“How can people close to tragedies make sense of them? Religion provides an answer for that… It is consoling to believe that when a child dies they go to be with Jesus and the angels. In fact, what are you really grieving about if you think that the one you love most in this world is now in a better place and you’re going to be rejoined with her in the twinkling of an eye? I think we can admit that atheism doesn’t offer real consolation at this point… The thing for which there is no real substitute is total consolation in the face of death.
At some point, we as humans have to deal with this fact.
[When a person comes face to face with their own mortality or the death of a loved one, there are regrets] It’s not just what they did with their time, it’s not just that they spent too much time working or compulsively checking e-mail. It’s that they cared about the wrong things. They regret what they cared about. Their attention was bound up in petty concerns, year after year when life was normal. [For all of us there will] come a day when you’ll be sick or someone close to you will die and you’ll look back on the kinds of things that captured your attention and you’ll think, ‘What was I doing?’ These things only make sense in light of eternity. There better be a heaven if we’re going to waste our time like that… so unlike religious people, we atheists really have a good reason to make the most of life, to make the most of the present moment.”
If I allow myself to sit with the belief that this life is it, there is nothing else; no after-life, no reincarnation, no heaven, no hell, no “being with Jesus or the angels”, then the problem is no longer death. The problem is Life. What am I going to do with this one precious and beautiful life?
Sitting with this probability that there is nothing after, forces me to take responsibility for my life.
… And as for death?
"There is no total consolation in the face of death. And there is no need for it as far as I am concerned. Instead, I want to live my life fully, with my eyes awake and all of my feelings fully intact and in full expression. No dampening with platitudes or mythical stories. I rather seek to create a space large enough and deep enough to hold my grief and the magnitude of life and death. There is a way to sink into the present moment and find it sacred and to, in that living moment, cease to have a problem." SH