I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately (really the last year or so) about what happens after we die. I want it to be something, but I don’t know for sure, of course. I’m still here. I can’t tell you. All those people that supposedly know could be totally full of shit. They could be telling what they think is true, but is more of a dream. Or they could know for sure. Nobody can prove it, and if someone has the opportunity to prove it, well, they can’t really prove it anymore… they’re dead.
I’ve always been terrified of death and dying; it’s something that is always in the back of my mind, and it just gets worse as I get older… as I get closer to death. Most people don’t think about it; it’s inevitable, we are all going to die someday. Most people, by the time they are in early adolescence or so (or at least this is how society – i.e. how I – see the world, right or wrong. Isn’t everything about perception, rather than reality???) realize that death is so far down the road that it’s nothing to worry about, until it is something to worry about.
But I’m not most people. I never outgrew the terrified-of-death phase. My fear is paralyzing; it’s neurotic and all-encompassing. It keeps me up at night. Because it keeps me up at night, it also keeps my husband up at night, because when my mind goes into overdrive, I need to wake him up to help me keep my mind off of the fact that I will in fact die someday. If I don’t, I head into a full-fledged anxiety attack, and well, we both know what happened last time I had one of those.*
*An anxiety attack at work led to my first-ever (and only-ever) ambulance ride; it’s kind of a blur, because I became unresponsive and slid out of my chair onto the floor, and was starting to turn blue. Not good. But once in the ambulance, things started to come back to me – I became more responsive the further we got from my workplace, and that’s when I knew I had to get out.
I’ve been trying to avoid thinking about dying ever since I realized how much it takes over my life. When I was a kid, it would take me multiple hours to fall asleep because my mind just wouldn’t shut off. I would overthink things, and would actually have dreams (not good ones) while I was half-asleep about waking up in the morning and finding a mostly-dead house: everyone (except for me) would have been killed overnight.
I think it has something to do with a) my overactive imagination; b) now having Munchkin around; c) not knowing what to believe.
And there’s the crux of it: not knowing what to believe.
I was raised Catholic: baptized before I was a year old; first Communion in second grade; first Confession in third grade; Confirmation sophomore year of high school. All I did without any sort of arguing, except for Confirmation. I didn’t want to do it; I didn’t want to be forced to, either. I didn’t know what I wanted; I was only 16. I was naïve and, honestly, still a bit of a child. I wasn’t ready to pledge my life to the Catholic Church.
But as much of a protest as I put up, I did it.** And later that year, I joined a Baptist Youth Group with my two best friends. I became completely embroiled in everything with this group: I stopped listening to anything other than religious, Contemporary Christian music; I started going to the Youth Group meetings weekly, using my new-found freedom (aka my driver license) to keep me with like-minded people. I started reading books that had extremely Christian themes, and stopped reading anything that didn’t.*** I stopped caring about anyone outside of my circle, and it showed. I was an awful person to my family, to the people that had been my friends, and it wasn’t fair to anyone. I was a total bitch, and everyone knew it (except me).
**I do NOT blame my parents – if I had put up enough of a protest (which I obviously did not do enough of), they would have let me choose. At 16, I was painfully shy, and couldn’t speak up for myself. I couldn’t make an argument without losing my cool and crying my eyes out. It was pathetic.
***For anyone that knows how much I read, this was huge. I read rather quickly, to the point of at least a book a week, sometimes more. To push aside all of my favorite authors so that I could keep with only the Christian authors is laughable, because in addition to the sheer quantity that I would need to keep up, the cost of books (even back then) was more than an avid reader such as I could handle.
I had been on many trips with the group, had been “saved,” and had become totally enamored with this religion. It was my life. I was one of them. We spent our meetings singing songs and reading from the bible. We were model Baptists; I was a model Christian. I was so caught up in the brainwashing of the group that I didn’t see what an awful person I had become.
Then one day at a youth group meeting one of the girls was nowhere to be found. We all went our separate ways to see where she could have run off to – it was a relatively small house – and one of the leaders (male) and another youth (female) both ended up outside together to look for the girl. When I found out they had both been “talked to,” I thought it was silly, but didn’t think all too much of it. Not too long later, a few weeks maybe, I was talking with someone about a boy I liked. I was informed that if I started dating the boy, we would have to have weekly “meetings” to discuss our “relationship” to make sure we weren’t getting ahead of ourselves. And kissing was not a good idea. Oh, and by the way, we should never be alone… ALWAYS have a chaperon.
I wasn’t okay with that.
After hearing all that, and thinking back on all the ways I had been subtly told that my family wasn’t as good as I was because they weren’t “saved” (apparently their god wasn’t as good as my god, and they were all going to hell because of it), I had had enough. I got out.
That experience changed me. I went back to the Catholic Church, but wasn’t completely convinced.
After a year and a half of college (at a state school that was very accepting of any and all people), I spent a semester in France. There I decided that I wanted to start going to church again. Also while there I decided that I wanted to change schools – my current didn’t have the major I wanted – so I decided that I would go to a Catholic College. I had previously applied (and been accepted) when doing the initial search for colleges, but because I had ONLY applied to that one school, decided (on graduation day) that I wanted to see if I could get in anywhere else – and went to the only other school I applied to.
I was required to take two religion classes at the Catholic College. The first was perfect: it was an introduction to religion, which was more historical than anything else. It was a great course, and I learned a lot without feeling pressured to take any stances on any religion at all. The second was as far from the first as it could get: The Gospels. In addition, the professor had written and published a book, and it became part of the required reading. We read and dissected all four gospels, and in doing so, ruined Catholicism and all belief for me. There were too many contradictions for me to believe the bible. There were too many inconsistencies, too many horrible acts that took place for me to believe that any of it could be real. There was just no way.
For me, in that moment, the bible became a work of fiction.
There’s no way that the world is only 6000 years old. It’s millions of years old, and there’s no way that anyone could convince me otherwise. Dinosaurs walked the Earth. There was life on Earth millions of years ago. It wasn’t all created within the past 10,000 years – that is impossible.
Religion has become something that people hold over others’ heads. Religion has become something that people judge others by, regardless of what they say. With all of the scandals in the news over the past decade, religion has become a naughty word – for some. Others flaunt it like they hold the keys to the kingdom.
It makes me uncomfortable.
I no longer believe in god. I no longer believe in God. I don’t believe in heaven or hell, or life after death.
And that terrifies me. Because if there’s nothing after, I just don’t know. It’s times like this that I wish I knew what happened after… if it all starts over again as someone else, if there is a heaven, or if it just all… ends…
Despite my disbelief in God, I listened to a lot of the coverage after the white smoke was sent into the sky in Vatican City, signaling that a new Pope had new elected. I hope that this newly-elected man takes on the job with as much grace and honestly as I am naïve enough to hope he will; despite my knowing better, I am hoping that this new Pope makes the changes required to bring an institution to a less-laughable status. Stop the reasons behind the jokes and the jokes will stop. Enough with the persecution and equalities. Prosecute the people responsible for assaulting children, and stop covering it up and making excuses. Make the people that cause the problems responsible for their actions. Nobody should be exempt.
Life is a funny thing… we never know the reason, but live life nonetheless. Our choices mold us into the person we become and the person we are shapes the lives of others. We need to live honestly, regardless of our beliefs.
What is one step you have taken in the right direction to living life to its fullest?