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1.20.2012

Would you want to live forever, Grampy?


Last night, I tucked Kit into bed for the first time since my surgery. We hadn’t talked about cancer yet and it was time. The big question on his mind was: “If you could, wouldn’t you want to live forever?”

That is, to say the least, one of the most important questions from the lips of man since we first sparked to self awareness so many millions of years ago. That is: why do we only live so long and why not forever? Big stuff from a ten year old.

I am not a religious man. While I recognize that 93% of humans on Earth do, I do not believe in an afterlife, or God. I do not believe in eternal redemption or rewards to come should we behave well here on Earth. I believe we must make of ourselves what we have here and answer for it here as well. I can’t tell you if that’s right or wrong but it is where I stand on the big questions and it is where my strength and faith in human nature, good and bad, come from.

Now a ten year old has just asked me if I would want to live forever, or if his grandfather, who now has what is universally accepted as a deadly disease, is mortal and could be lost forever.

Conundrum: should I make something up to comfort him or do I try and share the strength of my convictions in the hope that it will give him strength? It would be so easy to say there is a heaven and we will all go meet there later and be happy and never worry and so forth. But I don’t believe it. If you truly do believe it, you have every right and obligation to share it. But if you don’t? Should you spread it anyway because it might make him feel better tonight?

Let me make my argument in three basic points, your honor. First off, I don’t lie. Can I tell him what I don’t believe?
“Lie, milord?” says the opposing counsel. “My learned opponent has said in past blogs that while he doesn’t believe in God, neither does he deny the existence of the Deity. Therefore, it would be no lie for him to tell the child what might be at least considered ‘an alternate view to his own. That is no lie.”

Okay, I counter, that may be but if I give him both sides, it might only serve to confuse him. But moving on to my second point, your honor, I draw comfort in knowing life comes to an end. Death is part of life and without it life wouldn’t be so sweet or important to us. This is important to me and would rub the grain badly should I attempt to advocate something I don’t believe.
“Surely,” speaks my learned opponent, “you don’t suggest that you burden a young boy who is merely worried about his own and his grandfather’s mortality, that you tangle him a complex argument that will leave him unsatisfied, confused and possibly still frightened? Especially as he just lost his maternal grandmother weeks before and worries about what has become of her immortal soul. You mentioned that over 90% of human beings follow a religious path in life. Perhaps it is so, not only because it may just be true, but because it is the most tangible way for us to understand and accept our own deaths.”

I contend, sir, that the 90 some percent look to faith to quell their fear of the unknown and the unknowable. There may be a point to that but when faced with such things in life we all need something to give us strength. Which brings me to my third point, Your Honor. These boys don’t believe in God or Jesus Christ, nor have they been taught consistently about it through their lives. Only last month Kit thought that Christmas was to celebrate Christ’s death - and even then he couldn’t say who Jesus Christ was. So why fall back on religion with boys who have had but a spattering of it in their lives so far? Shouldn’t they find strength in other ways rather than tell them a mishmash of religious concepts that they have never learned the underpinnings of? Why bolster their insecurities through some hope that they have an unprovable immortality in a religion they have absolutely no understanding of or faith in?
“My colleague seeks to muddy the waters by giving these children the rationale of adults,” said counsel for the defense of faith. “Faith is not something you find under the couch nor is it something you learn through church. You feel it. You seek it out, even if you never enter a chapel your whole life. A church is the college that teaches you how. In itself it doesn’t supply you with faith. In fact, it is when we need it most that we find our faith. Faith requires no proof of fact. Otherwise it would be fact and not faith. So it is in moments like these that we can best teach children to have faith and to believe in an afterlife and redemption so that they may have comfort when tragedy and disaster do strike later in life when, perhaps, they have no one but their faith to turn to.”

Arguments were closed and I turned back to Kit’s eager face.

Well, my readers, I’ll post tomorrow how I handled this well balanced anvil on a pin. In the meantime, what say you? Would you like to weigh in with some comments about how you might talk to Kit about this fundamental question? I’d love to hear your ideas.