My dad spent his last days in a beautiful hospice. One of us stood with him at the window, looking out at the gorgeous autumn leaves, and asked him: Are you sad that this is the last Fall you will see?
I’ve had a wonderful life, and now it’s over, and that’s OK.
They say there are no atheists in foxholes, but that’s not true. My father’s atheism gave him a lot of peace.
My dad’s life was NOT all wonderful. His heart was broken numerous times, twice by the deaths of children. He lived through money problems and health problems and relationship problems…and he counted himself lucky.
Atheism doesn’t necessarily have to focus on rejecting the notion of God. As an implicit atheist, the concepts of God or an afterlife were never a part of my life.
The thing I like about atheism is the boundaries it provides. Penn Jillette explained it so well in his famous NPR essay:
I have love, blue skies, rainbows and Hallmark cards, and that has to be enough. It has to be enough, but it’s everything in the world and everything in the world is plenty for me.
Atheism makes me appreciate what I have. It limits me in a way I find reassuring. Infinity strikes me as frightening and overwhelming. Reality is harsh, but it’s something I can wrap my head around.
My atheist’s take sees me as being seated at the Thanksgiving table of Life, having been served my portion: this mind, this body and this one scoop of some indeterminate but definitely finite number of years. That’s my helping. That’s all I get. It has to be enough and it’s plenty.
When my kids were little and the first pet died, I didn’t know what to say to make them feel better. We all just sat there and held the tiny still-warm body, and we huddled together and let the sensations of pain and loss come on, and we cried.
Mommy, why do things have to die?
They die so that others can have a turn at living.
And I’m actually glad for that. I love my life very much, but I’m also glad that it exists in this finite space of time, and that someday I’ll move over and give my seat at Life’s Table to someone else. My mortality makes me feel connected to the rest of the living world. Atheism, for me, helps me embrace my life more completely.