Six Feet Over: Adventures in the Afterlife

Six Feet Over: Adventures in the Afterlife by Mary Roach Read Free Book Online

Book: Six Feet Over: Adventures in the Afterlife by Mary Roach Read Free Book Online
Authors: Mary Roach
Tags: General, science
another. Particularly through the father.”
    Munni’s enthusiasm undermines the case. “This is a very, very minus point, a very strongly minus point if your main people are so enthusiastic to find that the case is true.” And very often, they are. The villagers Dr. Rawat works with are inclined to view vague or ambiguous statements as evidence. As he puts it, “They will pounce on anything!”
    That evening, Kirti and his wife and two of the TV producer’s children drive me to the train station. They present me with gifts and big bags of puffed Indian snack foods for the journey. Kirti and his wife lay garlands of marigolds around my neck as though I’m a deity and not the petulant ingrate they’ve been dealing with all week. I hug Kirti, pressing the flowers so hard they leave stains on our shirts. “I’m sorry about … I don’t know. I’m not very submissive.”
    “It’s okay. You only lost your mind twice.”
       
    YOU DON’T HAVE to be a poorly educated villager to get caught up in a story like Aishwary’s and lose your rational rudder. I experienced a similar phenomenon about ten years ago in rural Ireland. I was hitchhiking through County Wexford, where the name Colfer is a common one. My grandmother was a Colfer, and I was keen to sniff out my Irish roots. One day I spotted a butcher shop with a sign over the window: COLFER MEANTS . I walked in and asked the butcher, “Are you a Colfer?”
    “I am,” he said. Three hours later, I was sitting in a pub with nine Colfers and a copy of my family tree spread out between the pint glasses. Some of the first names overlapped, as Irish names will: Catherines and Johns and Margarets.There was even a Margaret who had emigrated to Chicago—and my father had stayed with an Aunt Margaret in Chicago when he first came to the States.
    I clearly recall sensing that the facts didn’t all fit, but the feeling faded as the excitement built and the beer flowed. Come closing time, I was hugging my long-lost uncle Mick and promising to keep in touch. New relatives are a novelty and a charm. It’s a buzz, and you want to give in to it.
    Six weeks later, back at home, my grandmother’s birth certificate arrived from the Dublin General Register Office. Her birth date was about ten years earlier than I’d thought. My Irish “family” were no more than friendly strangers in a pub. I’d been swept up in the excitement of the unraveling, paying attention to the facts and dates that fit, overlooking those that didn’t.
    It is certainly possible that in among the reborn Veerpals and the long-lost Uncle Micks are true links and souls that have lived before. For those with the patience to wade through Ian Stevenson’s colossal compilations of case studies, there is much that leaves you scratching your head: statements too specific to suggest coincidence, and no obvious motive for a hoax.
    Of late, I find myself wondering about the mechanics of it, the unfathomable blending of metaphysics and embryology. How would the suddenly homeless soul get itself situated someplace new? How does spirit, for want of a more precise word, infuse itself into a clump of cells quietly multiplying on a uterus wall? How do you get in there?
    Scientists and philosophers of bygone years had a name for the impossible moment. They called it ensoulment, and they debated it for centuries. If the National Science Foundation had existed in the 1600s, there would have been an entire lavishly funded Institute of Ensoulment, devoted to studying themysteries of human generation, the how and when of life’s initial spark. Most of the research covered in this book focuses on things that happen to a person as, and after, his body reaches the finish line, but it makes sense to spend a little time at the other end of the footrace, too.

2
The Little Man Inside the Sperm,
or Possibly the Big Toe
    Hunting the soul with microscopes and scalpels
    T HERE’S A VERY good chance that you underestimate the

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