As anyone who has read my blog can readily ascertain, I am not a religious person although I would not define myself as an atheist, since even that label implies a measure of certainty I can not claim.
I see no reason to believe in an After Life, at least not one in which I will exist as a conscious being. This lack of belief is not a choice on my part. Indeed, I would much rather believe, for I imagine it brings great comfort to those who do. Some of the people whom I most love and admire are Believers, and it would be presumptuous, even cruel -- not to mention pointless -- to challenge their faith. I once tried to explain this to a friend: how I envied her gift of faith! She sharply reprimanded me, explaining that faith was not a gift: rather, it was something a Christian had to work at. I've often thought about that; maybe she's right. But trying to convince myself that something I don't believe is true is like trying to pretend you're in love when you're not. I'm not willing to lie to myself or others in that way.
Yet, I try to keep my heart open to all possibilities.
When I look out upon the grass growing lushly, the daffodils and tulips blooming, I wish I were reminded of the Resurrection and the promise of Eternal Life. Instead, I find myself remembering my father's premature death twenty-five years ago. He died suddenly and unexpectedly the Saturday before Easter, and his death was so shocking and terrible to us that Easter has become an anniversary of this event, a day of remembrance and some sorrow for both my sisters and me. As the years pass, I am more inclined to contemplate the great gifts he gave me, the occasions of joy we shared, his wisdom and humor, but there is always a part of me that mourns his loss afresh on Easter Sunday.
And this Easter, I learn of the death of a friend, only a few years older than myself, and I am reminded of the ephemeral nature of life. This is a woman who I thought would live to be very, very old. Both her parents had lived well into their nineties, and she seemed cut from the same enduring Norwegian peasant stock. But more than that, I have never known anyone who had more zest for life than she. I have never known anyone who laughed as much, gave as generously, took more pleasure from this world. How could death defeat her unassailable energy and boundless cheer? I used to gently mock her, call her goofy and giddy, but honestly? I was always a bit envious of her capacity for joy.
It really seems impossible that we will never meet with her again in some cafe, to be regaled with tales of her latest adventures or admire her latest thrift shop acquisitions.
What kind of woman was she? She was the kind of woman who wore unusual hats, and carried a handbag with a clock embedded in it (because she was chronically late). She made krumkakke every Christmas. She hired a belly dancer to entertain her guests at her sixtieth birthday party. She spent every penny she had (never much) and dealt with her lack of medical insurance by cheerfully resolving never to get sick. She had a series of (scandalously) younger beaus, and then settled down with a much older one -- who died in her arms.
Tonight some friends and I will gather, a sort of informal wake I expect, and reminisce. I will probably drink too much wine and I am sure that I will cry. I will try to take comfort in the fact that she spent the last two years of her life with the people she loved most, and lived long enough to hold her only grandchild. I will try to learn from her example how to embrace the life I have, and not to squander another moment of whatever precious time is left -- be it counted in hours, weeks, or years -- in misery or despair.