My dad pushed his glasses down to the bridge of his nose and peered over them at me. He does this when he’s about to say something profound and he really wants you to listen. We’re sitting at the corner bar and he’s about to go back to Ohio for his high school reunion. It’s the first reunion he’s ever gone to, and I figure he’s feeling a bit introspective.
“Death is the price you pay for living. You just have to make sure it’s a fair price.” He recites the words my grandfather used to say to him, lines I’ve heard my whole life. When my dad was 34, his father died after years of being riddled with disease. Death is something that saddens my dad, but he is not afraid of it.
“I’ve done things I hope God doesn’t know about,” he grins, full of satisfaction of a man who’s had a good life.
Unlike my father, death terrifies me. I’m hitting that existential crisis mode of my early 30’s, where I take a bath and stare at my bare feet hugging the facet and wonder: why are we here? What happens when we leave? Is the Matrix real? Do I believe in God? Do I believe in a God that lets others suffer so much, when chance birthed me to a middle class family full of love in Nebraska? Is that really how I should look at a higher being in the first place?
It’s probably no coincidence that with this crisis, death and religion have been a discussion point between my friends and I lately. Some of my friends are steadfast in their beliefs: Christian, atheist, Hindu, no label. I haven’t figured it out yet.
“It’s all about culture,” my friend Bryan said a few weeks ago, as we drank too many whiskies on a porch, before Omaha evenings became so stifling. We were discussing death and religion with our friend Jessica. Culture shapes how we interact with religion and our primary beliefs that stem from it. I envy the way Jessica and Bryan talk about what they believe and what they think happens when we die. They know what they believe, and through their process they’ve arrived at a peaceful place with it. My heart beats a little harder when we talk about it, and I listen. I know I don’t believe what they believe, but exactly what that is I can’t articulate.
This 4th of July, I found myself discussing the topic again at a house party with friends who hail from all over the world. It’s a bit surreal, with fireworks exploding all around us, discussing death and the possibility of afterlife. We light sparklers and talk, and though we all come from different corners of the earth we all respect each person’s views.
I’m finding that while I don’t know what I believe when our days are over, I discovered peace in my beliefs in why we’re here. I believe in the goodness of humans, and our arguably unique ability to give and receive love. The point of our lives is to be vulnerable with each other and show kindness, and hopefully love. Through my interactions with people, I’m feeling that we’re all little bits of each other from lives long ago. In treating each other with kindness, we’re helping our next selves be more beautiful.A