Some say bluntly that there is no afterlife. That our lives are a “one-way trip.” Easy to assert, because it’s almost certainly true. Anyone else remember those care-free slogans of the 2008 Atheist Bus Campaign? “There probably is no god. Now stop worrying. And enjoy your life.”
Photo by Dan Etherington via Wikimedia Commons
Ah, if only it were that simple for all of us. Smells more than a little like trivializing to me.
My nine-year-old daughter is having trouble sleeping, she told me a few nights ago. “I can’t stop thinking about what would happen if I lost you,” she told me. “Why can’t we still be together even if you die? I can’t lose you!” And, tearfully, “Can’t we just go back and relive our lives? It’s going so fast.”
I held her tight while she cried, after unloading so much anguish right at bedtime, on the very night before school started. Then I tried floating my own version of the crappy Atheist Bus slogan: “Our bodies return to the earth to feed new life, but the qualities you’ve inherited from me, the values and experiences we’ve shared, the love we share, those will be with you always, no matter what. We live on through the effects we have on the world,” I sermonized. I also tried a UU response to her questions, one of those responses that begins with, “Some people believe…” and ends with, “What do you think?”
All true, but not ringing true. Still in my arms, she sobbed afresh.
Then, bless my heart, I remembered to try telling a real story. I told her a story from Starhawk’s Circle Round, about meeting Grandfather Deer and offering him an apple. About being carried by Grandfather Deer to the edge of the Sunless Sea, where a guide would ferry us across the Sea to the Shining Isle for the price of a story. Our ancestors waited for us there on the Shining Isle, and God Hirself, too, stirring a cauldron of stars. Look it up, y’all, it’s a good story.
My daughter’s tears slowed, and her muscles relaxed. She began telling her own version of the story, in which we each had our own favorite places on the Shining Isle, but where there were doors between her place and mine. “I’d like that,” I said, “I’ll leave my door open for you.” Eventually she climbed out of my lap and into bed.
The kinds of questions my daughter asked, if you take the pain they point to seriously, can only be acknowledged and answered by stories. And some stories are just better than others.
Doorway by Tony Hisgett