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Any minute now, my grandfather will die of lung cancer.
It hasn't been a long battle. In fact, he was diagnosed a little more than a month ago. In a way, I'm glad he didn't suffer long. He's already suffered enough losing his wife, my grandmother, almost two years ago.
This will be my first time experiencing the death of a loved one as an atheist. Two years ago when my grandmother died, I was still in the questioning phase. I thought, "Maybe she is in some sort of conscious afterlife." I didn't know, and I even though I tried to convince myself that I was fine not knowing, I was really uneasy.
Now I know. And I've made peace with that.
A few days ago, my mother asked me what gives me hope in times like these. I immediately thought of this quote from Richard Dawkins:
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.We privileged few, who won the lottery of birth against all odds, how dare we whine at our inevitable return to that prior state from which the vast majority have never stirred?
And that's what gives me hope: I am alive right now. I, we, the entire human race--we all beat the odds to get here. Our pre-human ancestors survived the asteroid that killed the dinosaurs. We adapted and evolved while millions of other species became extinct. Our brains developed so that we can explore our world, define ourselves, and, most importantly, create something beautiful. Some of our mothers had miscarriages before we were born. We are the lucky ones, because we are here. Right now. You and I.
Most people think atheists have a very nihilistic view of life. "We're all going to die, and there's no divine plan, so what's the point?" I used to think that, but now I see secularism as a life-affirming philosophy. We're here just for a short time, so let's be thankful that we have this golden opportunity to live right now.
"And one day we will die
and our ashes will fly
from the aeroplane over the sea
But for now we are young
Let us lay in the sun
and count every beautiful thing we can see"--Neutral Milk Hotel