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Tuesday, June 9, 2009

The Bigness of Hope

What a strange day it is today. I feel like after yesterday, everything should still be on pause. Life doesn't know the word "pause." My body and my emotions continue to move on despite my desire to just freeze for a moment. I suppose it's meant to be that way. How else are we expected to ever move forward? How long of a pause is long enough? Despite feeling like I couldn't laugh yesterday, I laughed. Despite feeling like I wouldn't think about it today, the thoughts move without me. Despite feeling like I shouldn't work today, I'm able to do my job. And I'm OK. Thank goodness we're built this way.

I think I have to get at least one more emo blog out before I'm back to normal though...

As a Catholic, we're offered theories on the afterlife that Church theologians present based on their studies of scripture and their understanding of the nature of God - all with the mini-disclaimer that no human can be 100% positive about precisely what happens once our physical bodies die. Believers are able to hold tight to the Catholic ideas that make sense to them - be it as clear cut as an actual plane of existence known as heaven or as vague as a complete spiritual unification with a universe called God... and then debate amongst themselves which idea is the most correct (haha). My dad is an Atheist and for as long as I can remember he would say that when he dies, he would turn into worm food and that was it. He seems to be fine with that. While I admit that his belief is a very logical possibility, it's not one that I subscribe to exactly.

I remember reading a long time ago on some website or maybe in a magazine, an essay written by this guy who claimed to be an Atheist since his childhood who had an experience which changed his life in a very unexpected way. From his youth he fully embraced the idea that the physical and present was all there was and it was all he needed. He raised his own children with the same ideas and of course, they were completely normal, happy, well adjusted kids. There was no gaping hole in is life or a feeling as if something was missing. He had been living his life happily without a god figure.

He continued to write about how he had been riding his bike one day (like he did on a regular basis) when a car coming full speed and with no intention to stop came crashing towards him. The second he saw the car he was positive that it would be a fatal hit. He wrote that in that moment, his life actually flashed before his eyes - he saw his wife, his children, his parents, his childhood and adult memories all flood in and out in one quick second. In that same split second before his body hit the pavement he remembers the calm in suddenly knowing that his existence would not end with the death of his physical body. He ended up being critically injured and if I remember correctly he was in a coma for a while. Once recovered, he was unable to get those last moments out of his head. Having been raised an Atheist and never really concerning himself with thoughts of the afterlife he was struck with how bizarre his last thoughts seemed to him. Like some people take comfort in the idea of a place called "heaven," he had taken a great deal of comfort in the idea that his time was fixed, finite and attached to the physical plane. In that moment, he didn't have an immediate sense of God or of what would actually exist for him when his physical body died, but the shock of suddenly understanding that it wasn't all over was enough to give him pause. After much consideration, he decided a more appropriate belief system for him would be Agnosticism rather than Atheism (and I think that after many more years he ended up choosing to go down some faith based or road to enlightenment type path but I don't remember specifically how that went.)

His near-death story stuck with me and somehow brings me comfort in ways that other stories about the afterlife, heaven, reincarnation, angels, and near-death visions don't seem to be able to and it has nothing to do with judgment or salvation. For me, there is tremendous hope in the broad suggestion that there is something - anything - that exists as us after our last breath. The grandness of hope in the limitless possibilities following the brief moment we call life completely dwarfs the despair of a physical death. To try and put that ambiguous hope into a neatly shaped container and label it with descriptions my human brain can comprehend is somehow not doing it enough justice. Am I really only as alive as my body? Am I then only as alive as my heart? My brain?

I think that what I felt yesterday was sorrow. What I feel today is hope - this strange calm from knowing nothing at all. My comfort is in the mystery. In hoping that those who have passed before me have begun an adventure in discovery that the rest of us can only guess about and the hope that the possibilities are even greater than I could have ever imagined.


  1. I pray for you and everyone always! :)

  2. Thanks Manny! I really appreciate it! :)

  3. You write beautifully, D. I remember reading that man's story, too - if you ever find it, please let me know! I'd love to read it again.

    And again, I'm still praying for you in this sorrowful time. There is no set time for you to stop grieving, it will come when you are ready. :hugs:

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  5. I'm not sure who you've lost, but know that grief has a way of producing healing (or perhaps, growing) in a way you wouldn't have before. My thoughts are with you. Loss is never easy or simple, but it makes us stronger at the end of the day.

  6. Afterlife aside, I take much comfort in my (possible) influences on others. Even after my time is up, the people I influenced, knowledge I created, and ideas I spread will continue to affect the world.

    An excellent discussion of this is found in /Man's Search for Meaning/ (Frankel).

  7. Thanks everyone! I honestly do appreciate all your kind words. :)


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