According to those closest to him, Apple co-founder Steve Jobs’s last words were “Oh Wow.” Some are suggesting that they are not unlike Thomas Edison’s last words upon briefly emerging from the coma into which he sank before dying, “it is very beautiful over there.” Maybe it’s me, but that’s an awfully long stretch, even for one such as me, who is entirely comfortable with the idea that there is life after life.
Edison’s words attest to the inventor’s experience of some other world - one which he seems to have visited while comatose. Whether that utterance is better explained as a neurological event, than as reliable evidence for an afterlife is debatable. But whatever one concludes based on Edison’s report, and those of others who “come back” with similar reports, Job’s words do not belong on that list. They could mean many other things and the jump to connect the two utterances says more about the living than it does about where the departed go after their departure from this world, or even where Steven Jobs thought they went.
According to the Pew Forum’s U.S. Religious Landscape Survey, 74 percent of us believe in life after death. While Jobs’s comments could point to his seeing something beyond this world as he departed, he could just as easily have been calling out in recognition of the enormous finality of the moment. It could be that his words reflected the exact opposite of a hereafter - instead signaling the awesome awareness that his amazing life was really and fully over. There is no way of knowing --at least not for now.
What we can know is that different understandings of life, and what may or may not occur after our deaths, can shape our sense of purpose while here on earth. Those who believe in this existence and not other, may become deeply depressed about the relatively small amount of time we are given and the fact that when it is done here, there is nothing else. Those same people may decide that given how little time there is, each moment is precious and we must fill them all with as much meaning as possible.
Similarly, those who believe in an afterlife may take both this world and life in it, for granted - assuming that since there is so much more coming, there is no reason to fret about this life or even to struggle to make it better. On the other hand, those same people may see this life as their great opportunity to “practice” for the world to come - to live as fully and as richly now because that is the best preparation for whatever is coming.
There is evidence for all of these responses among various groups and schools of thought, and all point to the fact that we have choices to make regardless of the beliefs that we hold. Personally, I am not so arrogant as to assume that those things which we know intellectually are the full measure of existence. On the other hand, I am more interested in how we make life on earth as “heavenly” as possible whether heaven “really” exists or not.
It seems to me that if there is a heaven, having lived that way here on earth, we are more likely to be welcomed there. And if there is no heaven, we will have made the most of what tere really is.