What is more discomforting for anyone other than the concept of dying? An atheist roommate once remarked to me, “but now, we don’t have to worry about death any longer,” as if not believing in the afterlife meant you stopped worrying about death. While you might now longer fear what will happen to your soul when you die, you still are afraid of what will become of your legacy, as you race through your twenties and thirties to do something that makes an impact, leaves a mark. Somewhere deep inside, you know that whatever book you get published or building you commission as an architect or a rich person with your name on it–of these kinds of things, none of them will be around for more than a generation or two before they are forgotten. Perhaps deeper inside, you know that there really is an afterlife, and you are scared to death of what would happen if you actually did sit down and face this head on. So, you surround yourself with trivial things that gratify your senses, and probably do a little charity work here and there to prove that as an atheist, you have a heart after all. But, you know that when you die, in this world, your life won’t have mattered much. You may have been close to history-making events or even helped precipitate some of them, but who really cares about history, other than the old and puny who lurk about in libraries? You probably didn’t care nearly as much about history as you claimed to.
I know there are things I still do that I wish I had stopped doing long ago. I don’t want to find myself doing them when I die. Some of these things are probably things that a lot of people do, and in this modern, permissive world, they are accepted as standard adult stuff, as long as you don’t involve children. So, drinking a little too much, masturbating to a harmless fetish, picking my nose (not standard adult stuff, but one that carried over from childhood), watching too much television instead of listening to God–really, doing a lot of self-gratifying stuff instead of trying to listen to God. These are things I don’t want God to tell me were just too much a part of my identity for me to be forgiven of them.
I have started to make a more intense effort to see a lot of my unsavory character traits, including bad habits, thoughts and just plain silliness as being part of some kind of entity inside of me that started to rise up in childhood, saw its full flourishing during the summer after sixth grade, and has been in a state of ever trying to get the better of me even as I struggle to grow up and remain more of an adult than a juvenile clown. I’ve done my share of blaming parents, teachers, older siblings and other children on the creation of this entity, but as I review it more, I think that perhaps it is just an unwanted piece of me that I need to carve away enough to be able to always stand apart from it so that I can view it objectively, and condemn it when it starts to rise up.
Most of the nonsense seems to be driven by an infantile and then adolescent kind of sexuality–one that may have been exacerbated or misguided by certain individuals but was likely mostly one of my own creation. I am of the opinion that our present culture has itself devolved into embracing much of the characteristics of this kind of sexuality, but what the world approves or disapproves of shouldn’t be my yardstick for the kind of person I want to be when I stand before God on Judgment Day.
Most certainly, being simply older and less full of biological urges has helped. Though I must say that I have at times discovered a more raw, masculine and primitive sexuality lurking underneath the Clown, as we’ll call it. Who knows? Maybe under different conditions, if I’d joined the military and had the Clown beat out of me, then I would be just another good old boy, all-American hero of some sort. But, instead, I have had life itself beat the Clown out of me over time, and I’ve had to watch myself very carefully and be on guard for when the Clown rises up at inopportune moments in social conversation.
With the Clown dead, I can still see myself prone and susceptible to all of the standard vices, and so killing the Clown doesn’t necessarily mean I become a saint the next day. It simply means I become a regular man.
I am more inclined to take an interest in sports, cars, whiskey and traditionally sexy women when the Clown is being smothered and tamped down. I am less likely to be interested in artsy stuff, and having pretensions toward being a great literary so-and-so. However, I am also able to recognize that I am too old and have lived too long in soft circumstances to ever legitimately become a hard sort of man. Were I to go behind my wife’s back and buy a motorcycle, get a tattoo, and develop and interest in sports betting, I would seem more appropriately like a mere mid-life crisis than a man’s man.
With my young son now in the world, I have also discovered a different kind of way to love someone. This is different than the love for the dog, Mom, Dad, friends, etc. — other non-sexual kinds of love you have for people. I love my young son in such a way that I would not think twice about laying down my own life to make sure that his persists. This isn’t a love that one has to be any sort of gender or degree of sinlessness to perceive, and I don’t necessarily think you have to have a child to perceive this kind of love.
I also think that my relationship with death has changed. Since I am no longer constantly worried about dying before I get something done, and I am happy to die for my son if the need were to arise, I see death in a whole new way. Death is not the same as it was when I was in my teens and twenties and was convinced that I would be forever young. Nor is it like it was as I moved into my thirties, and began to acutely sense my own mortality and utter finiteness of my life. Death has become more of a thing that is utterly in God’s hands, which doesn’t mean I get to live recklessly, but it also means I don’t need to be overly concerned with whether I live to be 40,60, 80 or older.