I remember growing up more or less scared shitless about hell. I imagined this awful place to which I’d certainly be condemned for 1/ jerking off too much 2/ lusting after Gina So-and-So at Bible study 3/ stealing quarters out of the bottle in the living room (which curiously contained a frustrating majority of pennies) to head to the video arcade with 4/ lying about the jerking off 5/ perhaps choosing the wrong god between the protestant one, the catholic one, the islamic one, the buddhist one…so I was a little anxious. And then, when I thought deeper about it, it was more the fear of NOT EXISTING that flipped me out. Like peering over the edge of the abyss, that stomach-crushing feeling when in the downhill bit of a roller coaster, that vertigo would literally keep me awake semi-terrified. As an adult, I suppose I have stoically accepted life’s ultimate absurdity, but haven’t figured out how to explain that to a child.
My son is 5 years old and like most boys, crazy about fighting, Ninjago, castles, battles, Star Wars. Naturally, the concept of death appears in the role play, but I thought it would be more of a “he can’t play anymore” kind of thing. Actually, even at 5, it is already felt as something more permanent, more menacing. Two days ago, he asked me when I was going to die. I told him that it would be a long, long time from now, but he didn’t seem reassured. Is his consciousness already sensing the void? My in-laws unfortunately showed him all the Star Wars movies (I know, really bad idea but they didn’t listen). Now he wakes up every night around 1am with a nightmare. Darth Maur or Darth Vader, he tells me. Or perhaps it is just death that is haunting him.
Being an agnostic – not to say an outright atheist – I am wondering whether introducing some religion at this point wouldn’t help. Perhaps that is one of the great strengths (often overplayed!) of organized religion – it attempts to remove the mysteries of life and death by displacing the anxiety on god and one’s own personal faith. So, I still have to think about this.
There are many things I have figured out as a dad, this particular one is a real intellectual challenge that I was a little less prepared for than, say, sleep deprevation. In the meantime, I tell my son to sleep well and don’t worry, it’s way too early to worry about things like death when he has so much living to do!
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