A couple of years ago, I responded to a post on Facebook with a personal story that I have rarely shared. I don't talk about these events in my life often and not because I don't think of them as important or central to my identity but rather, because I do. I have kept it to myself largly because, it is a fundamental piece of me - one that is sensitive and utterly personal.
I am sharing this now, in an effort to convey to others that you are not alone in your personal struggles for meaning or peace. I am reminded regularly how difficult life can be for some and how seemingly unfair events tend to unfold. My hope is that this story will resonate with some and maybe help take the edge off of that journey.
The original posted question was from Chris Boeskool who is someone I admire in his need to find a better way to think about people, politics and religion. I don't always share his beliefs or point of view but I deeply respect is devotion to finding personal truth in a sea of memes, blame and dogma.
Chris Boeskool wrote:
Here are five different ideas of what happens to our consciousness when we die:
- We are all--by nature--eternal, and when we die, we either go to the good place or the bad place. Forever.
- We are not necessarily eternal, and when some people die, they simply cease to exist. Others (The ones who were special for some reason) get eternity as a "prize" of sorts.
- We all go to the good place after we die--Regardless of how "good" or "bad" we were while alive--and live forever in a place where guacamole never costs extra.
- When we die, we "come back" as something/someone else, and we keep going on like that until we "get it right."
- Our consciousness dies with our bodies, and there is no life after death. When you dead, you dead.
Which number are you? Why do you believe what you believe? If you don't know which number you are, which do you find most likely? Which do you think is least likely?
Are you a combination of a couple numbers? Are you something different altogether?
My response is as follows:
Short answer: It doesn't matter because dying and what comes after isn't the point of life or living.
I grew up Catholic and the idea of what makes a person a "good" person stood front and center for a large part of my youth. I went to a Catholic school which, you'd probably be surprised to know was largely secular except for mass three days a week and one hour long religious studies class. I had non-catholic teachers. All of this is to point out that my early passion for right and wrong really was my own and not just a byproduct of immersion.
During my high school years the question of how to be a good person nearly killed me - litterally. I really dissected my religion to answer the question and the more I dug, the more I realized that the answer slipped further away. In despair, and because I had a teenage brain, I nearly ended it all. Sounds very silly and strange now and I wouldn't expect someone else to understand it as I don't myself but the pursuit of meaning nearly was my end because I only had the one option - the option that my religion presented. The moving target laid out in the bible. In the moment before I pulled the trigger, I realized how ridiculous what I was about to do was and I put the gun down.
That was the day that I moved past my own religion to expand my journey. I studied other religions and belief systems that aren't really considered religion. I looked to philosophy and pure ethics. I tried to find the missing piece to the puzzle elsewhere. I did this for years.
One day I was sitting on a bench outside of a line of shops next to a coke machine. It was a really hot summer day and I was taking a break from riding around town - goofing off really. A guy walked up to the coke machine and put in a dollar (cokes in this machine were 50 cents per can back then), hit the button, pulled out his choice and began to walk away. I heard the machine spit out his change into the change slot and I said that he forgot his change. He turned and said, "someone will need it more than me." and walked off.
I thought that was pretty cool and then forgot about it. I sat there about 15 more minutes and was about to leave myself when a station wagon pulled up. I could hear the argument long before the car came to a halt. A family of 4, they were having a bad day. I don't know what they were arguing about, I'm sure it was the culmination of a series of very stressful events. The guy got out of the car, slammed the door shut and walked up to the coke machine. he put in his dollar and the machine ate it. No coke, no change no nothing. The look on the guy's face was total meltdown. He said "that's just perfect!" and started to turn around.
I told him that the last guy left his change in the coin dispenser. He looked at me as if he didn't realize someone was sitting two feet away from him this whole time, checked the coin dispenser, pulled out the 50 cents, deposited it, and received his drink. With a very long, very labored deep breath, he looked at me calmer, and turned toward the car. He gets in, hands the drink to his wife who clearly had been watching what had happened and then just sat there a minute. Then I heard him say to her, "I'm sorry."
It was the beginning of an epiphany. I wasn't sure why it stuck out so much in my mind but that moment was the beginning of understanding for me. Over the next few years I began to do little things that I wouldn't know what the outcome would be - like leaving the change in a coke machine. I wasn't really sure what I expected to happen but I thought that maybe, just maybe, I might be able to help someone in the way that one guy did.
It didn't take long to realize a simple truth and ultimately what it is that matters for someone like me.
In this world all we are is a collection of choices and actions. We choose to do what we consider to be right or we don't. Sometimes, the choices are hard. That is what character is and it has nothing to do with what we believe will happen when we die. Live your life as best as you can. For each of us that has a different meaning and course but the end result is the same. If you feel that the meaning of your life is to make a difference in someone else's then the question becomes, how much change did you leave for the stranger you'll never meet.
Photo by eberhard grossgasteiger from Pexels