…has always been one of my favorite quotes.
I don’t know if I believe that it’s true, but I want it to be.
I want to believe that everything, everyone, has a purpose. That there are no accidents. That even the worst of us plays a role in the story of life that in a certain light makes sense, that redemption is possible for anyone, on a long enough timeline.
I think ultimately it’s probably because like Ralph Waldo Emerson, I want to believe in God – but not a man in the sky version of God, the version of God where the Holy Trinity is Truth, Goodness, and Beauty.
It’s ultimately kind of a desire just to believe that even when life sucks, if you could see things the way they are, exactly how they are, that maybe the inescapable and infinite suffering of being alive isn’t a cruel joke but the mechanism by which the universe polishes consciousness into something more and more beautiful.
I don’t think that life is fair. I don’t believe in karma, or divine justice. But I do think that even though we think we’re all separate pieces of the human puzzle, fighting to take up space, that we’re actually not puzzle pieces at all, but raindrops that only exist as drops while they’re falling, but end up back in the same body of water as all the other drops, in the end, and so everything we do to other people while we’re alive winds up being something we did to ourselves, too, and the ultimate joke is that God isn’t a Great Judge in the Sky who tallies up our good and bad deeds, but just a metaphor to understand the fact that we were never really separate from everything else, at all.
Heaven and Hell aren’t places you go to get your reward or punishment, they’re metaphors for the fact that when you die the things that you did while you were alive take on a kind of clarity – the selfless things, the acts of kindness, the love you gave away for free, were all kindnesses you did to yourself. And the bad things, you also did to yourself. Life IS a test, I think, but it isn’t pass/fail because we all wind up with the same grade, in the end, because it was a group project the whole time. And like any group project, you have the loafers and the people who either contribute nothing of value, or even actively make it more difficult for everyone else, but the stupidly simple brute fact of the matter is that none of it winds up making a difference, because the people who worked the hardest are the ones who learned the most, and the people who didn’t do their part might’ve gotten the same grade, but they wasted their money taking the class.
We’re all working so hard trying to get to some destination of material success that we see the grade as the most important part, when the important part was never the grade at all, but the experience of working together to learn and grow and create something worth doing, and to know that you were one of the students who made the project better. Doing your part isn’t a burden we have to bear, it’s a privilege we’re offered. And whether we take it or leave it, we either find out that we were capable of more than we ever imagined we could be, or we learn that we let fear of failure prevent us from trying, and sure, we get the same grade and didn’t have to do any work, but we also lost the opportunity to learn something of value, and that it’s our fault because we were given every opportunity to make our lives mean something, and chose not to take it.
We want there to be a heaven and a hell because we hate the idea that we could all wind up with the same grade even though some of us live lives of service to others and some of us are despicable and choose to live without integrity or concern for others. But it was never the reward or punishment that mattered. It was always just an opportunity to make your life into something that you could be proud of. The reward is knowing that you did your part, and the punishment is knowing that you wasted the chance to create something beautiful, and instead spent your life poisoning the ocean you only thought you were separate from.
That’s what I take from all my years of Catholic school, anyway. There’s plenty about organized religion that I’m not a fan of, but I think Jesus hit the nail on the head. Divine forgiveness isn’t some mysterious, incomprehensible thing, it’s just that when you see that your separateness from everything else was always an illusion, you see that loving your enemy isn’t about your own self-righteousness over them, it’s just a recognition of the fact that you are your enemy and your enemy is you. Your enemy hurt themselves, and when you forgive them, you forgive yourself because you see that they were confused about what they were actually doing.
Jesus forgiving the people who killed him wasn’t just words he said so he’d go down in history books, it was because he meant it when he said “they know not what they do.”
But without death to keep us in the dark about the true nature of our reality, our actions wouldn’t mean anything, because morality would just be rational. So the final joke is that all the time we spent arguing and fighting with each other was just a waste of time.
We spend our lives suffering and causing other people to suffer, when we could have made the world better. But we are the causes of our own suffering, because the only way to get what you want out of life is to give of yourself until one day you find that the world wants to repay you for it. And maybe that day never comes, you can never be sure that it will – but it would hardly be remarkable if you did, right?