I grew up as a pretty observant Catholic. We attended church nearly every Sunday, often even when we were out of town (much to my great frustration, usually). We said prayers before dinner, I could recite all the prayers from mass in my sleep and occasionally basically did. I was comfortable in the Church, until one day when I was not. These details are relatively unimportant and my reasons for leaving behind Catholicism are complicated, but they were important to me and the short version of the story is that I’m no longer Catholic.
These days, I don’t really identify as anything. My child will be raised as a Jew, like his father and his father’s family. He will be welcome to observe whatever religion he wants to when he is older, but he will be raised in Judaism. I love Judaism and would some day like to be considered a member of that religion (since I am not technically in any way part of the cultural part of it), but for now, I’m…nothing. And lately I’m finding this troubling.
I’ve been having big thoughts. Big thoughts that make me feel very small. The meteor that hit Russia has kind of pushed me over the edge a bit, but probably not in the way that you’re thinking. When I read that there are fragments in space that are hundreds of light years away and hundreds of thousands of miles from earth, I feel small. It sets off this cascade of thoughts. I begin to think about how humanity has existed for thousands of years. For millennia people have roamed this earth and then they have died on it. They just ceased to exist.
It’s not that I never considered that some day I would die. It’s not that I’m having anxiety attacks at the thought of it (well fine, I am, but that’s unrelated to this particular conversation), it’s that I find what happens next to be worrisome. I was raised in a religion that had an easy and simple answer to life after death- heaven, hell, purgatory. The end. I just believed it because I was told it was the truth. And since leaving the church, my faith has wavered.
I want desperately to believe in an afterlife. I find the idea of taking my last breath on this earth and that being the true end to be breathtakingly scary.
I don’t understand how a soul can simply stop existing. I don’t understand how that happens. I cannot fathom it in my small mind. I get that I will die, but what will I feel? I know this sounds terribly self-involved, but how do I know that the world even continues on after me? When I take my last breath will I simply fail to feel anything?
This is not sounding quite the way it does in my head, but I’m having trouble processing what I think happens after death. I feel like the stakes of the belief processes here are so high because this is eternity that we’re thinking about. Because the idea of not existing is so incomprehensible to me that I feel like I must believe in something more. Like I have to believe in an afterlife just to quell my fears.
I was speaking with my husband about it last night even though he isn’t a terribly religious guy. He’s rather unsure of his beliefs, but he’s not one to ponder troubling things (a life skill I wish I had). I think ultimately I realized that I would rather believe and be wrong when there’s nothing more to do, than not believe and be either wrong or right. Because not believing comes with facing this fear every day and believing means having hope of something more.
The bottom line of this is for me is that I need guidance. I am a person who needs religion. I need communities of people to help me feel more secure in my beliefs, to help me feel like I’m not alone in my fears and rituals. I cannot continue to try to wade through life without a compass the way I have the past several years. Yes, going to temple on Friday nights is an inconvenience. The closest one is more than 30 minutes away, without traffic. Packing all our stuff and the baby will be a pain. Dealing with said squirmy baby will be a pain. But I think I need it. I think my soul needs more than what I’m giving it right now. And I think that I will be happier for it.
I may not find all the answers for what I’m looking for, or ever feel completely secure in what I believe, but I need to believe something because facing the future without faith is harder than I ever imagined.