I didn’t stop fearing death until I became an atheist.
That sounds like an infinitely braver statement than it actually it. I have no intention of becoming a daredevil, risking my life by performing death-defying stunts. And there are many things around death that fear me. I fear pain, disfigurement, disability and any pain (emotional otherwise) I might cause to my family or friends.
But death itself? Not so much.
Why have I been thinking about this? Well, I’ll be going under the knife in a little under a week. It’s not a very dangerous surgery, but any procedure carries with it a certain amount of risk. So naturally death is on my mind a bit.
But death lost it’s power to terrify me when I realized that it was nothing. There are no demons and devil-spawn waiting to torture me in an eternal hell. There is not eternal paradise. There is no ultimate transcendence to a higher being, another planet, or reincarnation.
When I die (which hopefully won’t be happening next week) my body and brain will stop functioning and I will cease to exist in any meaningful way. Since I will be asleep under anesthesia, presumably dreamless, if I happen to die I will probably not even realize it. My mind will shut down and I will slip into nothingness, as hard as it is to wrap my still-thinking mind around such a concept.
The other place I derive comfort is from the simple fact that there will be nothing I can do once the surgery is going on to change anything. I will be unconscious, and it is up to the surgeon and doctors and nurses to see me through. Much like when I board a plane, when I know that there’s nothing I can do if the plane starts to crash.
The Christians (particularly the Christian Alcoholics Annonymous) almost got it right. You must achieve the serenity to accept the things you cannot change. No god can give you that serenity, particularly the kind that threatens to burn you for all time if you don’t believe in it.
I think I may have achieved that serenity. But don’t get comfy, because I still plan on being back next week.