One thing that I’ve noticed since I realized that there’s probably no life after death is that I place a much higher value on my current life. This is probably all I get, so I want to stick around for as long as possible.
I find that whenever I get into a car now I go on high alert. I’m such a backseat driver, my heart starts pounding whenever I go through an intersection (I’ve been hit twice already be red light runners), and when I’m driving I don’t take any risks, not even speeding slightly. I suppose this is a good thing, you can’t be too careful, but I’m always exhausted after a drive because my heart’s been pounding and my life has been flashing before my eyes.
I also get a lot more emotional about other peoples’ deaths. I have a hard time watching the news or any kind of special about 9/11 or earthquakes or warfare, because I’m always holding back the tears. Life is such a precious thing, and I wish more people understood that this is all we get. I think life would be apreciated more.
If you’re an atheist reading this, how do you cope with the stresses of trying to hang on to and make the best of the one life that you’re given?
I don’t do so well with coping, but I recently came across something that Richard Dawkins wrote that makes me feel lucky to have been alive at all:
We are going to die, and that makes us the lucky ones. Most people are never going to die because they are never going to be born. The potential people who could have been here in my place but who will in fact never see the light of day outnumber the sand grains of Arabia. Certainly those unborn ghosts include greater poets than Keats, scientists greater than Newton. We know this because the set of possible people allowed by our DNA so massively exceeds the set of actual people. In the teeth of these stupefying odds it is you and I, in our ordinariness, that are here.
After sleeping through a hundred million centuries we have finally opened our eyes on a sumptuous planet, sparkling with colour, bountiful with life. Within decades we must close our eyes again. Isn’t it a noble, an enlightened way of spending our brief time in the sun, to work at understanding the universe and how we have come to wake up in it? This is how I answer when I am asked — as I am surprisingly often — why I bother to get up in the mornings. To put it the other way round, isn’t it sad to go to your grave without ever wondering why you were born? Who, with such a thought, would not spring from bed, eager to resume discovering the world and rejoicing to be a part of it?
I encourage you to read the whole thing, here, it really is beautiful.