[Part 2 here.]
We take this feeling with us each day and it drains the gall out of our years, sucks the sting from the rush of time, purges the pain from our memory of the past, and banishes the fear of loneliness and death [In Richard Wright. Twelve Million Black Voices. (Reprint) Basic Books, 2002. p. 73]
Our past disappears behind us, memory fades and our helplessness in the face of the inexorable progress of time is repeated billions of times over in human history. What are we really? Just a few pounds of interconnected neurons, a “bundle of perceptions,” coupled with a biased and limited view of thought threads and events gone by? “What is mankind, that thou art mindful of them?”
Our concept of permanence is flawed. Our individual temporal horizons are supremely narrow: they extend over a microscopic interval of the existence of the physical universe and that in turn is the tiniest part of infinity, a necessary consideration within Mormonism.
What does our brief moment on earth mean in this vastness? Mormonism does claim some answers (in fact according to Joseph Smith, it would be useless if it did not provide something concrete there), but the answers that turned out to be (eventually) most important for me did not really lie at the surface of its modern presentation, which seems driven in some ways by a kind of quasi-Christian-fundmentalist agenda. I’m not suggesting that the Church is going in the wrong direction with this. There is plenty of support in foundational Mormonism for it. I’m only saying that my own search for, I’m not sure how to phrase it, maybe comfort, ultimately did not lead there.
My beliefs at the time of my son’s death changed as they were funneled through grief; but at the same time they became more transparent to their basis if correspondingly less in their details. Let me be clear: I do believe that there is a God, that God intervenes in human lives and that petitionary prayer effects the present and future. That is a simple faith, but its ramifications are unimaginably profound and difficult. However, what I speak of here is yet more profound, though intimately connected to that intervention. I do not speak of the framework of liturgy in Mormonism, or the idea of resurrection, though both are important, more essential to me now than ever. But my journey took me there in a different way than most.
Parallel to this, I believe Joseph Smith’s views of life and death became far deeper over the course of his thirty-eight years than is typically appreciated. Based on my own studies of his speeches, it surely became far more radical than most Mormons (in my experience) may be willing to entertain in the present day. It can be uncomfortable for some who may find Smith’s mature thought bewildering on the subject – and if you correlate him, you will lose the sharpness of him. No less intriguing are some critics of Smith, particularly those of orthogonal religious belief, who have perennially and breathtakingly misunderstood where his deepest puncturing of “orthodoxy” really began.
I came gradually to imbibe much of what I understand of Joseph’s ideas of life and death – coming to believe at the same time that those ideas were of divine origin. In the end, I think (in my own singularity) that they form the only truly meaningful view of death within larger Christianity (though they would be viewed as stunningly heterodox in that larger scheme if anyone bothered to look below the surface of sensational “God once was” statements) and that they contain the only lasting assurance and comfort when facing it. For me. Others not only do not share that conclusion, may find it too unfinished or, like my European hosts saw my brief expressions at the time, faintly ridiculous.
However, until they can somehow share in the depth of my conviction, they will probably never understand it: personal annihilation is simply impossible for reasons that are more recondite than we are wont to consider in modern focused-message Mormonism. For reasons that are beyond any sort of Divine guarantee or act. My son’s favorite tune, which he used to hum or sing around the house was, “I am a child of God.” I grant him that. But I cling to something deeper. That is where I found my way back to reconciliation. Reality cannot fail to contain my son, because it always has.
Forgive another personal observation. Mormonism is a healing faith: this is a dimension that informs much of its history and doctrine. But not every healing comes by the laying on of hands or even prayer and fasting (though I have witnessed that). Not all comfort and blessing for pain or loss arises from ritual, sermon, scripture, or abstraction through the passage of time and the dimming of heartache. Sometimes healing comes by quiet unbidden inspiration, repeated again and again perhaps even unrecognized, until the light of faith blossoms. I’m absolutely convinced that this may go on, that it does go on, indeed may even begin, beyond death itself to another bright beginning, where sometime Moses-like we will know face to face.
Dreams are interesting things. For the most part, we wake with little or at least a rapidly fading memory of what our sleeping brains seem to chaotically push out of their accumulated storage. But for me at least, there are two dreams I have remembered for many years with a cold clarity of vision, perhaps like that found in deep space. That has been the case for most of the years that now separate my little boy from me. Both are relevant to the idea of death, but only one applies here. I cannot relate this dream, it has elements that I have never told anyone. But in this dream I saw a man. His face is clear in my mind as I write this.
What is death? And what happens when you die?
To these terrible questions, I add another: what will happen to you, in you, when someone near to you dies? I cannot answer that question. However, I know how I would like to answer it.
 That’s a bit more blunt than I meant it, but without going into 20 pages of explanation, I’m leaving it be.
 Remember, you are listening to someone who took E. W. Beth along for P-day reading.
 He is already lost in the background acoustic field. Surviving reports seem to be faint representations of the archetype, I think. The Grand Unification Theory of Mormonism (correlation) loses its way here. That is really not a criticism. I think some form of correlation was and is necessary. It’s the human in us that seems to want it to cover all the ground, to make every passage of scripture or prophetic declaration a proof-text for all others (count this as hyperbolic irony for effect). In the face of such things, my father would say, “if your salvation doesn’t depend on it, leave it alone.” Well, Dad, mine did.
 Historically Joseph’s views of death and the nature of man have been a sore point in some circles (if you want to know something about that, read chapter 7 of the book when it finally appears somehow). I’m not here to argue for one position or another. I am simply narrating my own experience, though I would say the research for my book on Smith’s funeral addresses has tended to confirm in new ways, my private views (which I do my best to keep out of the book).
 I distinguish here between various bits of exegetical-expositional superstructure, past or present, that may be offensive to some, and what I think of as its ontological/cosmological foundations (which can be offensive in a different way to different people, I suppose.)