At what age did you realize you were not immortal? How did you react to that discovery?
My father’s death when I was 14 was certainly a life-changer, and my head had to wrap itself around death. According to my religion, I believed he went to heaven. We were a fairly religious family, and I did have the opportunity to ask questions and think out loud with church friends and the pastor. (There were, however, some murmurs from a few people, even in the 1960’s, that someone who committed suicide shouldn’t have a Christian funeral and burial. I thought those ideas had passed centuries ago.)
A few years later when I went off to college, I began to be more serious and took classes in religion and philosophy in an effort, I think, to find more answers about faith fact and fiction. What I learned intellectually didn’t necessary help spiritually, and after I went to Scotland in 1967 for University (staying until 1970), I stopped going to church, but I did do a lot of thinking about life and death and my place in the universe.
I remember discussing some of my issues and ideas with my roommate, and gave her the creeps sometimes, because by that time, I fully realized that I was immortal. That sensation of KNOWING that I would die was almost physical, running down through my core. It was like my stomach dropped to the floor, and I was filled with panic. I used to wake up crying and panic stricken with the knowledge. This happened for at least a decade, though only from time to time.
I don’t know when the panic turned to acceptance; perhaps just age and experience have shown me that death is real and happens to people all the time. It is a fact of life!
I have not returned to a religion, but have an unshakeable belief in my high power, whom I call God, and believe in eternal life. I have given up trying to figure out what will happen to me when I die, where I will “go”, but I have faith that I will move on into another kind of existence. I am unable to accept that our lives just end; the life experiences I have gained, the problems I have overcome, the grief I have felt, the joy, happiness, and love I have experienced cannot be useless. Life is a journey, and when one tries to live it fully, morally, compassionately, one has grown and learned a lot, intellectually and more importantly spiritually.
I am sympathetic to any religion which seeks to engender goodness and justice, fairness and unconditional love for one’s fellow human beings. I just can’t accept that one religion is “right” and another “wrong”. They are many pathways to God. I like the closeness I feel to my higher power and depend on that closeness to direct my actions and help me make decisions. As long as I am alive, it is my job to live life to the fullest, and to the best of my ability. Mistakes will be made, and lessons will be learned, but there will always be forward progress.