Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. A clichéd way to start an essay, isn’t it? And yet every time people hear those words, they think of death. Those words symbolize the circle of life and are announced once the passage is complete. If I had the choice, I can’t help but wonder how I’d want to spend those last few moments… Would I want to go out fighting? Or would I choose to spend the time simply holding a loved one? I think the bigger question is then what? Just what is the afterlife? Beliefs about the afterlife are just that—beliefs—and I have absolutely no way of knowing the truth. More often than not, the afterlife sounds more magnificent than life as I know it.
Morbid as it may be, I have recently begun strongly questioning my own beliefs. Just barely twenty years old, I have begun seeing my life as about 1/4th of the way complete (if I live long enough to be one of the “lucky ones”). Cancer runs in my family and my maternal grandmother died of it at the age of fifty-three. On the other hand, my paternal great-grandmother is still vibrantly alive at the age of ninety-three. Hopefully it’ll average out and I will live to be about eighty. But then what? What happened to my grandmother after she died? What will happen to me? Personally, I have to believe there’s something more. My grandmother was one of the strongest figures in my life and a world completely devoid of her would crush me; I have to believe that she is still out there, somewhere, watching and protecting me.
As a Roman Catholic, I know some may view my beliefs as blasphemous but I like to believe our God is not a vengeful kid with a magnifying glass, burning us who do not live perfectly. No one can expect to go through life living without regrets, without mistakes. Nevertheless, we need to live by having faith in our beliefs and not spend what little time we have here worrying what comes next.
I believe that when we die, we make our own heaven or hell. Our lives, be they good or bad, finally catch up to us in the end. If I were to commit heinous acts all throughout my life and never feel like repenting until the fear of death causes me to do so, then I would end up stuck in a hellish afterlife until I can forgive myself of my sins. If, on the other hand, as I am nearing death I look back and am happy with all I’ve accomplished, then I will create my own heavenly afterlife. Yes, I may have regrets and I will make mistakes, but learning to move past them is what I feel will guarantee me true happiness in the end. After all, once you truly know, it’s going to be too late to go back, shake your former self, and say calm down, it will be okay.
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