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Life Has No Meaning Without Death

Updated: Jan 28, 2022

As an atheist...well, that statement doesn’t really mean anything honestly. Since I came to the full realization that I don’t believe in any gods and don’t follow any type of religion, I have experienced all kinds of emotions and thoughts that started with thinking that atheists have all the answers, to atheists are more empathetic, to recently realizing that atheist literally only means one doesn’t believe in gods or religions and everything else is up in the air.

Seriously, you should see most atheist groups online and in person. I initially joined predominately white groups thinking that Black atheists were in short order. As outcasts to larger American society, I figured they would be more tolerant without religion fueling their hatred of ‘others’ like me. Nope! Turns out that large swaths of mostly white dudes really just think they’re the top of the heap no matter what. Then I found more Black atheist groups and what I figured were like-minded people. Surely these people were much more accepting, being outcasts to larger society AND larger Black religious circles. DOUBLE NOPE! Pervasive homophobia and Faux-Black Unity, which is really just exclusionary talk for the same old misogyny, but with Black people. What I’m saying in all of this is that the atheist label has a very narrow meaning and doesn’t put anyone in an upper echelon, myself included, especially when so many of us fall into the same ideologies as those who believe. No one has the monopoly on intelligent thought, even oppressive ones, and even plain stupid ones. We’re all just wandering around figuring shit out.

One question that seems to pop up for so many people on every side of their thoughts or beliefs is the meaning of life, as though it has a universal answer. We have countless religions, sub-classes, and genres of thought even within single groups. There is no singular meaning, as it’s literally impossible. However, there is one commonality with us all. Death. At some point, everyone currently alive will die. A child born today will die. We don’t know when, we unknowingly pass the day it will happen yearly, but we all know that the is coming. So what do we do with that information?

Living forever seems cool on the surface just because so many of us don’t want to die too soon or ‘before our time’. The thought of inevitable death is scary as shit sometimes, so we prolong it as long as humanly possible. I used to not want to die until I was about 120. I was born in 1982 so I wanted to at least get to an even 100. Then, I didn’t want to miss the next century if possible, which was only 18 years away, so why not make it there and then another year or two to round it out? But what I didn’t think about during this wishful period was...what the hell was I going to do with all of that time? I could absolutely be walking and doing normal things at 100, but the body decays and a lot of time towards the end might just be spent sleeping while missing my friends that died before me. Living that long means seeing everyone else...not. Everyone can’t make the journey with you, and I’m not sure if making friends is going to be as easy in my 90s. Hell, even my family probably won’t need me as much.

While I love the idea of being a mainstay in my family into old age like in plenty of foreign cultures, I can’t say that my family is seriously going to do that. I once had a job working for a Medicare insurance provider so I talked to a lot of seniors for a few years; some of who may not even be around anymore. I’ve heard them tell me some deeply depressing stories about how their lives started changing as they got older. Things like going from getting so much attention in their youth to feeling invisible as they’ve gotten into old age; feeling useless even though they’re still mobile, or worse, feeling useless because they need so much help.

All these years later, the call that has stuck with me the most came from this woman whose voice didn’t let on to how old she really was. She was fully aware of everything going on around her, she saw her kids and grandchildren from time to time, but these were few and far between. She told me she had accomplished lots of things in her life and while it wasn’t always the greatest, she didn’t have anything she was waiting to do...except die. She told me directly that she spends her days just waiting to die. She wasn’t going to kill herself and didn’t sound suicidal. It was more like she beat the clock in accomplishing things but now there was nothing else to do. Metaphorically speaking, all of the main missions and side quests in the game had been completed and she was sitting in her house waiting for someone to turn off the console. That conversation changed my life to the point I’m writing about it 9 years later. If I still wanted to live until 120 before that day, after that conversation, I was ready to check out comfortably in my 80s or 90s at the latest. Suddenly forever seemed like a bad idea.

So what I realized through all of this is that death is the punctuation mark that gives your life its own meaning. You cannot do more than what you started while you are here. You can have a legacy, kids, your actions, and money can help generations after you but you have to do those things while you’re alive. Your life is the meaning. That’s it. Everything said about you after you go is established while here. about it?

For me, I want to help. When I die, I want to be known as a helper. I want to help people pick out good music, I want to help inspire people to love, I want to help my kids to be the best people, I want to help people see that they can accomplish many things, I want to help, help, help, help, help. I want my accomplishments to be how I helped people and the world to be a little better and I can’t waste my little time here not helping. When I’m gone, I would like that word to be synonymous with my name. The end is the punctuation mark. The end of the book. Forever is a fallacy but also all that we have. Our own lifetime is our forever. So let’s give it meaning before we go.

“I gotta kick something that means something.” - The Pharcyde


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