I believe one of Man's and Woman's redeeming and more telling qualities is that whenever we begin to discuss aging and its endgame, death, we almost invariably end with a conversation about life.
Sometimes that means we talk about one life, the life of one who has passed. Sometimes it means we talk about life in the large—what it means to be alive or to have lived or what it will mean to new family members not yet born whom we are looking forward to welcoming into our families.
A few years ago, my wife lost her best friend Mary to breast cancer. Mary had beaten it some years earlier but it recurred and she chose to keep her battle private, determined to engender as little concern as possible. She spent time with her family, her husband and two sons, and at the appropriate moment she saw her best friends, my wife, and two others.
When my wife paid a visit near the end, Mary gave my wife a gift, a glimpse into a positive, continuing future. It wasn't anything Mary said. Rather, it was one of those interchanges that happens between the closest of friends, an interchange without words but teeming with understanding. It was clear that in Mary's last days her thoughts had turned to indomitable life, a serene certainty that my wife would do well and that they would meet again.
At Mary's choice, her life ended in a way intended to cause as little agony to others as possible. The success of that decision pervaded her memorial service. There were tears, of course, but more than anything else, the ceremony was a celebration of life and her life—a common theme in services of many faiths, including Scientology.
Last year, I lost my mother and father. I grieved their loss. I miss them, particularly my father when I'm engaged in something I know he would have enjoyed or would have found funny. At those times, I'm still sometimes surprised, then disappointed that I can't just pick up the phone and give them a call. In the last several years of their lives, I saw up close and personal the effects of aging. I witnessed their diminishing ability to do the things they loved and, in the case of my mother, of her ability to think and remember.
But now, despite the loss, when I think of them, my thoughts are primarily of life.
Scientologists tend to have both a conceptual and experiential understanding of what aging and death are because Scientology helps to open the doors to personal memory of earlier lives—and deaths. No Scientology dogma mandates a belief in past lives, but as most Scientologists gain greater recall and understanding of their own spiritual past, they also come to know that they will live again.
As a Scientologist I know there are three parts to Man/Woman: the body, the mind, and the spirit. The last, the spirit, bears at least some small explanation for the purposes of this article, though far more could be said.
Although Scientologists use the word "spirit," they also use a specialized word to describe what it means to them. A new term was introduced for a simple, pragmatic reason: "spirit" means so many things to so many people from so many traditions that using it would run a very high risk of causing confusion. This is not to negate any other uses or traditions; it just recognizes the long value and meaning of that word and in respect of those traditions, Scientologists use a new word, thereby aiming for clarity. The Scientology concept of "spirit" is termed a "thetan," a word formed from the Greek letter "theta" which has a historical association with "thought."
In brief, the spirit or thetan is the person himself. It is the "awareness of awareness" unit that is the individual. When you ask someone to look at a sunset and ask them "who is looking at the sunset?" they—the entity, the individuality they identify as themselves that is the answer to that question is the spirit, is the thetan, is the person him or herself. One does not "have a thetan," he or she is one. Minus the "Scientologese," one is a spiritual being.
I mentioned the three parts of Man/Woman—the body, mind and spirit—because distinguishing them can bring significant simplicity and welcomed clarity to discussions of aging. Although all three are interdependent and entwined to a greater or lesser degree, they are not the same, and aging means something different for each.Of the three, the person, the thetan, is by far the senior, the most important, and the element most deserving of attention and care.
We have all known people who in the face of impending death have maintained their sense of equilibrium, their compassion and "Personhood." We have also known others who have been stripped of the best parts of their humanity, who were lost as individuals well before their bodies were formally pronounced dead.