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The Sorrow of an Atheist

Brandon Seger

A tranquil and moderately warm spring day greeted the city of Bakersfield. Any person who wandered through the streets would be provided with a warm back, the incessant but pleasant chirping of various birds in the profusion of trees, and a vibrantly colored clear blue sky lingering far above. Defeating both the frigidness of a winter day and the unrelenting heat of a summer day, this spring day was most attractive to the local population.

Such a serene and beautiful day, however, was quite deceiving to a few particular individuals. The pleasant and bright day served only to overshadow an unfavorable and gloomy event in the lives of the aforementioned people. The most beautiful weather will still fail to alleviate the sorrow of those people who are suppressed by sad times.

In the heart of the city of Bakersfield, there resided a five-story hospital. Included in this hospital was a faculty of doctors, nurses, and the many patients in need of care. Unfortunately, and sadly, there was one patient in particular whom no doctor could have helped that day.

In one room, there laid a fifty-three year old male an a hospital bed whose name was Norman. It was he who was in the most despair among those present in the room. He had been in the hospital a few days, but this day was doomed to be his final one?not only in the hospital, but also in life. Recently, Norman had been diagnosed with prostrate cancer, and this unforgiving disease consumed his health with staggering rapidness. With time, the belligerent cancer succeeded in corroding Norman's health, and this resulted in the fallen state of himself, after which his loved ones gathered around him in his final moments. The end came ever so closer.

Norman's loved ones, fully aware that this would be the final time of being with him, accompanied his side and comforted him in the closing moments. A Few somber words were shared:

"You have been a great father, and I will miss you dearly," spoke the son, Jerry.

"Thank you, Norman, for being the best husband and sharing with me several years of joy," noted the wife, Laura.

"I love you so much, and to see you like this is the sincerest form of pain," cried the brother, Shawn.

Norman, so deeply touched by the kind words of his kin, responded accordingly. The words he expressed with his family incorporated both sadness and happiness, as he celebrated his life with his family while he additionally lamented over his untimely fate. His melancholy closing words were these:

"No assemblage of words, however eloquent or beautiful, could do full justice to what I feel about my family. As I have been lying in this bed, I have reminisced about my life with you all. Laura, the day of our marriage has always pleasantly been in my mind. Shawn, you have always been a sweet, kind brother to me. And Jerry, both your mother and I have always regarded your birth as the happiest day of our lives. I wish nothing more than to spend more time with you all. At least another day?I am sorry that it had to end with such short notice, in such short time. I love each one of you, and I hope that you continue on in life, successfully, happily, and rationally."

A solemn mood was depicted on every countenance. Laura stood at the window, Shawn sat in the chair, and Jerry knelled beside the bed of his father's right side, grasping his hand contently. Soon after Norman's final words, Jerry suddenly became more emotional. His father's grasp suddenly turned weak, loosening the pressure on Jerry's hand. Norman relaxed his head, and it sank deeper into the pillow's fabric. Following this, an uninterrupted monotone sound emitted from a machine about the bed.

"He's dead!"

* * *

Later that week, Norman's funeral took place. The location of the funeral was at the cemetery, with the coffin placed above the excavation that had been prepared for it. Once the proceedings would finish, the coffin would be lowered into the soil tomb to accompany the deceased population already residing in the acres of the eerily quiet graveyard.

A large white canopy sheltered the many rows of chairs. The turnout of people was of considerable size. Among those present were family members, colleagues, and other friends of the late Norman. The weather of the day was nice, as it had been earlier that week, but the mood of the funeral was of different nature.

A lengthy eulogy was presented in the appropriate fashion. It was recited by Shawn, the brother, and in the eulogy was an appraisal of Norman's life, his achievements and his qualities.

Most striking of the funeral was that it proceeded secularly. No mentioning of gods occurred, not to be offensive to those theists present, but because the family was nonreligious, and Norman liked the idea of demonstrating that a secular funeral would run well.  After this speech by Shawn, and a few other minor observations of Norman's life, the funeral came to a close. The coffin was lowered several feet into the pit, and people began leaving the cemetery.

As the funeral approached an end, Jerry sat next to his uncle, Shawn. Jerry spoke with lament.

"I have to reiterate a cliché said by people at funerals, but I just can't believe it's over, simply like that. It seems not long ago, when we learned of his illness. He was early in his fifties. It should have occurred much later. Now he's gone. He has been consumed by the never-ending nonexistence of death. I know that there's probably not an afterlife, and the thought that I will never enjoy to converse with him - ever again - hurts me so."

"I know how you feel," Shawn started, softly. "It is an uncomforting reality - that death is the absolute end. To paraphrase Carl Sagan, I like the idea that I will survive beyond physical death, but there just isn?t any evidence to indicate the contrary. However, I don't think death is completely bad. An eternal life sounds good initially, but if you ponder the idea deeper, there appears to be some unfavorable characteristics. If a person did live for an eternity, then eventually boredom would develop. I could probably entertain myself for a hundred years, possibly even a few hundred, but eventually the routine would be repetitive. Also, what kind of afterlife would there be? A heavenly one? I certainly do not wish to spend an eternity worshiping a god. Reincarnation? Perhaps it seems interesting to be able to experience being an animal, but there are so many species that the idea seems daunting. Most of all, I wouldn?t enjoy the possibility of arriving in an afterlife world such as Hell. In any case, it is all mythology. In addition, there is no pain, of course - no pain or pleasure simultaneously, simply nonexistence. Just think of death as being the same state as you were in before birth. You are not aware that you're dead, so it works out."

"That is true," Jerry responded. "I simply wish our life span was better. Less than a century of lifetime is inadequate. My fear of death wouldn't be so strong if perhaps I knew that I could live a long time, more than the average human. Unfortunately, it is a false hope."

"Well, try not to allow it to ensnare your mind. Maybe your view will be different when you are elderly, after you've lived several decades," concluded Jerry.

Shawn arose from his seat and told Jerry that he would see him in a while. Shawn was intent on speaking with some friends of his at the funeral before they departed.

Jerry, who had long been sitting in his seat, arose on his feet and proceeded to the coffin, which had been lowered into the excavation. Minutes later, a few men would be shoveling the dirt back into the hole.

Jerry looked somberly onto the coffin several feet below him. He could only think about his life with his father. He could only think about the good memories he had made with his father. He heard his uncle call for him from behind, and therefore he bid a last farewell to his father.



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