Prose Poem: The Urban Cyclist

blue mountain bike

Dave Hood

It’s a sweltering summer day in the city. You’ve decided to embrace cycling, make it part of your exercise regimen. So you’re attired in a blue helmet, dark sunglasses, yellow jersey, black shorts, light-weight cycling shoes, ready to ride for the first time.

Sitting on the hard seat, gripping the handle bars, pressing the peddles, balancing the mountain bike, as if a man on a high-wire, you begin three hours of cycling.

One hour into the ride, your body’s heated up like a furnace. You begin perspiring like you’re sitting in a sauna. You take a few sips of bottled water, peddle onward.

For a couple of miles, you cycle quickly on a flat stretch of street, close to the curb, past rows of parked cars, past condos sprouting like dandelions, past house of all shapes and sizes, past the occasional park with a playground, past a few bus stops, a gas station.

Like someone navigating a minefield, you peer in all directions, looking for potential hazards— discarded pop cans, sewer grates, jay walking pedestrians, pot holes, a motorist drifting too close, as if distracted, perhaps texting on a smartphone.

You cycle past a row of parked cars. Someone who’s not paying attention, opens their car door, blocking your path. You quickly look back, detect empty space, steer the handle bars left, veering your bike away from danger.

As you cycle, you observe an endless number of trucks, buses, cars, occasional motorcycle whizzing past, like they’re in a rush to some place important. Sometimes you pass another cyclist peddling slowly, like someone on a leisurely stroll.

A mile up the street, you zigzag between two rows of cars stopped at a red light. When the light turns green, the cars accelerate as if beginning a race. You smell the stench of exhaust, cough a few times, then balance the bike, sit on the seat, begin to peddle for another mile, when you’re greeted by a steep hill.

Rather than dismount, walk your bike to the top, like you’ve given up, you gear down into low, peddle slowly, climbing the hill without stopping. Yet, you still feel as if you’re carrying a backpack of fifty pounds.

At the top of the hill, you stop to catch your breath, look back, tell yourself “I’ve climbed to the tip of a mountain.” Then you re-balance your bike, sit on the seat, press on the peddles, descend the steep hill, feeling a cool breeze blowing in your face, as if sitting on a swift-flying sailboat, catching the wind.

Returning to a flat stretch of street, where the traffic’s sparse, you cycle at a leisurely pace, gaze at the strangers on the sidewalk, past a handicapped man in a wheel chair, past a elderly woman walking her poodle, past a crowd waiting like their bored at a bus stop, past the shopkeeper selling fresh fruit and vegetables.

You’re feeling relaxed, beginning to enjoy the exercise, when a motorist cuts in front of your bike, without signalling, breaks to make a right turn on a green light—you quickly squeeze the hand breaks.

You’re upper body’s propelled forward, out of the seat, over the top of the handle bars, like someone shot out of a cannon. Yet, somehow you maintain your grip, prevent yourself from falling onto the pavement. Another motorist behind, honks his horn, then passes, yelling “Get off the busy street!”

You cycle for several more miles, your body perspiring, your energy depleting, like a gas tank on empty. You drink the remaining bottle of water, cycle back to your neighborhood, where it’s a friendly, quiet,peaceful place, where there’s no moving automobiles, no trucks, no buses, no noise.

In front of your apartment, you dismount from the mountain bike, your legs feeling stiff, your mouth parched, your face, jersey, shorts soaked with perspiration. You’re feeling somewhat stressed, yet euphoric, high on endorphins, like you’ve just run a marathon.

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Poem: Meditation

Dave Hood

The morning sunshine’s streaming into the bedroom.
That’s my alarm clock to wake up, rise out of bed,
begin my daily mediation.

Though still fatigued from a restless sleep
of worry, occasional nightmare, I’ll perform
what’s become part of my morning ritual.
I enter a quiet, still, solitary place— the study.
I sit cross-legged on a cushion,
place my hands on my knees, close my eyes,
as if a Buddhist monk, focus on my breath,
inhale, exhale…inhale, exhale…..
After a few moments, my mind begins to wander.

First to regrets of the past, then to worries of the future.
Then to bodily sensations—the grumbling in my stomach,
An aching ankle, itching skin on my arm.

