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My brain works in a strange way.  I tend to have ideas—some good ones and quite a few bad ones, some enlightened and others rather dim—that occupy my thoughts like lumps of dough.  Over time I take them out and knead them for awhile, then set them back in a dark spot in the corner of my mind to ferment and rise.  Some actually come to fulfillment.  Most remain only half baked.

One idea I have been kneading for a long time concerns the subject of life, death, eternity and our uniquely human tendency to worry about all these things.  I return to this subject whenever I hear people on radio or TV wracked with anxiety over whether their medications are working to optimal effect, or whether they’ll have enough money in their 401K to live here or there or do this or that when they’re 90, whether the stock market will rise or housing prices will fall, about what homeopathic remedies will stop the turning of the Earth, or whether to eat red meat or fish, or how white rice is killing us all but brown rice or alfalfa or tree roots will be the salvation of mankind.  I hear these things and think, “We all buy the farm in the end, so why the fuss over price?”

A quote traveling around the Internet, attributed to a fellow named Dr. Phillip Norrie, states both the focus and the futility of our obsession very well: “Consuming wine in moderation will help people die young as late as possible.”

So, here’s my hypothesis: If you are an atheist, presumably you suppose that the world we see is all there is and ever will be, and that when we reach the end of our lives within it we enter a thoughtless void of non-existence.  If that’s true, none of us will have a “memory” of our life on Earth after we die.  We won’t look back with gratitude for the “extra” years we had with loved ones, or for one more year of trekking through Nepal, or for the extra books we got to read because of a sensible, high fiber diet.  Our memory of those halcyon, low-cholesterol years will be no different than the memories of the cheeseburger-loving, gin-swilling ne’er-do-well in the grave next to us who died ten years sooner.  Our lives, to us who lived them, will be a past experience in space and time of which we will retain no neurological record, because there will be no “we” or “us” or “me” or “you.”  If all that is true, if we ultimately lose our very existence and with it our capacity for memory of time and experience, what is the importance of the length of our time or the number of our experiences?   Without conscious thought, can time and experience even exist?

For me and for the vast majority of people on Earth who believe that man has an eternal soul, the future isn’t nearly so dark.  But if we truly believe life goes on—that we and those traveling through this life with us will begin a life after death that is, in whatever unimaginable way, infinitely more abundant—of what real significance will it be to us, then, what span of years we spent on Earth?

Needless to say, I have no definitive answers to these questions, and I’m okay with that.   “For we see now as through a glass darkly,” the Apostle Paul teaches.  But I am comforted by the fact that, under either of the two scenarios above, it won’t matter in the long run whether we eat blueberries on our Cap’n Crunch.  What will matter, however, is something that has been referred to by others as “the 100 year rule.”  I try to remember this rule when I am prone to worry.  I’m sure you’ve heard it before.  The rule, simply stated, is that if the object of our concern is not something that’s going to matter to anyone 100 years from now, we shouldn’t sweat it.

Raising kind and considerate children will change the world for generations to come.  Working to establish the rule of law and a system of government that respects the dignity of every human being will resonate through the ages.  Kindness to the stranger, water to the thirsty, food to the hungry—those simple acts will endure through all eternity, according to the articles of my faith.  Whether we eat whole wheat or sourdough bread, not so much.

So, eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die, but the good we do today lives on forever.