Has your child asked you this question? Mine has, and this moment has a way of kicking open the door to my heart’s panic room. I no longer believe in the literal or picturesque concept of heaven I once held as a child. There are no more diaphanous angels flying around the clouds for me, the large pearly gate has disappeared and St. Peter has quietly walked away from his responsibilities as gate keeper. As I’ve had my own children and have become more knowledgeable about the physical world, I have found it difficult to simplify the spiritual. I have consciously decided to raise my children outside of any organized or religious doctrine. This is my secret, in a world of the faithful, sometimes I feel like I stand alone.
As a child, my mom took my brothers and me to church every weekend. The lessons my parents and childhood faith taught me were invaluable. I have passed those lessons on to my children, but not with the words “because the bible tells you so,” linked to them. Treating others as they would want to be treated, trying hard not to judge our neighbors, being loyal to themselves and to others, they have these lessons embedded in their hearts. They have an amazing foundation, unbelievable character and are more loyal and kinder than the average Joe.
I’ve made this decision to raise them outside of religion because of an intellectual instinct that I have further developed over the years. Whether it is politics, religion or culture – if someone tries to emphatically tell me that “this is exactly how it is,” I instantly reject what is being said unless it can be empirically proven. I am always on a mission to find my own truth, but it is a life long journey. Einstein said it best: “I prefer an attitude of humility corresponding to the weakness of our intellectual understanding of nature and of our own being.”
Therefore, when my future scientist asks me ” Is there such a thing as heaven,” I have to take a deep breath. He is my deep thinker, my death fearer, and he is his father’s son in that he needs to have proof. Even more importantly, I am his mother and understand that answering this question means I need to reassure him while not dismissing his intellect. I tell him the truth as I honestly know it. “Many people believe there is a heaven honey.” My deep thinker then asks “well, how do they know mom? can they prove it?” More deep breaths accompany my words, because I know that he needs reassurance, and that his question holds other questions wrapped inside of this large one.
“if something happens and you depart this earth will I see you again?”
“What is this really all about?”
“Do I need to be afraid?”
I plunge into the conversation. “There around 100 billion planets in our galaxy. It is hard to wrap our heads around that number. Now think about this for a second…..scientists estimate that there are up to 200 billion galaxies in the universe. We are part of something magnificent, so beautiful and wonderful and I believe that the ultimate truth is not simple. Scientists have discovered that energy cannot be created nor can it be destroyed and there is energy in us. So baby? Maybe heaven is a concept, that we are all interconnected through love and creation but the honest answer is that I just don’t know.”
He frowns at me and simply says “but will I see you again?”
I answer “if there is a way, I will find it.”
He is satisfied with my answer, perhaps you are not, but he is.