I lost my older sister to Breast Cancer five years ago today. She was 39 years old, less than 6 months shy of her 40th birthday. I’ll be 40 in April. So today it is impossible for me to ignore what it would mean to lose my life right now.
I know it’s a lottery. Anything can happen and there are no guarantees in life. Is that concept frightening or comforting? When I first told my parents about this blog my mother questioned me on how I came to identify myself as atheist rather than agnostic. One of the things she mentioned was wanting to believe that our loved ones who have died are not gone. Do I really want to believe that they have disappeared?
What I want is irrelevant.
I can accept a godless lottery when it comes to life and death. With god it’s still a lottery; the only difference is that someone decides who lives and dies. I would rather have no one to blame. I do not want to feel as if someone could have done something, or that a miracle might have been within our grasp. I can wrap my mind around random misfortune. It feels more fair.
God doesn’t let us keep each other anyway. Even if we could all be joined together in heaven for eternity there is no evidence that we will know each other. We will be like angels, and it only makes sense that we cannot be as we were before. But here on earth we are very much alive for as long as anyone remembers us. After that maybe it doesn’t matter. I’m not sure any one theory is more comforting than another when we only want to hold on to relationships.
I can’t call my sister or update her on my life. She can’t see me right now. But everything I knew about her still exists exactly the same as it did when she was here. Often it feels the same as before, she is just never standing in front of me. Do I wish she could see me? We like the idea that the departed can know the things we want them to know, but we don’t think through the logic part of that theory. And I can’t believe in something that doesn’t feel true.
Death is nothing in comparison to what got us here in the first place. That’s the real lottery. If we are living for this life there is more urgency to be better. The things that matter must matter now, because there is not a second chance. There are no magic words that undo our mistakes in preparation for the next life. There is only now. And we will remember those who have left us more sincerely, because we know that is the only way to keep them with us in a familiar way. Isn’t that what we really want?
So today as an anniversary reminds me of how fragile life is, I will remember one life in particular. And I will feel fortunate for every year going forward, because it means I can still hold on to that relationship for a little while longer.