This I Believe

Judith - Norwich, Vermont
Entered on August 2, 2006
Age Group: 30 - 50

When I was a child I believed in God, fairytales, and elves. I believed that evil would be punished and good would be rewarded; I assumed that in the ultimate scheme of things everything made sense.

But as I was initiated into rational thinking and learned more about “reality”, nothing made sense anymore. I realized that death and pain are inescapable, that most evil goes unpunished, and that there might not be any higher power that rights wrongs and imparts meaning to randomness. As a teenager I was overwhelmed by a sense of purposelessness.

Here’s an excerpt from the journal I wrote when I was fifteen:

November 12, 1985: “I’m tired. If I could die by holding my breath for ten seconds I’d do it right now. Life is meaningless and it doesn’t matter if I’m alive or dead. Other people live for the ideals they believe in, but I don’t believe in anything.”

When I recently reread that passage, its teenage melodrama made me smile. These days I’m too busy with living to worry about the meaning of life. When my children need to be taken care of, deadlines need to be met, bills must be paid, chores must be done and the days rush by in a blur, I have no time to wonder about the purpose of it all.

But some days, when I am not set into motion by the routines that rule my life, I feel that teenage desperation still in me. Sometimes I am so paralyzed by the purposelessness of my existence that I can barely get out of bed in the morning. Deep inside I still feel that everything is pointless: We live, we die; that’s it. We’re not different from the ants that I sometimes thoughtlessly crush. It doesn’t matter that I love my children and my husband. It doesn’t matter if I do great things or not. The universe won’t care.

But I can’t live with that feeling, so I make an effort to believe in something –anything – that can keep me going. Some days I believe in literature, some days in kindness, some days in love, and some days I believe in justice, or God, or magic…

And deep inside I know that all the things I believe in are illusions: I know that life isn’t just, that literature isn’t eternal, that God is a human invention, and that soon I and all the people I love will die… But I also know that I need to believe in something to be able to live and that the illusions I make myself believe in are the meaning of my life. And I know that my need to believe is as real as my need to eat, drink and breath.