Next to annoying sounds in the outside world—
the roaring engine of a plane soaring overhead,
a distant screaming siren, honking horns of automobiles.

When I become aware of my wandering mind,
To rising and passing of sense impressions,
thoughts, emotions, I refocus on my breath,
inhale, exhale….inhale, exhale…

After a few moments, my mind wanders again…
To bodily sensations, to sounds, to distracting
thoughts…So again, I refocus on my breathe,
inhale, exhale, inhale, exhale…..

I tell myself:don’t recall the past, don’t peer
into the future,focus on the breath.

 When 30 minutes have elapsed, the clock rings.
I open my eyes, stretch my legs, ponder the experience.
I’m feeling peaceful like I was listening to one of Chopin’s
piano nocturnes. My mind’s clear like a cloudless sky with sunshine.
I’m ready to begin my day of possibilities.

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Collage Essay: On Grief

wb Grief.jpg

By Dave Hood

The loneliness without you
is beyond belief
I can’t come to terms with
this feeling called grief ~Paul Brown

Loss evokes grief. And grief expresses itself as mental pain and suffering, sorrow, depression, mental anguish. The most powerful form of loss is death of a loved one. Some other types of loss that will cause grief are the ending of a marriage, the loss of a job, death of a pet, end of a friendship, loss of financial security.

Loss often alters one’s sense of self and their way of life. For instance, when a person is fired from a job, he or she loses his identity (if identity is linked to work), status, interpersonal connections, and regular routine.

“The death of a beloved is an amputation”, wrote C.S. Lewis in A Grief Observed.


Grief is universal—Everyone experiences one or more episodes of grief in the lifetime. And so, grief is a feature of the human condition.

Grief is also personal. People react differently to loss. Some people become angry, expressing their rage irrationally, perhaps screaming at a spouse. Some people escape the pain and suffering by getting high on booze or illicit drugs. Other people dedicate their lives to busyness. Instead of taking time to grieve, the person dedicates themselves to work. Still others engage in magical thinking, a form of irrational thinking in which a person believes that something is caused by a false cause.


Susan Berger, author of The Five Ways We Grieve, suggests that after a loss people who are grieving cope by developing a new identity. She identifies five possible new identities:

Nomad. The Person expresses a range of emotions, such as anger, denial, confusion. The person’s grief remains unresolved, and the person fails to understand how the impacts their lives.

Memorialist. The grieving person focuses his or her time and attention and energy on preserving the memory of the deceased, such as channeling his her per emotions into creating art, creating as memorial, writing a poem, writing lyrics for a song.

Normalizer. The grieving person attempts to replace what her or she has lost by focusing on maintaining or strengthening social bonds with family, friends, a significant other, or community.

Activist. The grieving person finds meaning from the loss by using his or her own experience with grief to help others, such as engaging in volunteer work or finding a new path of employment deals with helping others.

Seeker. The grieving person looks outward, beyond self, to make sense of the loss. The person often experiences existential angst. To answer his or her questions, the person turns to faith, philosophy, spirituality.


Loss has inspired many artists to create various forms of art embodying the emotion of grief. Many have created art as a social commentary about the human condition or used art making as a method of healing. “Art washes from the soul dust of everyday life” wrote Cubist painter Pablo Picasso.

Poets have written countless poems about loss. For instance, W. H Auden wrote Funeral Blues, inspired by the death of a loved one:

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.

Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling on the sky the message ‘He is Dead’.
Put crepe bows round the white necks of the public doves,
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.

He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last forever: I was wrong.

The stars are not wanted now; put out every one,
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun,
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood;
For nothing now can ever come to any good.


Writers have penned countless stories on grief. In 1888, Anton Chekov wrote Misery, a short story in which the protagonist, a sleigh driver, is grieving the loss of his son. The man attempts to share his grief with others who board his sled, but none of them will take the time to listen. The story shows how many people are indifferent to the suffering of others.

In recent years (2005), Joan Didion wrote memoir about the impact of the loss of a loved one in The Year of Magical Thinking. Her magical thinking is like wishful thinking. If a person hopes for something enough or performs the right actions, an unavoidable event can be prevented. Didion’s memoir recounts her grief following the sudden, shocking death of her husband. The book went on to become a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in Biography/Autobiography.

