I’ll have my pie right now please!

My Secular Humanist views on quality life now, not later

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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

Jay

Taking it one jellybean at a time

My Secular Humanist views on life and death

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Sometimes on those rare occasions when I have a little down time, I get a few laughs from television channels specializing in retro programs.  It can be a little interesting to step both feet onto memory lane and watch some of the programs that I enjoyed during different states of my life.  I shared this recently with an acquaintance recently who also chimed in with his own wish list of shows, one of which included the 80’s sitcom Gimme a Break.  I remembered that show well and for a very good reason.  First off, allow me to set up the show a bit for those who may not be familiar.  It was a show featuring Nell Carter as a live-in housekeeper and nanny to the three teen daughters of a Police Chief played by Dolph Sweet.  Both actors have been deceased for a number of years now.  But as I recalled sitting on the couch watching that program, there was one episode in particular which likely peeled back a layer to reveal the dormant Agnostic in me during my teenage years.

The episode was centered around the character Nell’s strained relationship to her dying father.  Later in the program, that situation became connected to the Police Chief’s youngest because of her fear that she would lose her own father to a work related death.  The scene which left a lasting impact on me occurred on the family’s porch between the daughter, Samantha, and her elderly grandfather during their heart-to-heart talk about death.  The grandfather fields the young girl’s questions about life and death and his advice is something that continues to resonate with me to this very day.  He explained that life should be lived to the fullest without the fear of dying.  That if we get so consumed with dying and what will happen at that time, we will miss out on the beauty of living.  He used her love for jellybeans as a teaching tool advising her to take time in order to savor the taste of each and every jellybean and all its individual flavors and sweetness especially when knowing that she only has a limited number of those delectable jellybeans.  And the result being, she would be consumed with enjoying those precious few jellybeans that she would no longer be afraid of running out of them.

Some may feel that I’m reading too much into this sweet innocent fictitious scene between an adolescent girl and her grandfather.  But for me, that porch scene perfectly captures my outlook on life and death.  For years, the fear of the afterlife was put into me by the church.  It began when I was in 11 years old and accompanied my mother to the funeral of a beloved choir member.  The minister’s words struck so much fear into me that I started to perseverate on the topic of death and the afterlife. Hellfire and brimstone messages can do that to a young impressionable boy.  So many years have gone by since I’ve seen that ultra cool scene from the Gimme a Break sitcom.  But as I continue to grow older, I’m no longer encumbered by the fear of not having enough time on this beautiful earth.  I try my best to live life savoring its sweetness of as many moments as I can.

I’ve never felt comfortable with the thought that life was meant to be lived  running toward a promise of the invisible dangling carrot called heaven.  I acknowledge that fairh works for some, however for me it falls short. For me, instead of living by faith, I would prefer to live by logic and reason.  I truly experience heaven right here on earth.  Such instances as savoring the refreshing spray of the Atlantic ocean on a beach in Key West was heaven to me.  Or the moment I felt standing atop a mountain in Estes Park taking in the exquisite panoramic view of Colorado.  I don’t hang my hopes on blind faith which assert that I will experience true pleasure in the afterlife nor do I place faith in a god that provides pleasures for me or smites me when I don’t live in a certain manner.

The opportunities for me to experience heaven increase with every sunrise.  Many who really know me, also know that I have a love for the ocean and everything tropical.  I also love to stand on the shores watching in awe as those who are so talented at surfing hit the waves putting on displays of sheer beauty, power and grace.  Although fitness is something that is still important to me, I would also imagine that being in my 50’s is a little late to take on such an activity.   However, for me the ship hasn’t completely sailed off into the sunset.  Instead of living in regret for the time that I did not learn to surf in my younger years, I am continuing to move forward by making plans to take lessons in standup paddle boarding this year.  My love for being on the water will be even more heightened as a result.  And it will be yet another instance of taking the time to savor the sweetness of each day.

As an Agnostic, I have particular beliefs about life and death.  That belief is that this life is all that we get.  That death is door which closes the chapter.  I’m not a believer in a celestial home or a place below where fires await us if we fail to obey guidelines as delineated in scriptures and stories.  Does this make me depressed?  Absolutely not.  Living life with the belief that this is all we get inspires me to live with a heightened sense of intentionality and mindfulness.  In empowers me to go beyond intrigue and instead savor the feeling of being out on the water with a community of others in the midst of beauty.  It shifts my priorities to take time to put mundane tasks aside to go hiking with my son or sipping a tasty Cosmo with my wife on the patio in the glow of the setting son.  So the writers of Gimme a Break did more than just elicit a few laughs with that jellybean episode.  It inspired me to live life with enjoyment and mindfulness, like savoring one jellybean at a time.

Until next time…Carpe Diem,

Jay