This I Believe

Rachael - Cambridge, Massachusetts
Entered on April 19, 2006
Age Group: 30 - 50
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This I believe: This is it, so be good!

‘Heaven is under our feet as well as over our heads.’ Henry David Thoreau clarified. Real life has always been much more important, more challenging, more rewarding than promises of something after death. In fact, both heaven and hell are all around us, every day.

As one who is free of religious teaching and obligations, I feel much more sure that the goodness I create here on earth now in my life, every day is all that matters. Not only do I believe there is no afterlife, I believe there is no purpose to be discovered. What we see, what we make of what we have, is all there is. Without a divine judge, without an ultimate purpose, without an afterlife, we have only ourselves. And for me, that is a far simpler, far more challenging path to follow.

A few years ago, a friend of mine suffered from and then died of Amyotropic Lateral Sclerosis. She had been a wonderfully frowsy hippy lady, loving candles and crystals, always having time for a chat at her busy kitchen table. Many friends gathered to care for her in her last months. It was a truly amazing, grievous, uplifting, transformative time. As I was the executor of her will, she and I got to some earthy discussions on the matter. I was surprised to learn how practical she was.

Friends would sit with her and would, in their compassion, suggest that she surrender to the light, or let the angels take her. She refused to consider such claptrap. To me, describing such visits, she would lift an eyebrow in her eloquently simplified expression of wry cynicism, conveying with a steady gaze into my eyes: we know better. She died, peacefully at home. I believe that through her life she knew there would be nothing after it.

The last childish image I had of the end of my life was vague and dreamy. It came to me in sleepless guilt-ridden nights. I would be facing a panel of silent black robed men. They did not need to ask: they knew my sins, down to my very fleeting thoughts of sins. I was there, to have them weigh my goodness and my badness in the ultimate balance. But this image became so absurd, the balance of good and bad so complex, I shed it even before anything came along to replace it.

Eventually, I began to hold an image of an old woman on a porch, in her rocking chair, gazing out over a hillside at sunset. She is my judge, my guide, my companion in thinking. Whenever I have not been sure what is right, or what is good, I check with her. If there is anyone image I ‘believe in’, it is this woman. She is, of course, me.