A History of Doubt Part 2 / 3: Rage Against the Dying of the Light

“Do not go gentle into that good night. Rage, rage against the dying of the light!” – Dylan Thomas

If you read my previous piece, “A History of Doubt Part 1: Secrets,” you know I have been struggling with my faith since the age of nine. I actually had a breakdown in middle school over my lack of belief in the afterlife. I started crying by my friend’s locker, and with a minute to go before the bell rang, I asked her, “What do you think happens after death?”

With a shrug, she said, “I’ve never really thought about it.”

The bell rang, and she headed off to class, leaving me in tears. While I wish she had had more compassion, I guess it is normal for 12 year-olds to be preoccupied with things like grades, friends, crushes… After talking with the rest of my friends, I realized I was the only one obsessed with death and the afterlife. I felt so alone.

23 years later, I still have doubts, I still wonder if I am alone, so I decided to continue my survey of loved ones. I told them that I am terrified of dying, and I asked what they think happens after death. The results are below…

Dad, Christian – “If there is nothing after death, it would be like going into a deep sleep, and you would not know anything, so that is nothing to fear. I don’t know or pretend to know what lies in death. However, the term, rest in peace seems very appropriate. For the most part, I envision it as a peaceful sleep.”

Husband Evan, Agnostic – “I don’t know what happens after death, but I know we’ll be together.”

Anonymous, Wiccan – “We believe in Summerland, a beautiful place where it’s every summer that ever was. Every person that has ever touched you is there with you, and there’s no judgment.”

Best friend Melissa, Atheist – “I’m not afraid of death at all, because death to me is the absence of suffering. In my job as a veterinarian I think of it this way – we offer death as a gift, a relief. I am afraid of the end of life, of pain and regret and loneliness. But as an atheist, I don’t *not* believe in something after life, I just don’t believe in the God and heaven narrative specifically. It seems plausible that all of time and matter and consciousness is like a big continuous ocean, and things just shift but never disappear. I don’t think that our consciousness disappears when we die, I think it just returns to the collective. I think we’ll all always be together, that this separation we feel in life is mostly an illusion”

Anonymous, Agnostic – “I want to believe in an afterlife, but I don’t. I am terrified of dying. I can barely stand to think of it as a reality.”

Uncle Bob, Buddhist – “What happens to you? For me the key word is you. Who are you? What are you? There is no you. There is no you as a separate existing entity. I like to think of the ocean. The waves arise and return to the ocean but are never separate. Yet each is unique, formed by particular consequences that are the results of action upon consequence upon action upon consequence ad infinitum. Each is not separate from the ocean and returns to its original nature. Now words fail. Now concepts fail. Now thought fails. Because one whole is giving rise to a “uniqueness” that is not separate from the whole that is at the same time the whole. As Bodhidharma was asked, “Who stands before me?” As Bodhidharma answered, “I do not know.” Rachel, you are therefore I am.”

* I can’t post comments or reply to them, but I can read them and I love them. Keep writing. If you have fond memories of Rachel as a teacher in her life before ALS, or if a post on this blog has ever moved you, please consider making a contribution through Friends of Rachel.

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One thought on “A History of Doubt Part 2 / 3: Rage Against the Dying of the Light

  1. Hannah says:

    Rachel, I have seen and felt God do too much in my life to not believe that he is real, the Bible is true, and that Heaven and Hell both exist. I recently heard such an interesting theory though, regardless of where you currently stand. It’s called Pascal’s theory. He says this:

    -If you believe in God and he does exist, you are rewarded with an eternity in heaven (according to Christianity at least).

    -If you believe in God and he doesn’t exist, you gain nothing but also suffer no penalty.

    -Likewise, if you don’t believe in God and he doesn’t exist, you gain nothing but suffer no penalty.

    -However, if you don’t believe in God and he does exist, you will suffer eternal torment and damnation.

    It was an interesting way of lying out the various options I thought, and gave me much to think about. I hope that you find the peace that you so deeply seek, sweet girl.


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