I am an atheist. A no-doubt-in-my-mind atheist. I don’t believe in God. I don’t believe in an afterlife. I don’t believe everything happens for a reason. I don’t talk about it much, because I know most people don’t like to have someone else’s religious beliefs pushed in their faces and so I try not to push mine on others as well. But that is what I believe.
I have heard statements such as “without my faith I would never be able to survive this” or some version of (the more offensive) “I don’t know how people without faith survive/cope” on many occasions. And although I can’t speak for those of “faith” what I can tell you that you don’t need to believe in God or believe that everything happens for a reason to get through difficult situations. We get our strength and comfort in other ways. As an atheist, I have a very strong will to live, despite the fact that heaven is not waiting for me at the end of all this (and who is to say I would have made it there anyway!). I believe I have one finite life and that makes me want to fight as hard as hell to hold onto it and make it count as much as I can.
I may not get comfort from the fact that what I am going through right now is happening for a reason, that there is some grand higher purpose for my suffering. But I am also not tormented with questions of “why is this happening to me?” either. I can still choose to try and learn or grow or develop empathy from situations I have ended up in. I can try and work my hardest (by trying my best to take care of my health or working hard and saving money) to protect myself from the bad random crap that might come my way. But I can’t prevent all bad things from happening, just like I can’t make all good things happen either. There are some things in life that are going to happen to me no matter how good or bad a person I am. And I don’t need to struggle to figure out why these things happen because I have come to terms with the fact that sometimes shit just happens. This belief brings me a lot of comfort at times like this. Just look around, open a newspaper. Shit is happening to people all of the time. Some of it is spectacularly good, some of it is spectacularly bad. This is life. It just is. I am not being punished. I am not being rewarded. I find this knowledge comforting.
I don’t have a special prayer to bring me comfort. But I do have my own atheist version of a prayerbook that I flip through when I am having a particularly tough time. Here are some of the things in mine:
- My rainbow socks. I have a pair of rainbow socks that were given to me by a friend of mine. She had Cushing’s and after a couple of really rough years post-op, has had a GLORIOUS recovery. Rainbows have a very personal, emotional significance to her that I won’t share here because it isn’t my story to tell. For me, I wear my rainbow socks when I am having a rough day or for doctor appointments because they remind me of my friend. When I wear the socks, I feel a little bit of her there wishing good things for me. When I see those funny little stripes peeking up at me, I think of her and it makes me feel like things are going to be ok because I know that she is ok.
- A Carnelian necklace. A friend of mine sent me this stone because the stone is supposed to help give you strength and clarity so you can manifest what you require to move onto your desired path forward in life. As with my rainbow socks, the necklace makes me think of my friend across the country rooting for me. Hoping that I can make clear decisions that are going to get me on the path to getting better. Wearing the necklace makes me think of her and makes me feel a little less alone and discouraged on my down days. Many a day I have held onto that stone for dear life as I browsed the internet, trying to find research articles that I hoped were going to get me one step closer to figuring this shit out.
- An email from The Wizard. After a big string of failed attempts to get diagnosed, including getting turned away by a local oncologist specializing in NETs, a negative Gallium-68 scan (to the tune of $6500 for the scan and travel out of my own pocket), and an email from my PCP saying she was refusing to order more tests, I sent The Wizard an email with an update. At the end of the email I wrote, half in jest, “thank you for not abandoning me (yet).” I got this one-line email back: “I will never abandon you.” It makes me weep whenever I look at it. Whenever I think this current crap is never going to end or never going to get figured out, I look at that email. Knowing he isn’t going to give up on me, when it became clear things were going to get hard to figure out, keeps me going. I may not believe in God, but I sure as hell believe in The Wizard.
- Regular messages from a friend that just say “Don’t Jump.” On more than one occasion, I would get out of a doctor appointment or get a result in the mail that was just another dead end and I would IM The Coven (a group of girlfriends I talk to every day), tell them what just happened and start or conclude the message with “That’s it. I fucking give up.” One of the Witches invariably responds with “Don’t Jump.” I don’t know why, but somehow it is always the right thing to say. It is the right mix of (admittedly twisted) humor and getting just how I feel. If anyone else would say it, it would seem wrong (and probably horribly offensive). But from this particular Witch, it is just right. I don’t even need to see her write it anymore. Now, when I start to feel despair, the words “Don’t Jump” immediately come to mind and I can’t help but smile a little and back away from the ledge.
- Despite the fact that I had some spectacularly bad luck with medical issues over the last few years, I have had some spectacularly good luck too. Six months into getting sick, before I even had a clue something was horribly wrong, I went on a first date with the man who is now my husband. Every step of the way, he has been by my side. Saying and doing the right thing every single day. When lots of other people that I had known a whole lot better and a whole lot longer just stopped showing up, he stayed. He had every reason to say “this isn’t what I signed up for” but he didn’t. He just kept coming back. I don’t fight to get better because of the strength I get from God. I do it because I have the rest of my life, with M, to look forward to. Some of it is going to suck. But some of it is going to be really great too. That’s not God balancing the good and bad, in my mind. It is just life.
That’s what helps this atheist keep the faith.