One of my best friends died to this world—and even though Andy is no longer present in the physical sense, I know that my relationship with him hasn’t ended.
I often think of him, remember our shared laughter, wonder about his insights into a current situation, imagine his ongoing involvement in our joint volunteer work, recall the consulting we had both been contracted to do, and cherish our many times together.
Our relationship hasn’t ended because he isn’t gone—I know he has only left this world for the next:
… know thou for a certainty, that in the divine worlds, the spiritual beloved ones will recognize each other, and will seek union, but a spiritual union. Likewise a love that one may have entertained for another will not be forgotten in the world of the Kingdom. – Abdu’l-Baha, Tablets of Abdu’l-Baha
Hundreds of people attended the visitation and funeral a few days after Andy’s death. His connections were so wide and diverse that some of us met each other for the first time. He had lived in several “worlds” with people including members of his faith community, participants in his numerous volunteer activities, his and his wife’s family both local and out-of-town, recent classmates as an adult learner, former schoolmates, professional colleagues, neighbors, social contacts, and lots of friends.
At the funeral, Andy’s worlds came together. While some people knew each other already, and some were part of more than one of his worlds, we frequently greeted each other with “How did you know Andy?” In doing so we were figuring out what category—what world—others belonged to; and we also opened our own selves to intersecting with others. Rather than a collision, we had a merging of worlds.
There are parallels in this physical, time- and geography-bound world. For example, while traveling our personal worlds can either be challenged, as in a collision, or expanded, as in a merging. If we allow ourselves to be touched by new acquaintances and novel experiences, they will enrich our inner and outer worlds.
The large number and diversity of people connected to Andy reminded me of the “six degrees of separation” concept—the idea that if you choose any two people anywhere on the planet then no more than five people would be between them in terms of acquaintance. Frankly I wouldn’t be surprised if in our seemingly shrinking world the number six is more likely to be five or even four.
Surely human relationships are not limited to sharing time and space in this physical realm. Beyond this mortal life, relationships can continue to grow and have influence even after the death of one of the people. The Baha’i writings affirm this idea. They tell us that our physical world mirrors the spiritual world, even as the two are connected. In the next world we will recognize each other, though not through physical senses.
Unfathomable as these concepts may be due to our human limitations, I find the ideas themselves encouraging as well as inspirational. At least one of the ways that the worlds intersect and impact each other is perhaps even measurable. As many people believe, and some scientists have been investigating, prayer and a devotional attitude can have a positive effect on illness. As in any loving relationship, reciprocity is possible—with actions and prayers in this world benefitting souls in the next.
Author Richard Bach wrote about friendships beyond this earthly life, saying: “Don’t be dismayed at goodbyes. A farewell is necessary before you can meet again. And meeting again, after moments or lifetimes, is certain for those who are friends.”
How distant is a friend in the next world? Surely a friend in this world or the next, one whose joyful essence enriches my memory even years later, is not further away than someone who is geographically distant—and the memory does stay sweet.
So now returning to my own worlds—known or unknown, intentional or subconscious—I am thankful to be part of this world for now, and I’m hoping for more mergers than collisions.