Many songwriters and musicians have composed music that deals with grief. In 1991, after his son’s tragic fall from a high rise to his death, Eric Clapton wrote the lyrics for and performed the tribute song Tears for Heaven.

Throughout the history of Western art, from the classical Greek to the religious paintings of Christianity, many painters have used the emotion of grief or their observations of loss to create memorable visual images, such as Pablo Picasso’s Guernica, Gustave Courbet’s Burial at Ornans, and Edvard Munch’s The Scream.


In her classic book, written in 1969, Elizabeth Kubler Ross studied people who were terminally ill and discovered that many passed through five stages of grief.

Stage 1- Denial. “I feel fine.”

Stage 2-Anger. “Why am I having to experience this grief. It’s not fair!”

Stage 3- Bargaining. “God, if you stop the pain and suffering, I will return to church….”

Stage 4 – Depression. “My mood descended into the dark depths of depression. I’m not inspired to do anything.”

Stage 5- Acceptance. “Though I felt sorrow, and grieved her loss for several months, I’m now at peace.”

Not everyone experiences all five stages of grief. But everyone experiences one or more of them.


There is no timeline for grief to depart from one’s life. Some people grieve a few days or weeks; Others feel the sense of loss for many years. For most people, grief vanishes like fog in sunshine. Each person who suffers from grief must discover their own path back from the abyss.  The grieving person turns to friends for emotional support. They share their sadness with a trusted friend who provides comfort and encouragement. Other people turn to faith. The grieving person answers his or her questions about loss, finds comfort, and learns to accept the loss by reading scripture, talking to a priest, and praying to God.

Art has also become a popular method of coping with grief. Many people turn to art as a form of therapy.  Mental Health professionals are also using Art therapy as a treatment for coping and recovering from grief.  There are many types of art therapy, such as making a grief mask with clay; drawing or painting your emotions, thoughts, memories, experiences of grief; or making a scrapbook of memories of a person who has passed away; collecting images and making a photo album.

Other people put pen to paper and write down their thoughts, feelings, experiences, and memories of loss in a grief journal. Writing can be cathartic, like sharing your sorrow with a therapist.

Some people engage in rigour exercise, such as jogging or cycling or swimming.  Physical exercise reduces tension and helps eliminate the emotion of anger. Many embrace yoga and meditation. These spiritual practises calm and clear the mind of stress.

Still others distract themselves from grief by taking up a new hobby or interest. After my mum died suddenly, I immersed myself in taking photographs. Each weekend, I would journey out, stroll the streets of Toronto like a hiker, and capture the people, buildings, fleeting moments that passed before my eyes.

Many people turn to work, and focus on it rather than allow themselves to grieve the loss. This is so often true for the workaholic, the person who has no work-life balance.

For other people, grief plummets them into depression. To climb out of the pit of melancholy, these people require anti-depressants and/or talk therapy.


Grief is part of the human condition. We can never escape from grief.  Grief lurks in the shadows of our precious lives, waiting to assault us when we least expect.  No matter how much we prepare ourselves for loss, we are never fully able to defend ourselves from the blows of grief, nor overcome the grief without giving ourselves time to heal from the pain and suffering caused by significant loss.

“Grieving is a necessary passage,” wrote Dodinsky, “and a difficult transition to finally letting go of sorrow—it’s not a permanent rest stop.”


  • Recovering from Grief. Com
  • The Five Ways We Grieve by Susan Berger
  • A Grief Observed by C.S. Lewis
  • The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion
  • On Grief and Grieving by Elizabeth Kubler Ross
  • Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom
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Collage Essay: On Kindness


Dave H

“No one has ever become poor by giving,” Anne Frank wrote. Yet, when I read the history books or gaze at the outer world, I notice an utter lack of kindness in humanity. There is a lack of generosity of spirit. Far too many people are focused only on themselves, their own wants and needs,  the safety and security and well-being of their own tribe.

If you watched the Presidential election, you were stunned by the utter lack of kindness by Donald Trump. Yet, ordinary Americans overwhelmingly elected him to become the next president. And so, I argue that kindness is not one of the values nor virtues many Americans admire.

