One of my earliest memories is of the thought of my own mortality. The pink tiles in the upstairs bathroom, glistening from the steam of the bath, breathing in the hot air, feeling the warm water on my skin. Then goosebumps rising quickly as I’m lifted from the water and covered in a towel. Patted down and dried then left to stand in front of the bar heater. Its searing coils radiating warmth through the room. Then the thoughts. What will happen to me when I die. Will I remember being me? Will I continue in some way forever or will I simply cease to be?
Someone must have said something to me, one of my pragmatic, matter of fact parents. ‘You’ll live, then you’ll die. You’ll grow old first, so don’t worry.’ They were brought up by parents ensconced in faith. My grandparents may or may not have believed in the faith they were raised in, but tradition held great sway in their lives. It structured their activities, with a sense of obligation, community and natural compassion that was beyond faith. They truly cared for people and that is what drove them. My parents abandoned the religion and the tradition, but not the compassion. They favoured logic and rational thought which also gave rise to a fundamental respect for others.
So, when my 3-year-old self, asked about death I was told about death. I wasn’t pampered into thinking there was some kind of paradise waiting for me beyond this life and neither was I told that if I was bad I would spend an eternity being tortured in a fiery pit. Nevertheless, those ideas crept into my worldview by nature of the broader culture I grew up in, through TV, movies, school and my friendships with people from different backgrounds.
Fear sits at the heart of ignorance. When you are young, and you don’t know any better it’s easy to be scared of what you don’t know. For some, faith assuages fear and for others, it inflames it. Despite my parents’ pragmatism, I felt fearful of what I did not know. And rather than scaring me into belief, ideas of purgatory ultimately inflamed my sense of injustice. Armed with rational thought I gained the confidence to not fear unknowns outside my own experience. Rational thinking instilled by my parents told me that no one really knows anything. They only profess to know. They may declare their theory as fact, with heartfelt conviction, but uncertainty lies at the heart of all supposition.
Uncertainty might create fear for some but it helps me define what is truly important. Faith may be a driver of good deeds and bring fulfilment to many, but rational thought can also lead an individual to realise fundamental truths. For me, compassion is at the core of my outlook and my decision making. Doing no harm is logical to me. I can see it’s derived from a moment in my past where I knew nothing, where all I felt was the warmth of the room around me and the love of my parents. Enveloped in a snug towel, after a warm bath, I’m not entirely sure why my young mind leapt to the idea of mortality. Perhaps because it was such a beautiful moment and I didn’t want it to end and at some level sensed how transient and therefore how very precious it was.
Author – Road to Nowhere