KYSO Flash
Knock-Your-Socks-Off Art and Literature
Issue 10: Fall 2018
Nonfiction: 1,336 words

What We’re Here After: Immortality and Reincarnation

by Skip Eisiminger
It’s best not to know if the sun will rise
Then if it does, it’s a fine surprise.
The Wordspinner

Even though the Federal Trade Commission told the makers of POM Wonderful they could not claim their pomegranate juice helps customers “cheat death,” I have my doubts, for I keep finding exceptions in the plant and animal kingdoms. Humans have known for six thousand years that a vintner offers the grape its best hope at immortality or at least a longer life. Then, there’s the forty-five-million-year-old yeast that has been revived to make beer; bacteria thought to be 250 million years old have been coaxed back to life; pollen may indeed last forever; and a thirteen-hundred-year-old lotus seed was recently persuaded to germinate.

My curiosity concerning vegetable immortality was further stimulated a few years ago when, on a visit to Germany, my wife and I noticed wild poppies growing at the ends of cultivated rows but not where the ground lay undisturbed. My naturalist brother-in-law said a poppy seed will lie dormant for years on uncultivated soil, but let a plow come by or an old land mine explode, and soon the affected area will be covered in blood-red blossoms.

Though John Muir observed that bluebottle flies make “all dead flesh fly,”1 that “flight” merely hints at immortality because these flies only feed on decomposing flesh. Other hints of animal immortality come from the edible honey found in the pyramids and the discovery of some three hundred and fifty Lazarus-like animals including the coelacanth, a fish long thought to be extinct. The Pyrenean ibex, on the other hand, really was extinct, so when one of these nimble beasts was resurrected using some preserved DNA, the world took notice. Sadly, the animal only lived five minutes before rejoining its dead brothers in the underworld.

Any number of animals like the Arctic green shark outlive humans, but the Turritopsis jellyfish takes the longevity prize. This hydrozoan, which is about the size of a coarse salt grain, has been nicknamed “Benjamin Button” for its unique ability to age and reverse age, age and reverse age, possibly ad infinitum. Once we figure out how the Button family accomplishes this clever trick, the doors to human immortality may be flung wide open.

But at age seventy-six with immortality a distant possibility, I feel more like the terminal patient who’d purchased a cryonic vat, waiting to die before he can be cured. Pigs must feel the same way.

Having spent his whole life watching the clock,
Mr. Skip may outlive all but the rocks.
The Wordspinner

In a thousand years, when Christian divers go exploring the depths of Lake Jocassee in the mountains of South Carolina, they are likely to be puzzled, astonished, or both. At a depth of about 130 feet, several open graves and headstones should still be visible beside the ruins of Mt. Carmel Baptist Church. Canoeing on this translucent gem not long after the lake was opened to the public in 1973, a friend, who’d lived in the area for decades, said Duke Power had been required to exhume the graves and rebury the bodies on higher ground before the water rose to “full pond.” But future explorers may not know of that historical footnote and assume the bodies were raptured to heaven, where, for all I know, they currently reside.

My paternal grandfather’s final wish was to be cremated, and though his Catholic wife disapproved, she was faithful to his request. Unfortunately, his request did not include a directive on what to do with the ashes. One night, the family sat staring at his funeral urn on the mantel wondering what to do with five pounds of gray ash. The consensus was to sprinkle a generous scoop in the garden that he’d spent fifty years making fertile. Grandmother then took the remainder to the “Crystal palace,” her potting shed, where she mixed them and a vial of tears into some potting soil, which, in late October, she worked around the roots of her forget-me-nots. I can’t be sure if there was a direct connection, but the long, unfurling clusters of petals were never as blue, and their eyes were never as gold, as they were the subsequent spring.

Besides the bronze bell in the Clemson University carillon, which has a poem of mine embossed on its side, the closest I’ll come to immortality is a pecan tree planted amid my ashes. As a nut tree with a potential life span of three hundred years, I plan to “produce, produce, produce,” as Goethe said2, or die trying.

Whenever Skip thinks he’ll never get old
His back goes out, and he gets a cold.
The Wordspinner

When it comes to immortality and reincarnation schemes, people have long looked to science instead of religion for salvation. As early as 1600 BC, Egyptian doctors advocated boiled and dried “hemayet fruit” to cure human mortality. Though some are still searching for that fruit, its Egyptian advocates are dead. Skeptical of the obscure-fruit cure, Cleopatra opted to bathe in donkey’s milk. She died at thirty-nine. Many Romans swore by a cocktail of gladiators’ blood. Their empire fell in 459 AD. In the 13th century, Roger Bacon recommended wine mixed with powdered gold and pearls. He died at seventy-two. During the Age of Reason, water was the drink of choice among the life extenders. That age ended forever in 1800. Dozens of futile schemes later, Mao Zedong advocated sex with young women. He died at eighty-two.

