Today as I was driving to work, I wanted a little variation from just my preset radio stations. So I decided to hit the Autoscan feature to get a little sampling of each station in the area. It played a few seconds of varying stations from hip hop to smooth jazz and in between. But then something caught my attention. What I initially thought was a talk show, turned out to be a radio evangelist sharing his thoughts on the reward of heaven all while using quirky culinary metaphors to convey his point. I’m not one to actively seek out evangelist programs by any means, however the Autoscan lingered just long enough for me to find some element of entertainment in his message. The point that he was trying to drive home was about the importance of taking earthly life as it comes with both the pleasures and the hardships, fully understanding that at the end of it all, the real pleasures would await us on the other side. That life was like sitting at the dinner table, not only enjoying the steak and potatoes, but also the less desirable Brussels sprouts. And if we did a good job with our dinner, the reward would come in the form of that succulent, buttery crusted cherry pie! It was also interesting to hear the minister posit his rather absolutist assertions about what to exactly expect in heaven. In doing so, he even went as far as saying that the foods that we love so much on earth are guaranteed to taste ten times better in heaven. This man was literally laying out the pie-in-the-sky system of beliefs!
Of course any time spent on the topic of beliefs about the afterlife by religious zealots would certainly be incomplete without mentioning their absolute assurance that upon death we are also guaranteed to be reunited with our loved ones who have preceded us in death. And as I anticipated, the radio evangelist shifted from his talk about the buffet of sweet delicacies in heaven to the moments when we will rejoice greatly by grabbing the hands of our deceased loved ones and engaging in a joy filled celestial dance.
On the surface, for people who are struggling with grief and closure, this belief system brings with it a sense of comfort to assert that their loved ones are waiting patiently for them on the other side. I respect that people will utilize this belief in order to return to some sense of normalcy in the aftermath of loss or tragedy. I would be lying if I said that I was not devastated to sit at my parents’ hospital bedsides as they took their final breaths. I would also be lying if I said that I did not experience shock and grief at losing friends in auto accidents and other untimely, undignified ways of dying. I fully admit that while I was in the throes of those devastating experiences, I too entertained the thought that I would be reunited with them again in an afterlife. The truth of the matter is, however, there was always that part of my consciousness where doubt, logic, and reasoning lived and breathed that questioned such beliefs. And in retrospect, if I had to assess where I was during that particular time, the false sense of comfort that I found in visiting such beliefs were undoubtedly the result of my being racked with grief and insecurities.
Of course, losing loved ones is devastating, humbling, and heartbreaking. Quite honestly, there are times when I still miss my parents, my sister, and a host of friends who have died over the years. But I don’t feel as if I have to wait until I die to be reunited with my deceased loved ones. I’ve learned effective ways that I can be reunited with them in the here and now. I’m reunited with my mother each time I see pictures of her smiling face or whenever I hear her favorite Nat King Cole songs pouring through the speakers of my home at the holidays. Memories of my dad crystalize in my mind each time I hear a broadcast of his favorite team, the Chicago Cubs or whenever I strap on my electric guitar and strike up a blues lick that he loved to hear me play. I am reunited with my sister whenever I hear Motown classics playing on the radio. And each time, I feel joy, peace, and smiles. While I often wished that I’d had more time with them, I steep myself in gratitude for the time that we did share together..
Aside from the topic of our deceased loved ones, I also think about what these belief systems are implying about life in the here and now. I’ve grown up around this belief system of the heavenly reward. As far back as I can remember I’ve always had troubles with the thought of being so preoccupied with that suggested “other world” past the pearly gates, that I would not fully enjoy all that life has to offer me in the here and now. I remember many times sitting in church with those same old internal cringing moments as choirs would heartily sing, “I’m going up yonder to be with my Lord.” I could be wrong, however my understanding of going up yonder meant that dying had to occur in order to get there. But I also fully acknowledge the horrific history behind many songs such as these. They were sang by oppressed people who, because the decks of their world around them were stacked against them, the only solace that they could muster was the belief in a beautiful reality of freedom through death. But there are still others who continue on with the belief that despite any worldly challenges or pleasures, no pleasure is comparable to the ones that will be experienced when the earthly life ends.
As odd as this may sound coming from an unapologetic Agnostic, I try to respect that there are others like the radio evangelist whose broad smiles are in anticipation and confidence of what they believe is yet to come at the end of their lives. If this gives them the moral compass that inspires them to do good for others, then good for them. But I can still be respectful of their beliefs without compromising my own un-beliefs. My biggest contention is when members of this population place non-theists in the crosshairs of their overarching judgment and condemnation.
As for me, I’m content with striving to live a full life, savoring all of life’s beauty, interesting people, and amazing memory making moments as much as I can without envisioning something even sweeter on the other side of my last breath. Some people find inspiration in bible verses, I find it in the arts and song lyrics. So in relation to this whole concept of a reward in the afterlife, I couldn’t help but to turn to the very relatable lyrics from Jimmy Cliff’s reggae classic, The Harder They Come.
Well the tell me of a pie up in the sky
Waiting for me when I die
But between the day you’re born and when you die
They never seem to hear even your cry
So as sure as the sun will shine
I’m going to get my share now of what’s mine
These words perfectly capture what I feel in regards to living a fulfilling life in the here and now in stark contrast to the beliefs that surrounded me growing up. Maybe I have a problem with delayed gratification, but I simply cannot place my hopes in things that I cannot see, hear, touch, nor prove. I will make the most of the time that I have with my loved ones without the belief that when it’s all said and done, the real joy is when we’ll ultimately be reunited in a place called heaven. That being the case, I will savor true quality time with my family and friends as often as I can.
So I will NOT wait until the day I die to have my slice of pie. I’ll take have it right now, thank you very much. And being the island lover that I am, make mine coconut Key Lime please.
Til next time, Carpe’ Diem