In my own experience here in Canada, I witness the utter lack of kindness among strangers. I observe way to many people lost in thought or self-absorbed about their own lives, and in behaving in this manner they fail to be kind to others.

You only have to drive your car at rush hour to experience the madness of the commute.

When mum declined and died in hospital, I witnessed first hand the indifference of healthcare workers.

Whenever strolling downtown, I observe countless people ignoring the homeless plea for pocket change.

Watch the news on television, and all you see are the evils of humanity, such as terrorism, war, murder. You’d think that we have learned how to be civil by studying history. But we haven’t.

Watch a film at the theatre, and you quickly discovered how these elements are often glorified or key features of the Hollywood narrative. Witnessing the lack of kindness on the big screen socializes us to become indifferent to the obligation to behave in a kind way towards others, whether friend or stranger.

The antithesis of kindness is cruelty, nastiness, and selfishness—or thinking only of one’s self.

Imagine what kind of world we’d inhabit if everyone was nasty, cruel,brutish, selfish? It would be hell on earth.


kindness is not a “quid pro quo endeavour.” The person who believes in and lives the virtue of kindness expects nothing in return.

One could argue that kindness is an act of altruism.

Kindness is certainly a selfless act of generosity, generosity of spirit.

The easiest way to make kindness part of your life is to practice ” random acts of kindness.” Essentially, each day, you make a point of being kind in some small way to another person.

These random acts can be expressed in several ways: Giving of your time, such as volunteering. Giving of your presence, such as visiting an elderly parent. Giving someone less fortunate your money or food or possessions, perhaps pocket change to the homeless man on the street. Being courteous, (something I have been working on) to everyone, whether they deserve it or not. Interacting with a warm, accepting heart, not with nastiness or cruelty or selfishness. Not being indifferent to the plight of others. ( not easy to do when you are burdened with your own despair.)


We can learn to embrace kindness by acknowledging that it’s an endeavour we value, just like we have learned to value non-violence when there is conflict: we ought not kill, commit sexual assault, punch another person in the face….

Another way to inject kindness into the soul is by being compassionate. When someone is in need, we come to their aid, with the intention of eliminating or minimizing their suffering.


The person who is living their faith embodies kindness to both people and animals. True kindness is not strictly helping or being generous to one’s own tribe.

The person who values kindness for the sake of humanity believes it must be a universal spiritual practise—without exception.

The Dalai Lama said, “My religion is very simple. My religion is kindness.”

Proverbs 3:3 of the Holy bible states, “Do not let kindness and truth leave you; Bind them around your neck; Write them on the tablet of your heart.”

Sometimes, it’s not easy to determine if a person lacks kindness. They say all the right things, such as please and thank you. They hold the door open for others. They wait their turn while driving during rush hour. They give their pocket change to the homeless man on the street…Yet, they have still not learned what it means to be kind.

One of the easiest ways to determine whether a person embodies kindness is to observe them interacting with their pets. Any man or woman who is cruel to their cat or dog lacks kindness.

Kindness also requires that we stop blaming or finger pointing. When you are filled with resentment or anger, the soul is poisoned, and we are unable to be genuinely kind to others.This mind-set , triggered by our hostile emotions creates obstacles, which make it more difficult to be kind. The Buddhists have it right when they tell us to ” let it be” and “let it go.”


Unfortunately, kindness is a spiritual practise that seems to be in decline. We can blame Western culture, the business ethic of rugged individualism, the capitalist notion of maximizing profits at any cost, and the decline of religion as a spiritual force that can nurture kindness.

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Collage Essay: On Self

wbself and Francis Bacon

Painting by Francis Bacon

By Dave Hood

What is “self?” For most people, self means personal identity. Self answers the question: Who am I?

Self is also part of the psyche or mind. It is a collection of experiences and memories, thoughts and emotions, self identities, sensory perceptions, and one’s ego. Self often refers to “self concept.” If you study psychology, you learn about self. It is a human construct. It is immaterial, having no matter, and so you cannot see it.

When we are asked “What is self?” we  come up with a variety of answers. We think of self-concept, existential self, self-awareness, self-identity, self- image.

