Reader Jennifer offers today’s submission:
…I am able to truly appreciate my marriage. It’s not foreordained that I love my husband, which means that every minute I spend with him is a conscious choice to invest time and love and energy in this relationship. I don’t feel like I’m failing God when I fail to do my part to maintain the relationship; instead, I just recognize that it’s a failure on my part to put in the work necessary to sustain this choice that makes me so happy, and I fix it. I don’t get complacent about it because, again, it’s a choice, and it takes work. We’ve only been together a few years, and we are a good enough fit that it hasn’t felt like work yet, but in the more difficult moments we’ve had I have reveled in the fact that no, I am staying *here* because it is what *I* want, and that he is doing the same, because we love and value one another, not because we feel like we have to. It’s glorious.
I’m also more amazed at my children, and I wonder more what impact they will have on the world, because that’s the only way that I will live on: through teaching my values to other people. I’m fascinated by watching my daughter grow into this compassionate, articulate little person who is going to grow up to be a big, fierce, empathetic, brilliant adult, and who will hopefully be better than me. I don’t need an afterlife if I have that (although I’m not getting an afterlife anyway). I may end up with a book or something anyway, but I want to live on through what I can do for other people, and my children are one of the most at-hand ways to do so.
As a note, I’m not saying these things to push marriage and kids; other people find meaning in different areas, and if I talked about music and how I find transcendence in nature and literature then we’d be here all day. I’m just amazed at the connections that we’re able to form with other people, and with the universe in general, and at the fact that all of that is a product of chemicals firing off in our heads rather than of some divine hand reaching down and making it so. I’m in absolute awe of what simple chemicals can do, and my life is vastly better and happier for the recognition of it.
I’ll also say that it takes a lot of pressure off to think about the vastness of time. Eventually everything is going to end, and things that seem huge and traumatic to me seem less so when I realize what a blink of an eye my lifetime is. Feeling small in comparison to the universe–not in the sense that Neil deGrasse Tyson details in his amazing Cosmic Sermon, but in the sense that I am legitimately very small in terms of size and lifespan–permits me to put things into proportion. I’m a lot more at peace now than I was before.
I do not think that atheism is absolutely necessary to any of these things, but it was for me and I would not be surprised if it was for most people.
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