Why live?



When I was growing up, there was an elderly woman down the street from us who was an atheist. My mom used to remark that it seemed so depressing to think that after you die, that's just it. You're gone, and there's nothing else to look forward to. I agreed unquestioningly for many years, until my apostasy forced me to confront the finality of death.

Nowadays, I actually feel it's the other way around – to me, it's depressing to think that this world isn't enough. That we can't be satisfied with nature's strange beauty or the complex nature of our human experiences – happiness, suffering, pain, love. That we have to imagine that the uncomfortable parts of our humanity will be stripped away in a world to come, as though that would really be some sort of utopian existence – it sounds more like a lobotomy to me.

Eastern philosophy played a big role in my deconversion. While in the West we tend to treat suffering and unhappiness with great fear and loathing, in Eastern philosophies such experiences are viewed as an essential part of our humanity. Last year, I'd been in a relationship I thought could be the one, but it ended suddenly and impersonally. I was devastated. The first few weeks I was overwhelmed with a sadness like I'd never felt, and the pain seemed insurmountable. But in time, I got through it – I learned, grew, and became a better person for the experience. I only hurt so badly because I'd been so much in love, and I knew that I would do everything again, even if I knew how it all would end. Hell, it even inspired me to write poetry, which I hadn't done in a bajillion years. As Deepak Chopra said on the Colbert Report, there is no creative impulse in the absence of discontent.

When I was shedding my religious skin, I was for a time very fearful about how I would find a sense of meaning in my life or how I would face death. My whole life, those ideas had been spoon-fed to me. But I soon realized that little had changed; in fact, I had always found my own sense of meaning – I just didn't recognize it as my own. It's not as though there is objective data telling us precisely what the point of it all really is, and trying to escape the question by placing it on religion just creates an infinite regress.

Today I woke up, and my cat jumped on the bed and gave me lots of affection. I'm going to practice guitar, hit the gym, finish a foreword to a book, and write thank-you notes to clients who gave generously to me over the holidays. My parents are coming home from a vacation, so I've been taking care of the family rabbit (one of my favorite jobs) and I'll head back to their place tonight for dinner with them (it's nice when your family is close). There's even a new someone in my life, who texted me in the middle of the night just to let me know she was thinking about me. Without life's trials, I wouldn't appreciate all these things that make me feel so incredibly lucky. That's why I got out of bed today.

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