“Don’t you ever want the comfort of knowing there is a God and an afterlife?”
Her innocent words slapped me and made my skin tingle. I stood there in my striped t-shirt and shorts and stammered as I tried finding a way to respond to what my younger cousin had just asked me. Thankfully the wind ruffled the noisy tree branches and gave me time to think of a way to answer her.
I grew up in an environment where I was free to believe what I wanted to and was never expected to become an atheist like my father. My mother is more spiritual than religious, despite her Muslim upbringing. She likes the idea of believing in a force that guides the events in our lives. My father promised me that he would support me no matter what my religious makeup turned out to be.
He kept his word when I was about nine; he let me go to a protestant church almost every Sunday with my nanny and experience the communal gatherings of Christians. For some time I considered myself to be a religious boy. I murmured the sounds of prayer before meals, made sure I never used God’s name in vain, and even attended a few Christian youth classes.
This only lasted about two years. When I turned eleven, I started to distance myself from faith and religion. At this point the idea of a man living in a whale’s belly for three days and three nights didn’t make as much sense to me as the gradual evolution of a species. I never called myself an atheist and still don’t. I don’t want to join an exclusive group and contradict my belief that religion is one of the main causes for division amongst the people of the world. I am used to being asked about my religious beliefs, or lack thereof, but nothing could really prepare me for my cousin’s question.
For a moment I could feel her confused coffee colored eyes observe me in the painted sunlight. Yes, I thought in my head, of course I want the comfort of believing in an afterlife. At that moment I realized that I had to come to terms with the reality that there would be no such thing when I die.
I believe in accepting reality, no matter how much I don’t always want to.
For me, reality means no life after death; no comfort when I think about what will happen after my heart stops beating. Sure, it makes me sad at times, but I feel as though I have made a huge leap in the path of my maturity. Now I have even more of a reason to thoroughly enjoy every day of my one and only life.
In my next breath, the air had a tint of winter in it. I didn’t care. My cousin and I stood in silence as I heard the tree branches finally come to rest.