The body remembers in a hundred broken ways. Even those pictures in our heads we call memories are not unitary things: you build them afresh each time from your mess of neural pathways, wearing some grooves deeper and smoothing over others. Those memories may not agree with each other; may not agree with themselves; may not agree with the scars on your skin or the way the smell of spilled beer makes you feel or the tightness in your chest when a phone rings. Like everything we do on Earth, remembering is about who we are and not who we are.
But the spirit remembers singly and truly. In truth it does not remember at all: it simply is, across time, all of us at every moment. When our bodies stop being, our spirits continue, and all that our bodies experienced is laid out for them like a map. There is so much being in a lifetime, it takes an eternity to remember it.
Perhaps some of us remembered this even in our bodies, and that is why we thought there was a heaven we needed to earn. In a way we were right, but a good life is not a token we barter for paradise: it is the thing we take with us, the masterpiece we will spend forever admiring. So we had better try to make it a good one—although there is beauty enough in every life to bear reflection.
On the day my body died and I became aware of my spirit’s remembering, I felt a strange kind of pure anticipation, without the bodily excitement I had been accustomed to. I saw my life on Earth laid out before me and, even knowing I had eternity to explore it, found I could not choose where to start. There were many great pleasures to revisit, but now, separated from my body, I knew there was a deep joy in simply being: in experiencing being the universe.
And then I turned, and saw the lives of others laid out before them; and them, turning and looking at mine. And my spirit, which does not have the mechanisms for fear or anxiety, remembered those feelings with an intensity beyond flesh. I felt the long cold of an eternity in which everyone I cared about could see all of me, unprotected, to the bone and beyond.
I felt them seeing all of me: all the parts I had hidden and lied about; the parts I had shown to one and not another; the parts I had not shown to myself. The hundred broken ways I had existed, and failed at it, and tried to hold my parts so that they resembled a whole. I waited for them to see it all and push me away and leave me to spend my eternity with my memories, cursed to be the only one who cannot reject me. And then I felt their arms around me, and a voice that still makes my heart sing, wherever my heart is, said: ‘I love you, I love you, and I am so glad to know you better.’