The sprawling new epic film CLOUD ATLAS has everybody talking—can the Wachowskis (of MATRIX fame) do it again? Can anyone make cinematic sense of the ambitious novel by David Mitchell on which it is based? Can an audience be expected to sit in their seats for three hours and follow a host of characters through untold costume and make-up changes just to learn we are all connected in the end?
And, not surprisingly, since CLOUD ATLAS is a movie about reincarnation, people are talking about the idea of the soul recycling through many lives. Even the actors—Tom Hanks, Halle Barry and Susan Sarandon among them are talking about it in interviews. Halle says she’d like to be a lion. Tom argues that he wants to be something that is happy when it’s old—you don’t see any old, happy lions. He leans more to historical figures, like the Wright brothers.
Susan likes being what she is, but she’d opt for a great set of pipes the next time around. “That must be so joyful to be able to open your mouth in the shower and have Alicia Keys come out of you.”
The man who started us thinking in this direction, author David Mitchell, says he’d be happy to come back to square one. “We’ve really lucked out in this life. We’re sort of reasonably middle-classish people in a lucky, privileged country where existence isn’t a grim scramble for survival in brutal conditions. I’d be delighted to be here again, thank you very much. If there’s space for me.”
Well, yes, but you see, that’s not how reincarnation works, as far as I understand it. The whole point is that we’re supposed to be learning something with each life; we’re supposed to be progressing. Western misunderstanding of Hindu teachings notwithstanding, I don’t believe you really get “sent back” to live life as a cockroach (or a toothless old lion) for misbehavior in this life. You might get stuck at your current level for a while until you learn what you must, but you can’t go back, you can only go forward.
Similarly, you can’t go back in time, you can only go forward. Tom’s chance at being the Wright brothers has already passed. (Maybe he was Wilbur or Orville, who knows?) Unless, of course, our understanding of time as linear is completely false, in which case all bets are off.
So if someone were to ask me what I would like to “come back as”, I would have to answer, I would like to come back as a better person, one who would not make the same mistakes I made (and continue to make) in this life. Otherwise there is no point to the philosophy of reincarnation. It’s not about having more time on this plane of existence for fun; it’s about having more time for learning.
This is a timely message for me this week because I had to make the devastating decision to remove a family pet from this plane of existence. Euthanasia is a difficult enough choice when a pet is suffering from age or illness; it is almost impossible when the animal is young and healthy. But Pepper, our 10-month-old rescue dog from the shelter, had developed a prey drive so strong, both my vet of 25 years and the trainer we’d been working with could make no other recommendation. Pepper had attacked me in a struggle for dominance. She had attacked and injured a small dog at the dog park, and only quick action avoided a tragedy.
Unlike the dominance issue (which was resolved with the trainer’s help), the prey drive cannot be trained out of a dog. Some dogs simply have more of it than others. As my trainer put it, this would have been Pepper’s role in the pack—to chase and bring down the prey. That’s an excellent trait for a wild wolf (which she was not, by the way; she was a lab/pit bull mix). It’s an intolerable one for a family pet, who might be around children.
In good conscience I could neither keep Pepper nor allow her to be adopted by others who might, through ignorance or failure or inability to control her, put a child or even another animal at risk. Even the pit bull rescue group in my town could only offer to put her information up on their adoption website. So, with my husband’s help, I made a hard choice.
It’s difficult to look into a pet’s eyes and think they are without any kind of a soul. So I’d like to believe I’ve given Pepper another chance to go back and try again. She was six months old when I adopted her, a stray, from the shelter. She clearly had had no socialization and may even have been abused in her early life. Maybe next time around, her puppyhood will be among caring humans and she’ll have a chance to be a better dog.
I’m not sure whether the afterlife is more as a Hindu, a Buddhist, Billy Graham or Shirley MacLaine describes it, but there is something beyond this one life, of that I am certain. And there will be another chance for every soul.
Check back next week for a review of CLOUD ATLAS!
Information for this article was drawn from “CLOUD ATLAS Cast Ponders Prospects for Sunny Afterlife” by David Germain, Associated Press, October 24, 2012.