After my wife attended her first Tupperware party in the 1970s, she and I used to joke that a Tupperware coffin might keep a body fresh forever if someone remembered to burp it every day. Our interest in “freshness” was further piqued when we read of the life-extending potential of resveratrol, an organic compound found in red wine. Then, we learned that one needs to drink a thousand bottles of chianti a day for it to do any good. Perhaps, the best news from the STEM sector is that one day we may be able to download our memories, thus enabling our descendants to converse with our cyber-selves. Prototypes of the “cloud brain” are already being tested.

Two hundred years ago, Americans usually died in their forties. Today that number has roughly doubled, which isn’t forever, but it is a 100% improvement. For those willing to take a vow of celibacy, they might be able to add fourteen years to their current allotment of “threescore and twenty.” (We owe this disturbing news to a study of Chinese eunuchs.) But if cancer and heart disease were cured tomorrow, these breakthroughs would add only seven years to the national life expectancy. The cold reality is that the most trustworthy place offering an Eternal Care Unit is the cemetery.

Aldo had more lives than a Hindu cow—
in one life, we met just to say ciao.
The Wordspinner

Ben Franklin probably shocked many of his Puritan and deist contemporaries when he expressed a wish to be “immersed in a cask of Madeira wine, with a few friends” upon his death, so that a century later, he might observe the country he’d helped to found.3

When news of Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution reached India in the 1860s, few Hindus raised an eyebrow. Indeed, many reportedly said, “We could have told you, but you never asked.” Today about half of all Americans say they believe they will be reincarnated.

The nearest I have come to a physical rebirth came when I was in the service after a week on field maneuvers without a shower. Armed with a stiff brush, I still remember the sensation of hot, soapy water sluicing my filthy crevices. Dried off and dressed in clean clothes, I walked out of that shower room with another life before me.

Since then, it seems that every milestone has been a “rebirth.” Leaving my parents’ home, marrying my clever wife, being discharged from the military, graduating from college, watching the children leave home, publishing my first poem, and retiring from teaching have all regenerated the mind, body, and spirit. Born again, I speak excitedly of death.

Publisher’s Notes:

  1. John Muir. My First Summer in the Sierra (Chapter 5: The Yosemite). The Riverside Press Cambridge, 1911.

  2. Apparently alluding to The Sorrows of Young Werther by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, William Hard wrote: “Produce, produce, produce—a certain thing, a one certain thing, any one certain thing, from corkscrews to madonnas—you can do it.” William Hard, The Women of Tomorrow (The Baker and Taylor Company: The Trow Press, New York, 1911). Quotation from online paragraph 185 at: Many thanks to Skip Eisiminger for providing this information.

  3. Benjamin Franklin. Works of the Late Doctor Benjamin Franklin: Consisting of His Life Written By Himself. Together with Essays Humorous, Moral & Literary, Chiefly in the Manner of The Spectator (Essays, page 223). London: G G J and J Robinson, 1793.

Skip Eisiminger
Issue 10, Fall 2018

is the son of Dorothy and Sterling Eisiminger. In 1959, he graduated from Mt. Vernon High School (his tenth school in twelve years). In 1963 while serving three and a half years in the Army Security Agency, he married Ingrid Barmwater of Helmstedt, West Germany. With her committed assistance, he graduated from Auburn University in 1967 (BS) and 1968 (MA). The same year, he settled his family in Clemson, South Carolina after taking a job teaching English and interdisciplinary humanities at Clemson University. After his son Shane was born in 1964 and his daughter Anja in 1969, he returned to graduate school in 1970. In 1974, he graduated from the University of South Carolina with a PhD in English after which he returned to Clemson. His only move after his return was across town.

Over forty-two years in academe, he published a book of verse, a book of word games, a children’s book, and two collections of essays. In forty-two years as a teacher at Clemson, he taught over nine thousand students in twenty-nine different courses.

More on the Web: By, About, and Beyond

Letters to the Grandchildren, Eisiminger’s collection of essays (Clemson University Press, 2014)

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