Self-concept and self-identity and self-image are synonyms. Each refers to how a person views himself or herself. One person might say, “I am a writer.” Another person might say, “I am a mother, caregiver, wife.”

Existential self  is the most basic part of the self-scheme or self-concept; the sense of being separate and distinct from others and the awareness of the constancy of the self” (Bee, 1992).It begins at a young age, perhaps in infancy, when the baby realizes that he or she exists as a separate entity from others and the outer world. For instance,  the infant smiles, and the mother smiles back.

Self-awareness is conscious knowledge of one’s own thoughts, feelings, motives,  desires, personality, likes and dislikes, memories, perceptions of the external world. The person is able to think, recall, perceive, judge, be aware of “self-talk,” as well as “self-image”, experience sensory awareness, such as sights, sounds, smells. Self-awareness allows a person to become aware of “ego” and “soul.” Self-awareness also enables a person to construct a self-image.

In part, self-image is constructed from our personality traits, our life experiences, what others tell us about ourselves, what we say to ourselves (self-talk) , our successes and failures, achievements and misfortunes.

Self is also constructed from the various roles we play in society.  Most people have jobs, so they play the role of employee. They get married, so they play the role of husband or wife. They have and  raise children, so they play the role of parent. If the person performs well in a particular role, their self-worth becomes elevated in that particular role.

One’s sense of self contributes to self-esteem. A person’s level of self-esteem depends on whether the person has a weak or strong sense of self-worth, which answers the questions: Do I like myself? Do I value myself? Am I a person worthy of respect, dignity, and love of another human being?

The sense of self evolves as we pass through life— from infancy, to childhood,  to adolescence, to adulthood, into old age, and finally death. You are not who you were 10 years ago, and you will not be who you are now the day you pass into oblivion.



To become aware of “self”, we must have a functioning brain, which enables consciousness. It enables to think,  to remember, to introspect, to ponder the question: Who am I? The philosopher Descartes said, ” I think, therefore I am.”

Self can be compromised by disease, such as dementia, mental illness, brain cancer, ALS. And it can be torn apart by mental disorders, such as Bipolar psychosis, drug abuse, alcoholism, brain cancer.

As we journey through life, self is forever changing, evolving, transforming like the four seasons. There is the spring of self in which we bloom; the summer of self in which we further develop our identity, experience joy and pleasure, challenges and achievements. There is the autumn of self, in which we reflect and use wisdom and life experience to answer questions about life, such as “Does self exist after death?” By the time we are in the autumn of self, self identity is well- defined. Often, the mind begins to decline from the effects of aging, and so the sense of self erodes. Finally, in the winter of self, there is the death of self. The moment we take our last breathe, the “self” is obliterated, annihilated.


Self is different from soul, which is our essence. Soul is the spiritual or immaterial part of a human being.  Christians believe in the immortality of the soul. Once you die, your soul lives on for eternity.

Soul has different meanings, such as spirit, or life force, or ineffable energy. Soul is like the burning flame of a candle. When the wind of death blows out the flame, there is darkness.


Some religions refuse to accept the concept of “self.” The Buddhist faith/philosophy argues that there is no self. Self is just a delusion of the mind. It is a human construct. Instead, we are conscious beings in which thoughts, feelings, perceptions, memories, hopes, and dreams are forever flowing through the mind like a raging river.

I have learned from meditation the truth about self. If you meditate on a regular basis for 10 or more minutes each day, you gradually realize that your “essence” is not “self” and that self is just something you have constructed in the mind from your ego, your desire to be right, to be respected, to be liked, to be loved. Your essence is a peaceful state of bliss. And so, I would agree with Buddhist thinking that “self” is a delusion. There is no self.


From a sociological perspective, our self-concept evolves through a process of socialization. It is our interactions with the social environment that create our self concept, much like an artist sculptures a work of art. We are the product of our interactions with people and institutions, including family, education, work, friendships, love, faith, trauma, hardship, mental illness, the stages of human development


In exploring self concept from a psychology perspective, we must consider personality. It’s a collection of personality traits. These personality traits, which we inherit, also shape our “self concept.” Personality is a blend of characteristics that make each of us unique. For instance, some people are extroverts, while others are introverts. Some people are naturally confident and explorers, while others worry and are nervous. Some people are naturally open-minded and desire new experiences, while others are closed off from others and the world.


