A unique Bookshop event poses tough questions regarding the inexorable inevitability of death
Something about the uncertainty of what happens after death leaves people shaking in their boots. Is there an afterlife? Do we simply cease to exist? Mankind has been asking these questions for centuries, yet the mystery still remains.
However, the way in which people respond to death varies drastically by culture. Renowned dancer, teacher, choreographer and director Tandy Beal, along with her husband, composer Jon Scoville, became interested in the topic of the afterlife and decided that it should be discussed openly instead of people cowering away from the subject and keeping it under wraps.
Their response to these impossible questions was to collaborate in the creation of a multi-media concert. “HereAfterHere: a self guided tour of eternity” will be performed at Cabrillo College in September and will benefit Hospice of Santa Cruz County.
In the meantime, to get the community warmed up to the idea of discussing the hereafter, Beal will be reading from the book “After Death: How People Around the World Map the Journey After Life” by Sukie Miller, a psychotherapist who specializes in the cross cultural dimensions of the after death experience. Beal and Scoville chose to introduce their concert at Bookshop Santa Cruz at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Aug. 24 because it is one of Santa Cruz’s cultural hubs. “It’s one place you can always go for new ideas and for thinking deeply about human issues,” Beal says. “The other reason why the Bookshop is meaningful to us is because in 1966 Jon was the first employee. Jon has made all original music for the concert that we are doing. He will be releasing the CD of the concert at the Bookshop that night at the reading.”
An insightful book that introduces myriad ideas about what happens to the human spirit in the hereafter, “After Death” discusses four distinct stages of the after death journey—waiting, judgment, possibilities and return—and how people around the world view each distinct stage. “When I started my research on this work four years ago, this was the first book I read. It was uplifting, fascinating and mind-boggling,” Beal explains. “It opens up the boundaries of how we think about death and talks about how other cultures view what happens after we die. Not just Judeo, Christian or Muslim, which is where we receive most of our information about the afterlife.”
“After Death” contains many stunning examples of cultural beliefs about death and the afterlife. The book describes the unique beliefs of many peoples, including the Fon tribe of West Africa. The Fon believe that everything that dies at a particular moment—whether it be a person, an animal, or a plant—returns at the same moment and thrives together in a new little world. “We become in essence a family,” Beal relates of the passage in “After Death.” “We become a constellation of everything that’s on the earth. A concept like that changes us utterly when we think about life after death and we are frightened by it. It’s about the ultimate imaginative leap.”
As a child, Beal was curious about death. But when she tried to broach the subject with people, they would tell her she was morbid. “No one wants to talk about it but it’s happening,” she says. “People are very squeamish but it’s kind of odd, because you want to talk about things that are going to happen to you. If you don’t have a religious framework it’s difficult for thinking adults to discuss. We don’t have a vocabulary to discuss this except in religious terms, nothing happens or it’s a big mystery. The great thing about Sukie Miller’s book is that she opens up ways to think about this impossible-to-think-about subject and she does it in a way that makes you think ‘this is fascinating, I can’t put it down.’”
Beal feels that Miller’s book can be of great therapeutic and spiritual value for everyone. “Miller doesn’t say it’s this way or that way, she just presents many different ideas,” Beal says. “When a child dies in Bali, the child’s body is put into the crook of a tree so that the tree will bring the child closer to the heavens. Who would think of that? It’s just such a crazy wisdom. I don’t think we can think about this event of death logically, but what Miller gives us is many cultures’ ways of posing the question.”
In addition to the reading from “After Death,” Julie Boudreau from Hospice of Santa Cruz County will be on hand at the event to provide more information about what Hospice does and how it benefits the community. Beal explains that 30 percent of the proceeds from sales of the HereAfterHere concert CD on the night of the event at Bookshop Santa Cruz will be donated to Hospice. “Hospice is one of the most important services that we have available to all of us,” Beal says. “We’re all going to go through this mysterious event called dying and most of us have very few rehearsals. The individuals with Hospice are the people that are there at the gate helping us make that gigantic transition. It is very important as an organization and a place of help for so many people.”
Beal sums up her feelings by reciting a quote by the British poet Philip Larkin, “A good death is a death that makes no one afraid.” By exploring the many possibilities that may exist in the afterlife, Beal’s goal is to cast a ray of light on the largely unappealing topic of death. “We need to celebrate the mystery of being on planet earth—both the transience and the beauty of life.”
Tandy Beal will be reading from Sukie Miller’s book at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 24 at Bookshop Santa Cruz, 1520 Pacific Ave., Santa Cruz. For more information, call 423-0900 or visit bookshopsantacruz.com.