I was talking to C the other night about how I don’t fear death. I don’t want to die, of course not, but I don’t fear what comes after. There was some concern from his side of the bed about what happens, where we go, what happens, if anything does happen. He has trouble with that, he says he needs proof of something after and without proof, he has to believe there is nothing. For that, I am sad for him. I was raised with proof, and I cannot give it to him.
I’m not a religious person. I don’t go to church. In fact, I can count on both hands the number of times I’ve been to church for the purpose churches are intended. Most of my House of God experience was for chorus, for school, years ago. (Churches have incredible acoustics. You won’t find anything like them anywhere else.)
I do love churches, however, specifically very old ones. I love the feeling you get when you’re in them. I love the way they look, the way they feel, the way they smell. I love that they were built by people who had such incredible faith in something. Churches in the middle of the prairie are my favorite, where there are no trees or rocks all the way to the horizon and beyond: the people who built those buildings, often more than 100 years ago, had so much faith in what they were doing that they transported the necessary materials from very far away to do so. I love that no matter the amount of work involved, they were determined. I love that people gather inside their walls to pray and believe and hope. You can feel that faith when you’re there. This all extends to any house of worship for me- anywhere people practice their beliefs.
Faith is usually a tangible thing. I wasn’t raised with a religion, although my mother was a devout Catholic, but I was raised with extraordinary faith. I have faith in God, that there is a plan we create for ourselves, that there are such things as fate and destiny and karma. I believe good begets good. I believe that if you do good things that somewhere in the world, someone benefits from that karmic deposit. I try to do everything I can to lead a good life – I believe you should live simply, so that others may simply live. (Gandhi.) I believe it is our job as human beings to do everything we can for each other. We’re here for each other. There’s no enormous, illusive meaning to life- the point, I think, is to do the best we can to help and support and understand one another. To be happy, to make others happy... There is divinity in that. That kindness, that love without expectation of reciprocation, that is where my god lives.
I believe that if you do the best you can – the ABSOLUTE BEST YOU CAN, no phoning it in, no half-trying, no lip service – that you’ll go where we all go when we’re not *here* anymore. I believe in the Buddhist idea that human beings can attain their own version of perfection, and that we should strive for that. I believe that true enlightenment comes either through extreme, blinding love, or pain and work and suffering. I believe that on the other side of all pain is understanding and growth. I believe that when we die, we go somewhere else. Somewhere we build for ourselves, somewhere we can plan to work on the things we did not fix this go-round, and that we can come back if we want or need to. I believe that we will see our loved ones again there.
My mom always said that she thought her dad was doing something special in heaven, something to help children. That’s what he did here- he worked with Boys Town helping troubled youths to find direction. She said she thought he was probably still writing crossword puzzles, because he loved it so much when he was alive. (He would always work in a clue that referenced one of his children somehow. He loved them so much and it was a small wink to them. He instilled a love for crosswords puzzles and words themselves in my mother, and she in me.) I believe what she said. I believe it because she meant it, and because she would never lie to us. I believe it because somewhere inside, it rings true. She talked to her father every single night from the day he died until the day more than 30 years later that she went to join him. She believed he could hear her. So do I. I believe that wherever my mother is now that she’s not here anymore, however far away, however busy she is, when I talk to her she hears. I believe it because inside myself, the same place truth rings, I feel her turn her head toward my voice.
I have no fear of death, because it is only going home. I do not believe we are our bodies, any more than I am my house. If my house were to blow away, would I cease to exist? Of course not. The notion is silly. My belief in god and the afterlife is very well illustrated by the movie What Dreams May Come. There’s an exchange in the movie between Robin Williams and Cuba Gooding Jr. that struck a chord that still resonates years later. Robin Williams said, “So where’s God in all this?” and Cuba answered, “Up there. Somewhere. Shouting down that he loves us and wondering why we can’t hear him.”
Exactly. Yaknow? Exactly. Except my idea is more that God is everywhere, in everything, and that we can hear. We just need to listen. We need to look.