This story is a slightly fictionalized, but nonetheless, highly accurate account of a conversation that occurred between myself and a good friend who—in the interests of privacy—I will name only as T hereafter. The conversation occurred via Facetime when we discovered, via texting, that we had both, in our quarantine induced boredom, watched an episode of the popular TV show Archer in which the titular character visits a version of the afterlife. This prompted a brief text exchange which, for all intents and purposes, was a means of prompting ourselves to have a more in-depth conversation over our own respective beverages of choice (red wine for T and Dewar’s for myself). What follows is a transcript of that Facetime conversation, with the salutations excised, even though T’s was rather…weird. I think it was Attic Greek?
MYSELF: I’d always imagined hell to be whatever you imagined your worst day alive as. What’s ironic is that for me that’s probably the exact opposite of what life has been like under quarantine. To be stressed and out and about and working and interacting and errand-ing. The obligatory exchange, both figurative and literal, unnerves me. Were I to have to live it for an eternity I think I’d find it hellish.
T: Hold your tongue, fellow. Enough talk. I myself, the mind, am present to the blessed and good and pure and merciful – to the reverent – and my presence becomes a help; they quickly recognize everything, and they propitiate the father lovingly and give thanks, praising and singing hymns affectionately and in the order appropriate to him. Before giving up the body to its proper death, they loathe the senses for they see their effects. Or rather I, the mind, will not permit the effects of the body to strike and work their results on them. As gatekeeper, I will refuse entry to the evil and shameful effects, cutting off the anxieties that come from them.
MYSELF: So you see heaven or paradise as purely mental or spiritual?
T: I was deeply happy because I was filled with what I wished, for the sleep of my body became sobriety of soul, the closing of my eyes became true vision, my silence became pregnant with good, and the birthing of the word became a progeny of goods.
MYSELF: How much have you had to drink?
T: (hurriedly) Holy is god, the father of all;
Holy is god, whose counsel is done by his own powers;
Holy is god, who wishes to be known and is known by his own people; Holy are you, who by the word have constituted all things that are; Holy are you, from whom all nature was born as image;
Holy are you, of whom nature has not made a like figure;
Holy are you, who are stronger than every power;
Holy are you, who surpass every excellence;
Holy are you, mightier than praises.
At this point, I was frightened. T didn’t look right. Didn’t sound right. Once the glossolalia began, I hung up on him.
I resumed binge watching Archer and at some point I must’ve fallen asleep.
There, T visited me in a dream.
However, he didn’t visit me in an embodied form. In my dream I was sitting on a bench behind a building. Letters appeared on the wall of the building and, instinctively, I knew it was T communicating with me.
PreFIRM YR ABLUTIONS
PARADISE CLAIMS THE BODY &
ONLY MIND IS LEFT HERE TO HAUNT
I sipped the coffee I was drinking. Reading the illuminated text on this dream wall.
“Why are you communicating with me in this way?”
do not repent sin — sinner
“Are you in hell?”
in a way
paradise claims thebody
“My….transgressions…my sins…my vices…will they…keep me from paradise?”
yr paradise. prepare ye theway
“But…the drinking, the drugs, the promiscuity…the only damned thing about the quarantine that bothers me is the lack ofprepare ye the way
“Paradise” claims the body
Here below, the evil that is not excessive is the good, and the good is the least amount of evil here below. The good cannot be cleansed of vice here below, for the good is spoiled by evil here below and, once spoiled, it no longer remains good. Since it does not remain so, it becomes evil. The good is in god alone, then, or god himself is the good. Therefore, Asclepius, only the name of the good exists among mankind – never the fact. It cannot exist here. Material body, squeezed on all sides by vice, sufferings, pains, longings, angry feelings, delusions and mindless opinions, has no room for the good.
“I thought you said you weren’t in hell…”
paradise claims th’ body bc thebody is what must be saved. . .
I woke up from this dream with a start. I picked up my phone and it had been blowing up with messages.
T was acting funny because it turned out he had a benign tumor in his brain that was affecting his language center. At a certain point it interrupted blood flow enough so that T had slipped into a coma and his girlfriend called for an ambulance to take him to the hospital. None of us dare go visit him, for fear of contracting the virus, as cases continue to grow exponentially. Whether he’ll pull through or not, we don’t know. Life and death, health and illness, these things soldier on in the face of pandemic, quarantine, isolation, loneliness, pain, lust, and uncertainty, And if one cannot be aware of the frailty of existence at moments like this when can we? And as a survivor of traumatic brain injury myself, the moment with T is especially fraught; I want to sit next to his bed, to hold his hand, to talk to him. Even if he is unresponsive. Who knows if the hospital he is in has enough PPE to do the surgery to attempt to relieve the pressure in his brain and restore blood flow. If he were to catch the virus, it would almost certainly be the end of him in this compromised state. And as someone that cares for two elderly parents, I simply cannot take the risk. But I like to think that, despite everything, T gave us the key to comfort ourselves in this delicate, liminal, frightening space: Paradise claims the body.
T still hovers between life and death, we still sit in quarantine, but I have spent a lot of that time thinking about what T meant when he visited me in that dream to tell me about paradise. It was to not fear frailty, to not judge onesself for missing bars, or weed, or making out, or sex. Part of the unspoken hierarchy of Western post-Cartesian dualism is that not only are body and mind/spirit separate, but that mind/spirit is superior or preferable. And to know that this site of longings and imperfections and vices is the part of each of us upon which Paradise stakes its claim means that we are, none of us, sick. We are, none of us, depraved. Or abnormal. We are as we are meant to be. We just pass judgment upon our imperfections. But no more. The body lives, the body dies, the mind judges, the spirit judges, but the body cannot be judged. It is claimed by paradise. I don’t think it is a coincidence that reappearing in the midst of this plague is another iteration of the old Cathar heresy that was so prevalent in southern Europe at the end of the Black Death. And that once the plague passed, the heresy did as well (aided by the Albigensian Crusades of course). But I hope, perhaps this time things will be different. Because we need not deserve paradise. Our vices are claimed by it. Our sins. We are, none of us, perfect, but we are, all of us, worthy of paradise. Claimed by it. Heirs to it. Rather than return to normal, let us return to the body and in so doing, claim Paradise, here on earth, for ourselves.