My father died when I was 21, and I was devastated to realize what he’d miss seeing. He’d never see the bulbs he planted that year bloom into flowers. He’d never see me flourish in my career. He’d never walk me down the aisle at my wedding.
As an atheist, I knew that was it. My father wasn’t looking down upon me from some cushy cloud, with harp music in the background. I could take no comfort in belief in an afterlife, or the notion that life on earth is just a journey towards some spiritual payoff in another dimension. I’m pretty convinced that what we do here and now is all that we get.
His death only strengthened my belief—which was also his—that every second, minute, hour, and day is sacred.
From a young age, I knew I was an atheist. Having seen no scientific evidence of a higher celestial being to change my mind, I have remained an atheist to this day.
Let’s be honest: Being an atheist can sometimes be exhausting. It’s not so much defending my stance against those who practice a faith. It’s the pressure and exhaustion of trying to achieve everything you can before you shuffle off this mortal coil.
But atheism has infused my life with the mantra that every moment counts, so don’t waste it. That attitude has opened doors, and the happiest moments of my life would likely never have materialized if I didn’t have such a “carpe diem” attitude.
Life as an atheist is about the here and now. Instead of answering to a higher being, it’s about how you choose to make an impact on those around you. I find sleeping a waste of time. I am the physical manifestation of burning the candle at both ends, although I like to think that when the flames meet the middle and extinguish, I’ll be so old that I am likely to die any moment anyway.
Of course, “live fast, die young” is a common trap to fall into. If you’re not careful, you can be too impulsive, too hedonistic, and be consumed by a “grass is always greener on the other side” mentality. You can be left dissatisfied with your life, and dreams that always seem out of reach. Without forging the long-term plans that are necessary for practical living—a home, a pension, savings—you can be left hanging.
But channel your atheism in the right way and it can be incredibly productive and fulfilling.
Life is all about falling down and getting back up and learning from where you went wrong. And it’s about embracing and loving every moment of the journey of life, especially when it goes right.
Sure, I’ve made bad decisions—ex-partners, broken friendships, bad career moves, that dodgy salad I decided to eat for lunch. I have made life-altering moves that didn’t pan out.
Making mistakes and having regrets are two entirely different things. My atheism gave me the grit to push for the things I wanted, and work hard when I knew the odds were against me. It also made me relish the successes, learn from the mistakes, and move on from the failures.
It made me call out on bullshit when I saw it, sever toxic relationships with gusto, and not sweat the small stuff in professional or personal situations. It made me say “yes” to my husband when he proposed on our one-year anniversary. It made me put on my first pair of roller skates in my 30s and become part of an all-star roller derby team.
My father’s death was a brutal reminder of my own mortality, and how easily life plans and dreams can be snatched away. But amid the endlessly gnawing pain was gratitude. I was grateful that in the two decades I had with my dad, we had more adventures and he achieved a lot more than some people do in their whole lifetime. Every moment counted.
Sure, there were failures along the way, and plans that never got to see the light of day, but there was no litany of life regrets or paths not taken—as much as he would have loved to live to an old age with my mum and see my brother and I grow up.
Life doesn’t always pan out the way you want it to. I know that, when it comes to the end of this life, I won’t be settling my accounts at Heaven’s gates. I also know that—like my father—I will never have to regret not having lived life to the fullest.