up over their forms, but some of them don't keep going? What if they have to forever hang out next to their remains? I suppose that is what ghosts are. What if this bear is still here, and he is hanging out on the head of one of the deer, watching himself claws-out, looking royally pissed off for all eternity? If he truly is an easygoing bear then maybe he doesn't care. But perhaps he lived most of his life misunderstood, and is now doomed to be perceived as an asshole with a short temper. Maybe this is his equivalent of demons ripping at his flesh. Poor Smokey.
Iggy Pop came on, and I hoped the bear liked glam. He deserved something to hold on to.
Here's the scariest thing about the demonic afterlife stories: The people who had them were forced to look back on their lives, but they weren't shown their outright “bad” behavior — they were shown all the times that they behaved selfishly. God wanted them to see how they could've been more selfless, and he wanted them to atone. No matter how many good works we may do, we're screwed. We have all been selfish, and Lucifer's henchmen are gonna rail on our asses until we face it and repent. Bummer.
Once I remembered this, I commenced thinking of others, and left the bartender a $5 tip on the way out. I hope that his generosity toward me earlier will earn him God points, too, thus rendering him a shorter stay in purgatory. I kept that part to myself.
“Thanks,” he said with a smile as I walked out, picking up his tip.