There have been many theories of personality defined by Sigmund Freud, Erich Fromm, and other psychologists. Carl Jung has constructed one of the best theories of “personality.” He suggests that personality consists of three elements: ego or conscious self, unconscious self, and collective unconsciousness, which is inherited and part of human evolution.

Jung’s theory divides the psyche into three parts. The first is the ego, which Jung identifies with the conscious mind. It answers the question: who am I?

The second aspect of personality is personal unconscious, such as dreams and memories, which are forgotten or repressed.

The third element of Jung’s theory of personality is the collective unconscious. It is “psychic inheritance” or “DNA of Personality.” It is part of the psyche that is not part of conscious personal experience. The collective unconsciousness consists of what Jung called archetypes, which are inherited through human evolution, part of the collective DNA of humanity. These are Archetypes include self (who am I), shadow or dark side (alter ego),persona (the various masks we wear on the stage of daily life), and anima/animus (the mirror image of our biological sex, that is, the unconscious feminine side in males and the masculine tendencies in women.)

We can never introspect and become aware of our collective unconsciousness. It is manifested in myth, religion, film, art, writing, music, fairy tales, the mystical. literature.

And so, I believe that collective unconsciousness assists in defining “ self.”

Carl Jung’s theory of personality also focuses on four basic psychological functions:
-Extraversion vs. Introversion
-Sensation vs. Intuition
-Thinking vs. Feeling
-Judging vs. Perceiving

Therefore, we can also define “self” in terms of these psychological functions. Some people are thinkers, while others feel. Some people are judging, while others perceive….


From a psychological perspective, we must also explore intelligence and how it molds our “self concept” or “self identity,” as well as self-esteem. In 1983, Howard Gardner proposed the multiple Intelligence model of IQ. Gardner chose eight abilities musical–rhythmic, visual–spatial, verbal–linguistic, logical–mathematical, bodily–kinesthetic, interpersonal (emotional intelligence), intrapersonal (ability for introspection). Each individual possesses a unique blend of all the intelligences, and they shape self concept. But the person must discover and develop these inherent intelligences.

Achievements and failures also define self-concept and self-esteem. Self esteem answers the question: What do I like about myself? Some people loathe themselves, while others are like narcissus, the Greek God, who looked in the mirror and fell in love with himself. When we achieve or accomplish our goals, we enhance our self-esteem. When we fail to succeed or accomplish a goal, our self-esteem deflates like a flat tire.


Mental illness also plays a role in self concept. The person who suffers from depression or anxiety must constantly deal with “negative self talk,” which erodes a positive sense of self.  Negative self talk creates cognitive distortions or irrational thinking, such as catastrophic thinking, believing the worst possibility will become a reality; or mind reading, believing you know what another person is thinking;  or fortune telling, which means that you can predict the future; or emotional reasoning, feeling pessimistic about life and disliking one’s means that it must be true. The mentally ill must struggle to like themselves, often by seeking therapy and taking medication and implementing techniques of self-love.


Countless artists have also explore “the self” in their art work, These creative thinkers, share their personal view of self in their writing, such as memoirs and poetry, in their paintings and photography, through their lyrics and musical sounds…I think of the paintings by Francis Bacon, who depicted a tormented psyche rooted in his existential view of life. I refer also to the melancholy poetry of Sylvia Plath. She writes: “I desire the things that will destroy me in the end.”I recall the lyrics Freddie Mercury and the melancholy sounds of music by Philip Glass. I point to the various personas or masks in self-portrait photographs by Cindy Sherman.


The sense of “self” requires a functioning brain. Once we die, the brain, which requires oxygen to survive, stops functioning, and consciousness ceases. It would seem that our memories, dreams, awareness, ego, thinking, perceiving, and self identity are obliterated the moment we take that last breathe.

Based on logical thinking—using both deductive reasoning (to prove) and inductive reasoning (to show probability), I believe that the”self” is annihilated by death.

And so, I wonder what eternal life or rebirth really means, perhaps just wishful thinking. Nobody has returned from beyond the grave to share their experiences from “the other side.”

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