On a sunny day in Savannah, Georgia, a group of English majors from Andrews University sat down to have breakfast. We were hot off a conference hosted by the Sigma Tau Delta, the English Honor Society, and feeling a little like rock stars. We represented our school well, made friends, raised hell, and some of us had even won awards.
The one thing that I remember from breakfast that morning was Charlie’s duck waffle. Before looking at the menu, I’m not sure I even knew that was a thing, just as I was surprised to find that shrimp and grits was a thing in Savannah (the loveliest thing, by the way.) Charlie ordered it, and true to form, it was duck served on top of a waffle. The glow and ecstasy on Charlie’s face before, during, and after his meal rivaled that of a child winning a trip to the moon. He ate with an almost worshipful fervor, so as to not waste this opportunity.
And when he was done, he only had one thing to say. With his tone drifting downwards, and sighs slipping out of his nose, he said,
This was in my life, and now it’s not.
What Charlie expressed that day is a hard truth that everyone has to learn at some point in their lives: Everything ends. Eventually kids figure out that their favorite pet didn’t go to a lovely farm, after all. It’s all around us. We see the seasons change and the trees die. Or we have a great time at summer camp and we leave. Some kids even have the misfortune of having a parent leave, and they learn sooner than the others.
The point is that everyone puts this premium on time, because even though it’s rapidly speeding away from us, it’s one of the only things that we’re sure of. We’re sure that time means age and that we will die someday. And this brings us to the single reason, I believe, that religion is and has been so popular, and will continue to be long after I write these words: the fear of death.
I think that people die. People need energy to run, and nothing has infinite energy, so eventually it runs out and they die. Put more eloquently, “This was in my life, now it’s not.” They were here, and then they weren’t. It doesn’t seem particularly complicated, and indeed it does seem that that’s the way the world works. It may not sound very grand or flashy, but it’s the truth.
And for anyone saying, “Well, now that you’ve made a positive claim, you have to defend it!”, I would be happy to. There is really practical evidence that people don’t raise from the dead, cities don’t churn up in fire from heaven, and that nothing survives death. I’m not really the one on shaky ground here saying those things don’t happen.
I know it can be daunting to come to grips with your own mortality, but maybe we could treat it differently.
But Christianity has thrived because it cleverly promises some way around this, some cheat code, some way to avoid Charlie’s lesson. It’s a difficult lesson, but it’s not an excuse to live in a fairy tale, nor is it an excuse to lie to our children who depend on us for accurate portrayals of the world.
I know it can be daunting to come to grips with your own mortality, but maybe we could treat it differently. Our lives may not last forever, but they still have enormous value. After all, Charlie did have the faintest smile on his lips as he thought about the expired duck waffle, because even though it was gone, he knew just how sweet it had been.
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