They say “There are no atheists in foxholes.” Within shouting distance of my 70th birthday, I find myself gaping up from the darkness of a foxhole deeper than an asteroid crater.
Accordingly, I’ve changed my mind on an afterlife. I’m a believer now.
A re-believer, actually. This is my second go-round. The first died away. Based on a religious upbringing, it lived more on fear than faith. Some religions knew long ago what the Rev. Karl Rove would preach decades later: If you want people to do your bidding, scare the hell out of them.
Or into them, as the case may be. From the onset of my religious schooling in first grade, the potential eternal landing strips for my immortal soul lay before me in vivid contrast. One, heaven, where all the candy I could eat beckoned me (the hook changed as I got older). The other, hell, where the candy would sit just beyond my stretching fingertips while tongues of fire licked my body with searing flames of pain. Forever. And I’m fair-skinned.
For their coup de grace, they convinced me only people who followed their religion could enter heaven, so shopping around for a more lenient faith would be playing with fire. Pun intended. They made me afraid of the dark, then blinded me. Diabolical.
Shortly after high school graduation on June 6, 1968, a newfound ability to think for myself swept away my belief in God and an after-life like dust in a windstorm. It happened on June 7, 1968.
Why a Re-Believer?
Fast-forward to now, why a re-believer? A revelation from above? Spiritual contact from a dead relative? No, nothing so banal. My epiphany came via BankAmerica, in the mail, nestled among an Ollie’s circular, two bills and a misdirected letter for the very odd people next door. It happened when I saw the expiration date on my new Visa card and realized I could very well expire before it did.
And what then? Nothing? Just pffft? You got it. All-encompassing, mind-numbing, depressing, chilling, good old-fashioned fear made me a re-believer. The same damn thing that made me a believer in the first place. It’s the circle of life.
Unlike the first go-round, though, I refused to let fear bully me into believing. I needed an indisputable truth on which to base my conversion and make it last this time. I found it, of course. Excuse the oncoming double negative, but my two-part rationale went like this:
- I don’t believe in life after death because I can’t understand how it could be possible.
- I don’t understand how a lot of things could be possible but they clearly are. Stonehenge, for one. Black holes. Hammerhead sharks.
Voila! The votive candle burned again.
And my re-belief has been transformational, to say the least. Pre-re-belief I cowered in fear of death. (Although a quick heart attack would have come in handy the time I used the expression “fat chance” in conversation with a fat guy named Chance.) Sadly, mine was a cautious, dull existence. The most excitement I got was feeling my laxative starting to work.
Post-re-belief, unfazed by death and eager to flaunt my shatterproof courage, the way a bodybuilder loves to flex his muscles, I resisted as long as possible. Matt Dillon never twirled his six-gun. As usual, though, temptation ultimately won the day.
The chorus of admiring “oohs” and “ahhs” from fellow pedestrians after breaking through their ranks to cross against the light in New York City traffic hooked me on the attention. I became a daredevil and changed my middle name to Danger.
I began to seek out and stand on brinks. Skate on thin ice. Leap, then look. Take uncalculated risks. Hazard a guess. I made certain to accumulate only a little knowledge about any subject.
In an airplane on a skydiving adventure, the instructor had to talk me into wearing a parachute. I argued the point obstinately and thought I saw him wavering for a second.
I’ve incorporated this fearlessness into health decisions and have taken up cigarettes. I’ve not only added trans fats to my diet, but I’ve also made them the principal component. My family doctor says I’m doing my best to kill myself. I haven’t admitted it to him but I am.
I need to go before this trance inevitably wears off and I relapse into the dreary, fright-filled life of a re-nonbeliever.
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